American History - 20th Century

Hurricane Gavel

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Gavel, ca. 1939. Massachusetts. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2657.

High in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey, there is a grove of Cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). In the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection cared for at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, there is a gavel made from the wood of one of these trees. The story of this gavel – from seeds to storage – brings together natural science and Masonic ingenuity.

In the early 1900s, Charles Sargent (1841-1927), the first Director of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, wanted to add examples of Cedrus libani to the collection of trees and shrubs at the site. However, these trees – which are mentioned in the Bible – grew primarily in the warmer climate of Lebanon and did not seem suited for New England weather. With the help of German naturalist Walter Siehe (1859-1928), Sargent was able to locate a forest of Cedars of Lebanon in the Taurus Mountains in Turkey. These trees grew further north and at higher altitudes and the two men thought they might also grow in Massachusetts.

In early 1902, Siehe shipped a number of cedar cones to Sargent and the trees were propagated in the greenhouses at the Arboretum. They started well and were planted on the grounds. By 1930, the Turkish Cedars of Lebanon were growing well and producing their own seed cones. The experiment was a success.

Then came the Hurricane of 1938, one of the most severe storms in New England history. The storm devastated the forests of the Northeast, destroying an estimated two billion trees in New York and New England. In the Arboretum, at least five of the Turkish cedars fell victim to the storm. (Happily, in 2022, eight of the original trees still survive on site.) As for the hurricane-damaged ones, a group of local Masons “grasped the opportunity to perpetuate these trees Masonically,” as one of them later said.

William Judd (1888-1946) was a member of Eliot Lodge in Dorchester and a gardener at Arnold Arboretum. During the clean-up after the hurricane, he and Welby McCollum (1887-1952) of West Roxbury Lodge decided to use some of the cedar wood to make a gavel. Given that McCollum worked as a builder, he may have crafted the piece.

After the gavel was completed, it was given to West Roxbury Lodge’s Past Master, Alexander McKechnie (1887-1965). He wrote out the story of the gavel on two typewritten pages – kept with the item – as a draft of his planned speech for a January 1940 presentation to West Roxbury Lodge. McKechnie mentioned in a handwritten addendum that he intended to present the gavel to the lodge and thence to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts if desired. His note is addressed to Joseph Earl Perry (1884-1983), then-Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, and ends, “If you decide to put this gavel in the Museum you can pick out the important points in the above for a small card.” This small piece of material culture made of wood more than one-hundred-twenty years old still has a big story to tell.

Reference and Further Reading:

Anthony S. Aiello and Michael S. Dosmann. “The Quest for the Hardy Cedar-of-Lebanon,” Arnoldia, Volume 65, Issue 1 (2007). https://arboretum.harvard.edu/stories/the-quest-for-the-hardy-cedar-of-lebanon/


New to the Collection: Pyramid Court Daughters

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Members of Pyramid Court No. 17, 1960s. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2022.008.4.

In this photograph, new to the collection in 2022, a group of women wearing white dresses and either white fezzes or a crown poses for a photo with a man in a suit wearing a darker fez. This image features members of a women’s auxiliary group of Prince Hall Shriners, the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine of North and South America and Its Jurisdictions, Inc. in Philadelphia in the 1960s. Historically Black fraternal groups in the United States have a fascinating history and objects like this photograph help us better understand it.

Based on organization proceedings and area newspapers, this photo appears to show members of Pyramid Court No. 17, Imperial Court Auxiliary, A.E.A.O.N.M.S., Philadelphia along with one member of Pyramid Temple No. 1, A.E.A.O.N.M.S., also of Philadelphia. The A.E.A.O.N.M.S. was founded in 1893 in Chicago as a charitable, benevolent, fraternal, and social organization, dedicated to the welfare and extension of Prince Hall Freemasonry. Its women’s auxiliary was founded in 1910 in Detroit. The latter group was established at the behest of a committee headed by Hannah Brown, Esther Wilson, and Lucy Blackburn, wives of Prince Hall Shriners from Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. These women and others had already created eight “courts” (similar to Shrine Temples or Masonic lodges) for female relatives of A.E.A.O.N.M.S. members. In 1909, they requested an official “Grand Court” to oversee the activities of the local groups.

This international organization, then known as the Imperial Grand Court of the Daughters of Isis, is now called the Imperial Court. The organization boasts more than nine thousand members that meet in more than two hundred courts throughout the United States, as well as Canada, Bahamas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Korea and Western Europe. Members are known as Daughters.

Their regalia includes ceremonial collars worn with white dresses, shoes, and gloves, along with white fezzes or crowns. Decorated with embroidery and/or rhinestones, these fezzes bear the name of the owner’s court and a profile of the Egyptian goddess Isis. When a Daughter serves as Imperial Commandress, the presiding officer of a court, she wears a crown in place of a fez. In this photograph, since a woman in the center of the group wears a crown, she was likely the Imperial Commandress of Pyramid Court No. 17 when the photo was taken.

In their analysis of African American fraternal groups over a period of around one hundred fifty years, social scientists Theda Skocpol and Jennifer Lynn Oser found that “black women played an unusually strong role in African American fraternal federations.” The Imperial Court is an excellent example of Black women leading fraternal groups. It exists because women who were already organizing local courts applied for official recognition from A.E.A.O.N.M.S. The auxiliary’s schedule of meetings, fundraising events, and annual sessions is very similar to that of the brother organization.

In the past and today, the women’s and men’s groups under the umbrella of the A.E.A.O.N.M.S. gather together at an annual joint session. Daughters of the Imperial Court Auxiliary and Nobles of A.E.A.O.N.M.S. work together at all levels to accomplish the charitable, social, and Masonic goals of Prince Hall Shriners.

If you know of or have any materials related to the A.E.A.O.N.M.S. or its women’s auxiliary, please let us know by writing in the comments section below.

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References and Further Reading:


Mysteries in Clay: Pisgah Forest Masonic Pottery

New to the museum’s collection this spring are three pieces of North Carolina pottery bearing Masonic decoration. These items – a small bowl, a vase, and a cup or pencil holder – were created by Pisgah Forest Pottery in western North Carolina in the 1940s and 1950s. They join two previously-purchased bowls in the collection that match the new bowl nearly exactly. Our now-five-piece collection of Pisgah Forest Pottery inspires some interesting questions about their purpose, use, and Masonic connection.

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Pisgah Forest Masonic vase (1959), cup (circa 1948), bowl (1942). Pisgah Forest Pottery, Arden, North Carolina. Museum purchase, 2022.023.1-3.

Pisgah Forest Pottery was founded in 1926 by Walter Benjamin Stephen (1876-1961) in rural western North Carolina, near the Blue Ridge Parkway. He was a member, trustee, and Past Master (1945) of West Asheville Lodge No. 665, which merged with another Asheville Lodge in 2002. After Stephen’s death at the age of 85 in 1961, his step-grandson Thomas Case kept Pisgah Forest Pottery going with the help of another employee, Grady Ledbetter. Case died in 2014, and is buried in the same location as his grandfather, New Salem Baptist Church Cemetery. Nichols-West Asheville Lodge No. 650 performed the funeral ritual for Case.

Pisgah Forest Pottery officially closed in 2014, following Case’s death. Its historic pottery-making tools and equipment were donated to the North Carolina Museum of History. Examples of work from this important pottery are held and exhibited at other museums, such as the Smithsonian, the Asheville Art Museum, and the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum. Popular with collectors, pieces of Pisgah Forest Pottery frequently come up for auction.

All three of the Scottish Rite Museum’s bowls are cobalt blue with a pink glaze inside. The bottom of each bowl bears the company’s mark (a potter sitting at a wheel) and the words "Pisgah Forest / 1942”. They have a raised, unglazed emblem on the exterior which bears a double-headed eagle gripping a sword in its talons with a square and compass on its breast and a "32" glazed in blue above. On the two pieces purchased in 2019, the raised text "Asheville" appears below the emblem. However, on the piece purchased in 2022, the text reads: “Asheville Scottish Rite”. Given that all three bowls bear the same year and were clearly following a set design, it is interesting that our newest acquisition also has the words “Scottish Rite” added to it. For whom were these Scottish Rite Masonic bowls made? Much of Stephen’s usual work was sold to tourists in the region. Were these items produced as custom orders for the local Scottish Rite Valley? Were they given as gifts to Masons? More research is needed in order to determine the context and purpose of these bowls.

The inscriptions on the newly-acquired vase and cup give us a little more information about who likely owned and use them. The light blue vase has the words “To my Good Friend and Brother Dr. S. S. Fay 33° / Stephen - 1959" painted neatly in white glaze, along with a white cross with two bars and a double-headed eagle bearing a “33” on the neck of the vase. Walter Stephen was semi-retired from the pottery by about 1949, but he still created new pieces on his own in a small studio he built on his property that he called “Lone Pine Studio”. The vase inscription and date seem to indicate that he made this vase as a gift for a friend who was a 33° Mason. With help from the Grand Lodge of North Carolina, we’ve identified “S. S. Fay” as Scott Stuart Fay, who was a member and Past Master of John A. Nichols Lodge No. 650, the lodge that later merged with Stephen’s West Asheville No. 665 in 2002. Fay was a West Asheville doctor who was born in 1882 and died in 1980.

The cup has a light blue glaze that matches the vase and is personalized with a white clay emblem on the exterior which bears a keystone and the words "C. C. Ricker / G. H. P. / 1947-48". The “G. H .P.” here helped identify the owner. These letters stand for “Grand High Priest” and paired with the keystone on the cup, suggests that “C. C. Ricker” was elected a Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of North Carolina in 1947. With this information, the Grand Lodge of North Carolina helped us confirm the likely recipient of the cup as Charles Carpenter Ricker. Ricker, an active Mason, served as Grand High Priest, Grand Master (1962), and Grand Commander of North Carolina.

As many members know, one of the benefits of Freemasonry is the chance to convene and form friendships with fellow Masons. We don’t know if Walter Stephen met Scott Fay and Charles Ricker through business dealings in Asheville or if they met as brethren, but these personalized pots underscore their Masonic connection.

Reference and Further Reading:

Our thanks to Eric Greene at the Grand Lodge of North Carolina for his research assistance on this post.


Newly added to Digital Collections: Harry S. Truman Letters

A2019_001_016DS_webDid you know that President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) was in correspondence with Melvin Maynard Johnson (1871-1957), the head of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Supreme Council during the 1940s and 1950s? A number of recently digitized letters, written from Truman to Johnson on White House stationery are available through the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. They reveal a friendly relationship, with President Truman beginning his letters to Johnson by addressing him "Dear Mel."

Truman became a Freemason in 1909. By 1940, he was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri. In 1945, Truman was created a 33rd degree Sovereign Grand Inspector General in the Scottish Rite's Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction. That same year, the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, awarded Truman its first Gourgas Medal, the Supreme Council's highest honor.

The letters in this collection include both those from Harry Truman as well as one written by his wife, Bess Truman (1885-1982). The majority of the correspondence in this collection consists of letters written by President Harry S. Truman to his friend and fellow Freemason, Melvin Maynard Johnson (1871-1957). Johnson served as the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Sovereign Grand Commander from 1933 to 1953.

For more about the friendship between Truman and Johnson, have a look at one of our earlier blog posts, A Mason Answers His Country's Call and Receives the Scottish Rite's Highest Award.

There are now over 750 items in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. Be sure to visit and check them all out!

Caption:
Letter from President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, 1948 August 3. Collection of Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts. SC069.


Grant Wood’s Shrine Quartet

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Shrine Quartet, 1939. Grant Wood (1891-1942). Special Acquisitions Fund, 84.16. Photograph by John Miller.

In 1937 Grant Wood (1891-1942) started making lithographs for the Associated American Artists, an art gallery in New York.  Living in Iowa, Wood planned his prints there, executed them on lithographic stones the gallery provided and then sent them to New York for printing. From 1937 through 1941 Wood created 19 lithographs. Associated American Arts sold Wood’s prints, along with others they had commissioned from well-known artists, by mail order and in their gallery. Their innovation was to offer work by popular fine artists to consumers at affordable prices—Wood’s black and white lithographs originally sold for $5 each. Wood lauded the gallery’s business model, writing:

I am very enthusiastic about the Associated American Artists organization. People who cannot afford to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for original paintings cannot afford to have original, signed works of the favorite contemporary American artists in their homes.  It is, in essence, a democratic experiment....

Most of Wood’s work for the firm treated rural scenes and agricultural activity. This 1939 lithograph, part of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s collection, portrays a different kind of subject. In it Wood showed four members of the Shrine as they sang. Dressed for a meeting, the singers' distinctive fezzes cast elongated shadows against a background of pyramids and camels. Wood's scene is evocative and sympathetic. Though a Mason, Wood is not thought to have joined the Shrine. He took his degrees at Mt. Hermon Lodge No. 263 in Cedar Rapids in 1921. Three years later he was suspended for not paying his dues. However, he was likely have been familiar with the Shrine through his involvement in Freemasonry and because a temple met in his hometown.

Wood explored Masonic themes in another work, The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry, a large tryptic commissioned for the National Masonic Research Society in 1921. The painting is now part of the collection of the Iowa Masonic Library at the Grand Lodge of Iowa. Though usually displayed at the library, the painting is currently featured in an exhibition about Grant Wood.  You can see the exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City where is is on view through June 10, 2018.

  

References:

Barbara Haskell, Grant Wood:  American Gothic and Other Fables (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2018) 29, 180-181, 206-206, 236 and 239.

Bill Krueger “Grant Wood’s ‘The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry,’” Iowa Grand Lodge Bulletin, March, 2016.

Gail Windisch, Sylvan Cole Jr., and Karen J. Herbaug, Art for Every Home: An Illustrated Index of Associated American Artists Prints, Ceramics, and Textile Designs (Manhattan, Kansas: Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University, 2016) http://hdl.handle. net/2097/19686.

Theodore F. Wolff, “Grant Wood’s Lithographs,” The Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 1990.

 

Many thanks to Bill Kreuger of the Iowa Masonic Library at the Grand Lodge of Iowa.


The Importance of Research in Creating Connections to the Past

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Colored Odd Fellows Handbill

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 Envelope (front)

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Envelope (back)

At the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, research helps the museum’s staff of professionals not only to establish the history or provenance of the objects we collect, but also helps us to better understand the past lives of the people connected to these objects.

This week, we feature a new acquisition, a handbill that publicized an “Amateur Minstrels” show for the “Benefit of the Colored Odd Fellows.” The handbill was acquired with an envelope, postmarked February, 27, 1907, and is addressed to William Russ of Clarksburg, West Virginia. Research into this document has narrowed its sender to one of three people: Wilbur Miles, the headlining performer mentioned in the enclosed handbill, Agnes C. Stuart, or her daughter Katherine Stuart Godfrey. As this report from the society page of the Clarksburg Telegram (December 13, 1906) explains, it was customary for the Stuart family to spend their winters in Florida, and during the winter of 1906-1907, Agnes C. Stuart brought two members of her family with her.  

“Mrs. Agnes C. Stuart and daughter, Miss Kathyrine [sic], left today for St. Lucie, Fla., to spend the winter. Wilbur Miles, colored, joined them from Birmingham, Ala. Mrs. Stuart raised him and on that account, as he requested to be taken along she granted the request.”

The Stuart family were prominent citizens of Clarksburg, and as burial records for the town’s Odd Fellows cemetery reveals, at least three generations of Stuarts were buried there and were members of the Odd Fellows. It is likely that Wilbur Miles was introduced to Odd Fellowship through his relationship with the Stuarts and may have been a member of its African American counterpart, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America.

In addition to caring for the young Wilbur Miles, the Federal Census reports for the years 1870 and 1880 indicate that Agnes’ parents, William and Catherine, may have cared for another member of Wilbur’s family, Rosa D. Miles, who eventually 

 

became the family’s domestic servant and was identified as “mulatto” or mixed race in the records. Research has yet to establish her connection to Wilbur; however, it is possible that Rosa was either Wilbur’s mother or older sister.

As for the recipient of the handbill, William Russ, how was he connected to the Stuart family and to Wilbur Miles?  Federal Census records for the years 1900 and 1920 reveal that Russ, who was of mixed raced ancestry as well, worked as a construction worker for himself and later for Katherine Stuart Godfrey, Agnes’ daughter. In fact, for the 1942 draft, Russ listed Katherine as both his employer and as a “person who will always know your address” on his draft registration card.
 
Do you have any information regarding the history of this document or the people behind its creation? Or would you like to learn more about African American Minstrel performers? Feel free to contact us or to comment about this topic in the comments section below.

 


Captions

Colored Odd Fellows Handbill and Envelope Addressed to William Russ, February 1907. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, FR 160.001.


America's Race to the Moon Inspires a Freemason (and a Boy) to Dream

As I digitized this selection of documents from the Buzz Aldrin Masonic Ephemera Collection for inclusion into the new Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website, my work that day pleasantly conjured up one of my most precious childhood memories: the day I witnessed my very first moonshot during the early 1970s.

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Press Photograph signed by Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, no date.

  While too young to remember America’s first successful moonshot, as I handled Freemason Buzz Aldrin’s signed press photograph, I remembered the exhilaration I felt so long ago on a lazy Sunday morning in April of 1972 as I laid on my grandmother’s living room floor. I remembered being transfixed by the sights and sounds emanating from my grandmother’s television set: The deafening roar of the rocket, and the larger-than-life images of an Apollo rocket, which filled the television screen as it lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

For me, as for the donor of this collection, Ben Lipset, also a Freemason, seeing our first moonshot was a magical and unforgettable moments. It filled us and other viewers with excitement and inspired dreams of a bigger, brighter future.

 

 


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Mission Accomplished: A Poem by Ben Lipset, 1969.


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Buzz Aldrin Masonic Ephemera Collection, 1969-1975. Gift of Ben B. Lipset. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MM 001.012.


Workshop: “Exploring the World War I Home Front: How to Discover Your Family and Community History”

November 14, 2015

1:30-3:30 PM

Workshop by Jayne Gordon, Independent Consultant and Former Director of Education and Public Programs, Massachusetts Historical Society

 

Oh Boy! that's the Girl!, 1918. Sackett & Wilhelms Corp., New York. Gift of Andrew S. Dibner, A2000/37/04
"Oh Boy! that's the Girl!," 1918. Sackett & Wilhelms Corp., New York. Gift of Andrew S. Dibner, A2000/37/04.

In this workshop, Jayne Gordon, former Director of Education and Public Programs at the Massachusetts Historical Society, will teach us how to use surviving documents from the World War I home front to recreate the story of a community’s or a family’s past. Gordon will outline how to mine historical resources to discover more about the experience of families and communities on the World War I home front. At the workshop’s end, participants will leave with a set of framing questions to use for examining records related to their own research.

Free workshop; registration required by November 5. Email programs@monh.org or call 781-457-4126 to register.

This workshop at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is made possible by the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P.  Linn Foundation and is part of the lecture series, “The U.S. Home Front during World War I: Duty Sacrifice, and Obligation.”  


Masonic Revelries and the Roaring Twenties

A recent acquisition to the Scottish Rite Masonic Library & Museum reminds us of the Fraternity’s adoption of Orientalism, its passion for revelry, and captures the lively spirit of the 1920s.

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After the opening of trade with Japan in the late 19th century, America’s consumer desire for all things “Oriental” grew exponentially, and of all the groups associated with American Freemasonry, the Shriners, noted for their use of the red fez, embraced the symbols and spirit of Orientalism to the fullest. This broadside addressed to New York State Assemblyman Alexander G. Hall, a member of both the Mecca Temple Shrine and the York Commandery, No. 55, invited Hall and his wife to the Colorful Oriental Durbar sponsored by the Mecca Temple Band of New York. The Durbar or reception was held at the 71st Regiment Armory on 34th Street and Park Avenue and highlighted by the music of the Mecca Temple Band, conducted by Arthur H. Hoffman.

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Captions

Colorful Oriental Durbar Broadside and Envelope, 1922. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Museum Purchase, MA 430.

The Mecca Temple Band of New York City, undated. The Masonic Postcard Collection. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Museum Purchase, MM 025.


World War I - Home Service Banners

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This year (2014) marks the one hundredth anniversary of the conflict that would become known as the "Great War," and, later, World War I.  Although the United States did not get drawn into the conflict until 1917, the start of the war was not ignored on these shores.  While the war had been brewing for some time, the immediate cause is widely acknowledged to be the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914) of Austria in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, on June 28, 1914.  A month later, on July 28, Austria-Hungary fired the first shots in preparation for an invasion of Serbia.  Lines were quickly drawn along what would become the Western front between Germany and France, and the Eastern Front between Russia and Austria-Hungary.  Shortly after the first shots were fired in 1914, Britain declared war on Germany.  Italy and Bulgaria joined the war in 1915 and Romania in 1916.  In April 1917, the United States entered the war on the side of the Allies (Britain, France, Italy, Japan and Russia, prior to its surrender).  With the entrance of the United States, the Allies were able to surge forward and eventually win the war.  Germany agreed to an armistice on November 11, 1918.  More than nine million combatants lost their lives; Germany and Russia lost territory; the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires were dismantled; the map of Europe was redrawn; and the League of Nations formed to prevent a future conflict.  Sadly, the League would fail just twenty years later when World War II began. 

Almost five million Americans served in the war, more than four million of these in the Army.  Although the front was far away from the United States, the war effort was foremost in the minds of many at home.  Families with a man serving overseas often hung a “Home Service Banner” in a window.  These banners, with a red border around a white center and a star to represent the serviceman, became a display of patriotism during World War I.  The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection includes one of these banners, but unfortunately we do not know who originally owned it (at right).  It has one star, which signified one family member fighting in the conflict.  A blue star signified hope and pride; a silver star indicated that the soldier had been wounded; and a gold star represented sacrifice, indicating that the soldier died in battle.  If the family had more than one soldier overseas, the banner would show multiple stars.  The first home service flag was designed and patented in 1917 by Robert Queissner of Ohio, who had two sons on the front lines. 78_36DI1

Recently, the Museum & Library was given a similar flag, but with twenty-three stars (twenty-two blue and one cream-colored star) around a blue square and compasses symbol (see above).  This flag shows the same red border and white center as a home service flag.  The flag was found at Old Colony Lodge in Hingham, Massachusetts.  The lodge did not have any information on the flag, but it may have indicated that twenty-three members of the lodge were serving in World War I or World War II (these flags were also used during that conflict), and that one man was wounded or killed.  We hope that pursuing additional research into the lodge’s records may answer the question of when the flag was used and confirm this theory about its significance.  Does your family own a home service banner?  Let us know in a comment below!

Masonic Flag, 1910-1920, United States, gift of Old Colony Lodge, Hingham, Massachusetts, 2011.025.

Home Service Banner, 1917-1919, United States, gift of Henry S. Kuhn, 78.36.