Exhibitions

The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online in 2024!



Lexington alarm letterEach year during the celebration of Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library proudly displays an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter—one of several letters created by the colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It gives contemporary viewers a close-up look at the beginning of the American Revolution.

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington, which took place around daybreak on April 19, 1775. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network. Using this system, the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this version of his famous description of what happened, which was copied the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

The letter will be on view at the Museum from April 9 - 27, 2024. (Check the museum's website for specific days and times that we're open.)

In addition to seeing the letter in person, you can also view our online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter,” which is available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection.

Caption:
Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1. 


Now on View: 300 Years of Anderson's Constitutions

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The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, 1723. London, England. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, RARE 31 .A547 1723, c.2

This year, 2023, marks the three hundredth anniversary of the printing of The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, a book that codified the earliest rules and regulations of organized Freemasonry. To mark the occasion, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library has brought together seven editions of the Constitutions in a reading room exhibition, "300 Years of Anderson's Constitutions."

The Grand Lodge system of organized Freemasonry can be traced back to the 1717 founding of the Grand Lodge of England in London. The group published its first Constitutions in 1723. This work contained a mythologized history of Freemasonry, as well as the group’s Charges and Regulations, a set of rules governing lodges and the expected behavior of Masons. Although often referred to as “Anderson’s Constitutions,” after one of its authors, today, the 1723 Constitutions is viewed as the work of three people—the Reverend James Anderson (1679-1739), the Reverend Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744), and George Payne (ca. 1685-1757).

The 1723 Constitutions begins with a “traditional history” of Freemasonry, written by Anderson. This narrative fancifully traces Freemasonry back to the biblical Adam in the Garden of Eden. Anderson’s history was intended—and should be read—as literary hyperbole, created to burnish the young organization by giving it a place within a well-known narrative. Following this is a section setting out rules and regulations governing who could join, as well as the Enlightenment principles of meritocracy and egalitarianism governing Freemasons. The ideas behind these rules and regulations still guide Masons today. They include civic responsibility, emphasis on personal merit above wealth or social standing, civility and morality, as well as a belief in a Supreme Being. Payne, who served as the Grand Lodge’s Grand Master in 1718 and 1720, wrote the General Regulations, which laid out the governance and operation of the Grand Lodge and its subordinate lodges.

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Constitutions of the Antient Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, 1784. London, England. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, RARE 31.A547 1784

The Constitutions were not a static document. They have been revised and reprinted many times. On view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room are three editions that were printed during the 1700s, along with two reprints of the 1723 edition published during the 1800s. The most recent copy on view is a century old—a reprint of Anderson’s Constitutions published in 1923, to mark the two hundredth anniversary of its publication.

Three centuries after its publication, the Constitutions still contain ideals and sentiments that Masons look to today. Although the United Grand Lodge of England’s Constitutions have undergone extensive revisions over the years, its Constitutions, as well as those that help govern Grand Lodges throughout the world, can still be traced back to Anderson’s 1723 Constitutions

300 Years of Anderson's Constitutions is on view at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives through March 8, 2024.


Now on View: From Head to Foot: Fraternal Regalia Illustrations

In the 1800s and 1900s selling regalia and costumes to fraternal groups became big business. Regalia companies seeking to attract customers produced richly illustrated catalogs and colorful advertising material to highlight the costumes and uniforms they manufactured. The artwork and advertising material in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s new exhibition, “From Head to Foot: Fraternal Regalia Illustrations,” were produced by the Cincinnati Regalia Company (1895-1998), of Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Ihling Bros. Everard Company (1869-1995), of Kalamazoo, Michigan. These regalia makers, along with others, produced uniforms, regalia, and accessories for Masons, Shriners, Elks, and additional fraternal groups. These items can help us better understand how companies marketed and sold fraternal regalia between 1900 and 1980.

98_041_138DS1 5 of 5The number of Americans who were members of fraternal groups grew to millions by the beginning of the 1900s. Regalia companies attempted to outfit this large consumer base with everything they needed, from head to foot, as advertised in this flyer. Ihling Bros. Everard Company offered many types of Shrine regalia to appeal to two national Shrine organizations, the Ancient Arabic Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, with 87,000 members by 1904, and the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, which had established more than sixty temples across the US by the start of World War I. Shrine organizations took inspiration from traditional Middle Eastern clothing for their ritual and regalia. That taste is illustrated in this flyer by the turban, wide-leg pants, and curved-toe shoes worn by the model.

98_0003_121DS1Some of the artwork displayed in this exhibition was created to be reproduced in catalogs. This illustration, for example, appeared in an Ihling Bros. Everard Company catalog, printed around 1970, that featured costumes and accessories for the Knights Templar. This group, part of the York Rite of Freemasonry, draws inspiration from the crusading knights of medieval Europe. This model is presented in a “Pilgrim Warrior” costume, which, in addition to a pointed helmet, a sword, and a cape, included a full suit of what Ihling Bros. Everard Company called “armor cloth.” This cloth was patterned to look like scale mail, protective metal clothing worn by medieval knights and soldiers. These catalogs, printed in black and white, featured a variety of items, including hats, shoulder braid, jackets, pants, robes, tights, and shoes. Catalogs were used by fraternal groups to order uniforms and regalia for their members to wear for meetings, ritual work, parades, and other activities.

88_42_156_6DS1Some of the colorful illustrations, like the one shown here from the Cincinnati Regalia Company, were sent to customers to present color and design variations to supplement the black and white images in catalogs. Regalia companies served both women’s and men’s organizations and produced catalogs specifically designed for women’s organizations which displayed the regalia and costumes of particular orders. Because of the distinct American flag-inspired design of this costume, it was likely created for a group with a patriotic agenda, such as the Daughters of America, a Junior Order of United American Mechanics women’s auxiliary.

These attractive advertisements offer insight into the vibrant regalia industry during the 1900s. This exhibition will be on view at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library until July 26, 2024.


The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online in 2023!

A1995_011_DS1_webEach year during the celebration of Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library proudly displays an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter—one of several letters created by the colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It gives contemporary viewers a close-up look at the beginning of the American Revolution.

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington, which took place around daybreak on April 19, 1775. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network. Using this system, the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this version of his famous description of what happened, which was copied the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

The letter will be on view at the Museum from April 10 - 21, 2023. (Check the museum's website for specific days and times that we're open.)

In addition to seeing the letter in person, you can also view our online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter,” which is available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection.

Caption:
Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1. 


Masonic Mathematics: The 47th Problem of Euclid

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Past Master's Jewel, 1823. Thomas Harper (ca. 1735-1832). London. 2017.018.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

Do you remember the Pythagorean Theorem? This geometric figure, also known as the 47th Problem of Euclid, represents the idea that the area of the two smaller squares created by using the lines of a right-angle triangle as bases is equal to the area of the largest square created in the same way. It is stated mathematically as c2 = a2 + b2 in which “c” is the hypotenuse (longest side) and “a” and “b” are the other two sides. Like many geometric expressions, it’s difficult to describe with words, but its meaning is fairly comprehensible visually.

Luckily, then, this symbol appears on Masonic aprons, jewels, pitchers, quilts, lantern slides, mark medals, tracing boards, and other decorative and ritual material in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. Freemasonry draws symbols from a variety of sources, including geometry, to teach instructive lessons to its members.

This geometric figure has two names associated with some of mathematics’ historic giants: Pythagoras (ca. 570 B.C.E. – ca. 495 B.C.E.) and Euclid (ca. 300 B.C.E.). However, its roots reach back further. Babylonians (ca. 1900 - 1600 B.C.E) used it to solve geometric problems that involved right triangles. In Freemasonry, it is often called the 47th Problem of Euclid. This symbol is introduced in the 3rd or Master Mason degree.

The object shown here, an engraved Past Master’s jewel, bears a particularly compelling visual representation of this noteworthy geometric figure. English silversmith Thomas Harper (ca. 1735-1832) crafted this jewel, marking it with his initials and British silver hallmarks. The “leopard’s head” mark indicates that the silver was hallmarked in London after 1822. The lowercase “h” indicates Harper made the item in 1823, according to the “date letters” that were used in British silver.

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Past Master's Jewel, 1823. Thomas Harper (ca. 1735-1832). London. 2017.018.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

This form of a Past Master’s jewel featuring a right-angle square with a rectangle engraved with a depiction of the 47th Problem of Euclid, was popular in English lodges in the early decades of the 1800s. This style of jewel inspired Past Master’s jewels in Pennsylvania, which often have a right-angle square bearing a suspended rectangle with the geometric figure engraved on it.

This fascinating Past Master’s jewel is currently on view at the museum in "What's in a Portrait?" and in our online exhibition. You can see other items in the museum’s collection that bear the 47th Problem of Euclid on our searchable online collections database.


A Maine Mason at Sea

In 1852, shipbuilders in Calais, Maine, near the American border with Canada, launched a ship named the Lincoln. The following year, the Lincoln would commemorate American Independence Day many miles from Maine, in the Aegean port of Smyrna, Greece (now İzmir, Turkey). Like the Lincoln, her captain that day left his Maine home to make a living in the maritime world of the nineteenth century.

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Bark Lincoln, W.H. Polleys Master Laying at Anchor in Smyrna July 4th 1853. Raffaele Corsini, Smyrna, Greece. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 85.9.

In this watercolor, acquired by the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in 1985, the Lincoln is shown lying at anchor in the foreground, with the city, its castle, and surrounding hills in the background. The ship bears four flags: from bow to stern, the “Union Jack” or Navy Jack, a blue flag with a Masonic square and compasses, a masthead pennant, and an American flag. The Lincoln’s Union Jack, a blue flag with white stars flown on American ships, appears to have twenty-six stars and her American flag twenty-one stars. Given that the United States had thirty-one states by 1853, perhaps the ship’s owners or captain had not updated her flags or, more likely, the painter took artistic license with these details.

It is believed that ship’s captains sometimes raised a flag bearing a square and compasses to invite Masons in the area aboard their vessel. To local residents and other mariners, this signaled his fraternal affiliation and served as an invitation for conversation, informal meetings, and trade. The Lincoln was in Smyrna in July 1853 to purchase opium, a common ingredient in American patent medicines at the time.

The Lincoln’s captain and 1/16 share owner for her first five years was Woodbury H. Polleys. Polleys was born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine in 1817 and raised in Portland Lodge No. 1 in 1844. When he took command of the ship, he had been, as he later wrote in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, “at sea as Master of a Ship since June 1848, principally trading between Europe & southern ports . . .”

After the Lincoln, Polleys went on to captain other vessels, including at least three Union ships during the Civil War. These included the USS Katahdin, USS Oleander, and USS Madgie. The latter two ships were part of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron, preventing Confederate vessels from eluding the Union trade blockade. After the Madgie sank off North Carolina in 1863, Polleys traveled north to Maine for a month’s leave “to procure a new outfit and visit my family.”

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Polleys used his knowledge of international trade to serve the new United States as Consul to Barbados and Commercial Agent to Cuba. Woodbury H. Polleys died of suicide in 1885 and is buried in Portland’s Pine Grove Cemetery. His headstone bears a Masonic square and compasses, as his ship’s flag did that day in 1853, many miles from Maine.

If you want to dive into this piece of artwork further, you can visit it and many others in our exhibition, “What’s in a Portrait?,” now on view at the Museum & Library. You can also visit the online version of the exhibition.

Further Reading:


Now on View: Scottish Rite Reunion Programs

Valley of Grand Rapids 1936 program for webCurrently on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room through January 27, 2023, are fifteen Scottish Rite programs, dating from 1880 to 1980. These programs are from a large collection of printed Masonic programs that are part of the Museum's Library & Archives collection. These programs, created for members attending an event, help document a long tradition of Scottish Rite activities known as Reunions.

Founded in 1813 in New York City, the Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, is the governing organization for Scottish Rite Freemasonry in fifteen states in the Northeast and Midwest of the United States. These states are divided into smaller jurisdictions known as “Valleys.” Similar to a Masonic lodge, Valleys are local groups of Scottish Rite Masons, but typically draw members from a region considerably larger than a city or a town. Each Valley is composed of up to four Scottish Rite bodies, and each body confers a set of staged ritual initiation degrees. In the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, the bodies are the Lodge of Perfection, Council of Princes of Jerusalem, Chapter of Rose Croix, and Consistory.  

Valley of the Genesee 1880 program for webReunions

In Scottish Rite Freemasonry, a “Reunion” is a gathering most Valleys hold for members once or twice a year, typically in the spring or fall. At the Reunion, some of the degrees of the Lodge of Perfection, Princes of Jerusalem, Chapter of Rose Croix, or Consistory are conferred on a class of candidates. The reunion also provides the opportunity for social fellowship. A typical Scottish Rite Reunion today occurs on one or two days over a weekend. At the event, candidates and members witness eight to ten degrees. Reunions in the 1880s could last as long as five days, with all 29 Scottish Rite degrees being conferred.

A Long Tradition

The many printed programs, which are on view in the reading room July 11, 2022 - January 27, 2023, are from the collection of the Library & Archives. They were originally distributed to members attending Scottish Rite Reunions. While the text of the pamphlets help document a long tradition of Scottish Rite activity, their various covers attract the eye and often reflect the time in which they were made.

Captions:

Valley of Grand Rapids Program, Fall Reunion and Business Meetings, 1936. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Scottish Rite Programs Collection, SC 088.

Valley of the Genesee Program, Fourteenth Annual Grand Reunion, 1880. Rochester, New York. Scottish Rite Programs Collection, SC 088.

 

 

 


The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online in 2022!

A1995_011_DS1_webEach year during the celebration of Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library proudly displays an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter—one of several letters created by the colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It gives contemporary viewers a close-up look at the beginning of the American Revolution.

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington, which took place around daybreak on April 19, 1775. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network. Using this system, the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this version of his famous description of what happened, which was copied the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

In addition to seeing the letter in person, you can also view our online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter,” which is now available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection.

Caption:
Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1.


The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History

Collage left 10-6-01The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library presents “The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History,” a new exhibition that showcases inspiring American Freemasons and introduces visitors to the history of Freemasonry in the United States. The exhibition opens to the public on November 1, 2021 and runs through October 2024. 

Throughout the exhibition, visitors will meet extraordinary Masons who, through their outsized contributions to Freemasonry, government, the arts, and social justice, made a profound impact on their world and ours. Ten Hall of Fame inductees will be featured this year. More will be added in 2022 and 2023. This year’s inductees are:

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • George Washington
  • Prince Hall
  • Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
  • Mark Twain
  • Harry Truman
  • John Lejeune
  • Irving Berlin
  • John Glenn
  • John Lewis

Drawing on images and objects from the Museum & Library’s collection, the exhibition also looks at the history of Freemasonry in the United States from its beginnings in the 1700s to the present day. “The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History” illuminates some of the ways that the United States and Freemasonry have grown, thrived, and changed together.

Throughout the exhibition visitors will encounter both remarkable and everyday Freemasons who helped to build communities, establish charitable institutions, and shape American society.

The Museum & Library is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 to 4:00pm. Have questions or comments? Leave a comment below or email [email protected]


Celebrate Patriots' Day With Our New Online Exhibition

Lexington Alarm letter exhibition imagePatriots' Day, a holiday well-known in Massachusetts and celebrated in other U.S. states as well, commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. This year's holiday marks the 246th anniversary of the events that signaled the beginning of the American Revolution.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library invites you to explore our new online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter” now available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection. Written on April 20, 1775, the letter's urgent news that war had broken out brings today's viewers to the beginning of the American Revolution.

The Museum's copy of the letter, written in the late morning of April 20, 1775, is one of several created by colonists to inform distant communities and colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England.

Interested in more online exhibitions? You can check out all of the Library & Archives online exhibitions here. Also be sure to check out the seven online exhibitions that are available at the Museum's online exhibitions website.