« August 2020 | Main | October 2020 »

September 2020

A Family Affair

2020_023_3DS1cropped
Ralph and Elizabeth Schoenherr, 1953. New York. Gift of Florence E. Connor, 2020.023.3.

Sometimes the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library receives donations that help to tell the story of an entire family’s history, complete with personal remembrances. Such is the case with the Schoenherr family of Schenectedy, New York, who had a long standing connection to Freemasonry. Since 2007, Florence E. Connor, daughter of Armin W. Schoenherr (1909-1949), has donated items related to these Masonic family connections. Armin L. Schoenherr (1880-1926), born in Germany, immigrated to New York at a young age and joined Corlaer Lodge No. 932 in Schenectady in the 1920s. His wife Emmy L. Canzan Schoenherr (1875-1954) was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star George Hope Chapter No. 271 and involved in the Order of Amaranth. They passed on their Masonic interests  to their three children, Armin W. (1909-1949), Ralph H. (1912-2002), and Florence Schoenherr Grubey (c. 1918-2004).

2007_012_23DS
Florence Margaret Schoenherr Grubey, 1994. Mary Lou Bentley, Louisville, Kentucky. Gift of Florence E. Connor, 2007.012.23.

Armin W., a Mason and Shriner, owned a local jewelry store that sold and repaired not only traditional jewels but fraternal pins and other material designed to appeal to Masonic consumers. His younger brother Ralph (pictured above with his wife Elizabeth) was a Mason for over fifty years and involved with the Royal Arch, Knights Templar, Shriners, and Jesters. He served as Potentate of Albany's Cyprus Shrine in 1959 and ran the Shrine circus for several years. Their sister Florence was a member of the Ladies Oriental Shrine of North America and is pictured at right with a fellow member in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1994.

Aside from donating a number of objects related to her father and brother's jewelry store, Florence most recently donated charm bracelets, one is pictured below, that belonged to Elizabeth Schoenherr, Ralph's wife, a member of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Florence shared some information about the family’s history and related this memory of her father, who passed away suddenly at the age of 43 in 1949, the same year he became a Shriner. She remembered the day he joined the Shrine as “one of his proudest days,” adding, “I remember the Shriners at the wake putting an apron in his coffin and having a service. It meant a lot to my mother (41 with 3 children, 8, 10 and 12). My mother continued the business...My brother (Armin, Jr.) later took over the store.” Armin Walter Schoenherr, Jr. (c.1941-1987) was also a member of Corlaer Lodge No. 92 in Schenectady. 

Do you have a Masonic family tradition to share? We want to know about it! Leave a comment below or email Ymelda Rivera Laxton, Assistant Curator, at ylaxton[@]srmml.org. 

2020_023_1DI1
Bracelet worn by Elizabeth Schoenherr. United States. Gift of Florence E. Connor, 2020.023.1.
Armin jr
Armin Schoenherr, Jr. (back row, third from left) with other officers from Corlaer No. 932, 1967. "Corlaer Trestle Board "(Schenectady, NY), February, 1967.

The Frontispiece of David Vinton's "The Masonick Minstrel"

Vinton frontispiece cropped
Frontispiece of "The Masonick Minstrel,"  David Vinton, Providence, Rhode Island, 1816. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, RARE 65.1 .V791 1816

In 1816, David Vinton (1774-1833) of Providence, Rhode Island, published The Masonick Minstrel: A Selection of Masonick, Sentimental, and Humorous Duets, Glees, Canons, Rounds and Canzonets. “A collection of masonick songs, set in the different parts,” this work was, according to advertisements, “recommended to every individual Brother, and may be considered a valuable acquisition to the library of all Societies and a pleasing Companion for every Gentleman throughout the United States.”

Vinton published words, music, and a smattering of instructions for different types of songs, along with a list of lodges, a history of Freemasonry, and other information related to Freemasonry, in his 470-page book. His compilation offered songs, some specifically Masonic, others not, suitable for a variety of social occasions. Some featured Vinton’s lyrics set to existing music. Today the most well-known of these is a funeral dirge, “Solemn Strikes the Funeral Chime.” Performed to the tune of a hymn composed by Ignace Plezel (1757-1831) in 1791, this song is still part of Masonic ritual in some states. Vinton designed The Masonick Mintrel to be appealing, as one review noted, “among the fraternity, as the dignified and solemn character of Masonry, does not prohibit occasional seasons of innocent festivity.” Vinton sold The Masonick Minstrel by subscription and through booksellers. Customers reputedly purchased 12,000 copies.

Advertisements described Vinton’s book as a quality production, printed on “a fine demi-wove paper, elegantly bound and lettered, [with a] gilt edge…with four elegant engravings,” and crafted “by some of the best workmen in the country.” Subscribers paid $2.50 for a copy; the book cost $3.00 in a shop. In creating his publication, Vinton borrowed concept and content from a previously published work, A Selection of Masonic Songs by Smollet Holden (d. 1813), that had been issued in Dublin, Ireland, around 1802. One of the elements of Vinton’s publication inspired by Holden’s book was The Masonick Minstrel’s frontispiece (pictured above). As a frontispiece, Holden’s book featured an advertisement for a Dublin jeweler, James Brush & Son. This firm specialized in Masonic goods and listed some of their products on its ad, including, “Masonic Jewels, Medals, K.T. Items, Lodge Candlesticks, & c….” Vinton modified Brush’s ad by simplifying the image and, in the rectangular cartouches where James Brush & Son had detailed their Masonic offerings, Vinton had the name of his work, “Masonic Mintsrel,” inscribed.

When soliciting subscribers for his work before it was published, Vinton called attention to this image, noting that his book would be “embellished with an elegant emblematick frontispiece, and title page, engraved by the first artists in Philadelphia.” He also noted to the fact that the book included songs and music from “the most celebrated authors, together with a number of original pieces never before published.” This approach was in keeping with the time Vinton worked in, when writers, artists, and musicians freely borrowed from one another.  In marketing The Masonick Minstrel, Vinton emphasized his investment of time in the project, writing that, “This undertaking is the result of much consideration and the work of many hours, for upwards of a year.” Judging from the number of copies of The Masonick Minstrel that Vinton is thought to have sold, he may have well achieved his goal “to afford…delightful employment…and excite mirth,” at Masonic gatherings throughout the country.

References

“Masonick Minstrel,” Rhode-Island American (Providence, RI), September 27, 1816, 1.

“Masonick Minstrel,” Gazette (Portland, ME), March 26, 1816, [3].

“David Vinton Proposes Publishing by Subscription,” Ohio Register (Clinton, OH), May 2, 1815, 284.

W. J. Bunny, “Bro. S. Holden’s Masonic Song Book,” The Lodge of Research, No. 2429 Leicester, Transactions for the Year 1947-48, 49-75.

John D. Hamilton, Material Culture of the American Freemasons (Lexington, MA: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 1994), 207.


Digital Collections Highlight: An 1847 Scottish Rite Meeting Summons

A2019_178_0001DS1_webPictured here is a recently digitized handwritten summons from Sovereign Grand Commander John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865) to Edward A. Raymond (1791-1864), dated November 22, 1847. It is among a number of recently digitized nineteenth-century Scottish Rite documents that we have added to the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. By taking a closer look at the events surrounding the creation of this summons, we can gain insight into the difficult reorganization of the Scottish Rite that took place in the 1840s.

The Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction was small and geographically dispersed in 1847. Of its nine members, seven had joined the Supreme Council within the past two years. The Council was still rebuilding itself after the anti-Masonic period had brought most Masonic activity to a halt in the late 1820s and through the 1830s. In 1847, the Council was dispersed throughout two states, with four members living in the Boston area and five living in New York State. At the time, the Council was headed by J.J.J. Gourgas and his Lieutenant Grand Commander Giles Fonda Yates (1798-1859). Gourgas, who lived in New York City, and Yates, who lived in Schenectady, had kept the Supreme Council's records together during the dormant period of the anti-Masonic period and were responsible for the reorganization of the Supreme Council in 1844 and 1845, during which time they admitted the seven new members to the Supreme Council.

This 1847 summons gives us a glimpse into this period of rebirth. Written in Gourgas's unmistakable handwriting, and addressed to Edward A. Raymond in Boston, the summons directs Boston-based members Raymond, Charles W. Moore, and Reuel Baker to attend the "Stated Constitutional Meeting of the Grand and Supreme Council" to be held on December 7, 1847. The record of that meeting shows how difficult it was for Gourgas to rebuild the Council. The December 7, 1847 meeting was attended by only three people: Gourgas, Yates, and Van Rensselaer. In the published Proceedings, Gourgas notes that Raymond, Moore, and Baker provided an official excuse for non-attendance, which was accepted. Showing his frustration with members who did not attend meetings, Gourgas mentions that two members - John Christie and Archibald Bull - had not made an appearance at any meetings since they had been admitted and, in strong language, declared them "useless members, unless they come forward with admissable excuses..." In a letter, dated January 20, 1848, written in response to Gourgas's wish to hear from Bull and Christie, Bull explains to Gourgas that his absences occurred because of his poor health.

As the events surrounding this summons demonstrate, the robust Supreme Council that eventually emerged from the work of Gourgas and Yates was not easily accomplished.

Interested in reading more primary sources related to the history of the Scottish Rite? Be sure to check out the growing collection on our Digital Collections website.

Caption:
Handwritten summons from Sovereign Grand Commander John James Joseph Gourgas to Edward A. Raymond, 1847. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, A2019/178/0001.