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:

Lecture on Sunday, March 28: Moviegoing and American Culture

Close your eyes and think back to your most memorable moviegoing experiences. What do you remember? Did the films themselves make these occasions special? Was it the occasion or the company? Did the place, the movie theater itself, make an impact of its own? Some maintain that the aura of the Art Deco movie palaces, designed in a bygone era before the advent of the multiplex, deserve a special place in our hearts.

Crest_Sacramento smallerGoing to the movies has been a very popular leisure activity in the United States for more than one hundred years. It has changed with the times as American culture has developed. In the 1920s and 1930s, lavish theaters were built on the main streets of numerous towns, reflecting the glamour and style that Hollywood offered ordinary Americans through films shown at these venues. Is moviegoing itself now becoming a thing of the past, now that we can install home theaters in our dens and order films for home-viewing through the internet?

Film historian and movie palace preservationist Ross Melnick will help us put these questions into historical perspective. Melnick, lecturer at UCLA and Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and co-founder of the Cinema Treasures website, is coming to the National Heritage Museum on Sunday, March 28th. He will speak at 2 p.m. on "Exhibiting Change: Movie Theaters and American Cultures from the 19th to the 21st Century." His lecture will feature images and video clips that capture the flavor and excitement of over a century of moviegoing. As traced and discussed on the Cinema Treasures website, many of the finest movie venues from the first half of the twentieth century are closing or are threatened by demolition. Melnick will also discuss the issues facing historic theaters in today's digital and megaplex era. We hope to see you there!

This free public lecture is funded by the Lowell Institute. It complements the exhibition, "The Art of the Movie Theater: Photography by Stefanie Klavens," on view through May 31, 2010.

Crest Theatre, 1996. Sacramento, California. Photo by Stefanie Klavens