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May 2023

A Shrine Beach Parade

2001_070_6DS1 cropped smallIn this photograph from the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, a line of men in bathing costumes and swim caps march across the beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey. This unusual sight was photographed on the morning of July 13, 1904, when the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine hosted their annual meeting in the resort city.

This two-day event was the thirtieth annual gathering since the founding of the order in 1873. Thousands of Shriners and their families traveled to the Jersey shore and participated in a variety of activities and programs. According to the Annual Proceedings of the AAONMS, this session hosted 276 representatives from eighty-nine temples throughout the United States. During the meeting, the secretary of the group, called the Imperial Recorder, reported a net membership gain of 8,545 in 1904, and a total national membership of 87,727.

In addition to business meetings and evening parties, members of the AAONMS took part in an activity for which their group later became renowned–parades. The 1904 Annual Session, or meeting, opened with a parade that differed from the norm. A Shrine unit called the Arab Patrol, hailing from Moslem Temple in Detroit, Michigan, took part in a beach parade at 10:00 AM on Wednesday, July 13.

Accompanied by the first regiment band of Michigan and a bugle corps of twenty-nine men, they “marched from the Grand Atlantic Hotel in bathing suits to the beach between Young's Pier and the Steel Pier, and plunged into the ocean,” according to the Camden, New Jersey Morning Post. The front page of the local paper, the Atlantic City Daily Press, clarified that the men were dressed in “bathing suits, specially prepared for the occasion” and called the whole affair “one of the most unique and picturesque incidents of the gathering of the Shriners here.”

Camera operators of various sorts took advantage of the picturesque quality of the plunge. Alfred Camille Abadie (1878-1950) of Thomas Edison’s company Edison Films captured this beach parade on a 35mm motion picture camera. Per Edison’s September 1904 advertising circular, the 2.5-minute film showed “the entire body drilling on the beach and entering the surf” and could be purchased for $21.75.

This photo is one of two of this parade in the museum’s collection. Both are marked on the back: “Fred Hess, Photographer, 2506 Arctic Avenue, Atlantic City, NJ.” Hess (1858-1932) was a commercial photographer in Atlantic City from around 1893 until his death. Hess’ home studio was located about a mile from the spot where he took the beach parade photos.

This beach parade photograph–in addition to being a surprising and captivating image–depicts the details of a unique and intriguing event. It also provides information about Atlantic City, the AAONMS, and commercial photography and cinematography in the early 1900s.


Further Reading:

The Blog Turns 15! (And Yet Another Masonic Impostor)

John J. McGettigan June 1924The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's blog started fifteen years ago this month, with a post about Masonic impostors. Nearly every May since then, we have returned to the topic of Masonic impostors. This year is no exception. Pictured here is a detail from the June 1924 issue of the Official Warning Circular of The Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada.

The Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada began publishing the Official Warning Circular in 1886. The primary function of the circular was to try to prevent non-Masons from imposing on the charity of Masonic organizations and defrauding them out of their money. This was accomplished by a type of crowdsourcing: local Masonic organizations would share information about known imposters with the Masonic Relief Association who then, in turn, would share that information in their circulars throughout the U.S. and Canada, in an attempt to stay one step ahead of those who would travel from state to state, presenting themselves as Masons in need.

Chicago Police Take 5 Alleged Confidence MenIn some cases, these Masonic impostors appear to have fallen on hard times and were defrauding Masons out of desperation. In other cases, the impostors appear to be well-practiced con artists who presented themselves as Masons and told a convincing story in each new town and city.

This is quite evident with case number 7413, John J. McGettigan, pictured above. The description of McGettigan notes that he had used at least three different aliases and had been published in the circular before under different case numbers which cast light on earlier successful swindles. The description also contains details of some of McGettigan's previous brushes with the law, and that he was, at the time that the circular was published, wanted by the Solicitor General of Atlanta, Georgia.

McGettigan, it turns out, may have been part of a larger confidence game - that is, an attempt to defraud people after first gaining their trust. In 1925, McGettigan's capture was front page news in the June 4, 1925 edition of the Sioux City Journal. In the article, pictured above, McGettigan is described as having been one of five "leaders in confidence games of national scope" who was captured as part of a coordinated effort in Chicago, Illinois.

If you want to learn more about Masonic impostors, be sure to check out all of our previous posts on the topic.

School Medals Earned by Cornelius M. Vinson in 1835

82_30_3DP1DB Vinson 1835In August of 1835, the School Committee of Boston, Massachusetts, attended a gathering of city students demonstrating their skills and scholarship. The Columbian Centinel noted that those observing the display of students’ abilities were persuaded that the schools “never appeared in better order and condition, than at this time.” To this the writer added context, relating, “This is certainly a very high compliment, for our public schools have long been the glory of our city.”

Among those called upon to showcase his learning was eighteen-year-old Cornelius Marchant Vinson (1817-1893), a student at Boston Latin School. Vinson opened the day with a “Salutatory Oration,” or welcome, in Latin. Vinson, along with five of his schoolmates, also received a Franklin Medal earlier in the month. This prize, established by a bequest left to the Boston public schools by Benjamin Franklin, a former student of the free schools in the city, was awarded to students at eight schools in 1835. Vinson’s award took the shape of a silver medal struck with a portrait of Franklin on one side (at right). On the other side, raised letters outlined the purpose of the prize--a “Reward of Merit" bestowed by the School Committee. Below this message, an engraver incised Vinson’s name and the year. A local newspaper described this honor as one earned by “scholars of distinguished merit in the respective schools.” 

Vinson was an accomplished student—the Franklin medal was just one of the awards he received. In both 1835 and 1834 Vinson earned 82_30_2DS2 Franklin Medal 1835an award for “the best specimens of Penmanship.” These prizes, like the Franklin medal, took the form of a silver token (at left). Both of Vinson’s penmanship medals were plain discs, decorated with a simple border, that an engraver personalized with Vinson’s name, his school, and the years he earned the recognition. A 1834 newspaper listing noted that Vinson also received a prize that year for “Industry and Good Conduct.”

Building on what Vinson learned at Boston Latin School, he continued his studies at Harvard. Upon graduating in 1839, he embarked on a career as a teacher. In the mid-1840s, Vinson ran a school for “Misses as well as Young Ladies” which offered girls and teenagers instruction in drawing, English, Latin, and French in downtown Boston. In 1849 he leased a “family boarding school for lads” in Jamaica Plain, where he prepared students for college or “Mercantile Life” in a “healthful and pleasant location” using an approach grounded on “The harmonious development of the Physical, Intellectual, and Moral powers.” Though Vinson went on to work in different fields—as a farmer and as a real estate dealer—his early achievement as a scholar and in penmanship doubtless served him well throughout his life.

82_30_3DP2DB Vinson 1835References:

“Public Schools,” Columbian Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), August 22, 1835, page 1.

“Public Schools,” Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), August 20, 1835, page 2.

“General Intelligence,” Christian Register (Boston, Massachusetts), August 9, 1834, page 3.

“Advertisements,” Boston Recorder (Boston, Massachusetts), July 18, 1844, page 3.

John Sallay, "American School Medals," Medal Collectors of America, presentation, July 28, 2005.

Malcolm Storer, "The Franklin Boston School Medals," Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. 55 (October 1921-June 1922), 189-198.


Photo credits:

Penmanship Award, 1835. Boston, Massachusetts. Gift of Marjorie Sumner Guiler and Eleanor B. Litchfield, 82.30.3. Photograph by David Bohl.

Benjamin Franklin Boston School Medal, 1835. Charles Cushing Wright (1796 – 1854) and James Bale, New York, New York, and George Stimpson (1793-ca. 1867), Charlestown, Massachusetts. Gift of Marjorie Sumner Guiler and Eleanor B. Litchfield, 82.30.1.