Freemasonry and U.S. Presidents

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.


A Supreme Council, and a Nation, Mourns the Death of a President

In commemoration of President Abraham Lincoln's life and the impact that his assassination in April 1865 had upon the nation and the fraternity, the staff of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library wish to present this highlight from the collection, Supreme Council member Benjamin Dean's hand-written preamble and resolutions regarding the death of President Lincoln. This document demonstrates how, as Freemasons, one of the fraternity’s governing bodies, the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, expressed not only their sorrow for the President's death, but how the Lincoln assassination was an affront to what Freemasonry embodied.  

A2019_097_003DS1Handwritten preamble and resolution of Benjamin Dean, 1865 May 17.
 

In the Supreme Council of Sovereign Inspectors General 33º for the Northern Jurisdiction of the United States,

May 17, 1865.

Since the last annual meeting of this Supreme Council the nation has been deprived of its chief magistrate by the hand of an assassin.

It is peculiarly fit + proper that a body assembled from all the States of our Jurisdiction, and representing so largely our numerous + influencial [sic] brotherhood, a brotherhood whose ancient charges inculcate among its first duties – “to be peaceable citizens + cheerfully to conform to the laws of the country in which we reside – to avoid being concerned in plots and conspiracies against government + cheerfully to submit to the decisions of the Supreme Legislature; it is fit + proper that such an assemblage – true to its teachings – should give some expression to the family of our deceased + honored President, of our sympathy with their misfortunes, + pray for the restoration of peace to their troubled minds.

Therefore, resolved – that we deplore the untimely end of our late honored President Abraham Lincoln – cut off by horrid violence – in the midst of the high dignities imposed upon him by this people.

Resolved – that we sympathize with the nation + with his distressed family in their unparallelled [sic] affliction.

Resolved, that this expression of our sympathy be spread upon our records, + a copy thereof be sent by our Secretary General to the family of our deceased President.

Unanimously passed by the Supreme Council, Dean’s measure was only one of many tributes paid by Freemasons to the martyred President throughout the summer of 1865. And although the President was not a Freemason, in an interview in October 1860 with the American poet and Freemason Rob Morris, presidential candidate Lincoln intimated his “great respect” for the fraternity, and it was widely speculated and reported that Lincoln had only “postpone[d] his application for the honors of Masonry” until after his second term as President and the great burden of office had passed.


Captions

Handwritten preamble and resolution of Benjamin Dean, 1865 May 17. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 300.002.

References

“A Conversation with Mr. Lincoln.” Voice of Masonry and Tidings from the Craft 3, no. 6 (June 1865): 248.

 


A DeMolay Certificate Signed by Two Presidents

Doyle DeMolay certificate smallerOn October 14, 1922, a special ceremony took place in Washington, D.C. at the Scottish Rite’s Southern Jurisdiction’s headquarters building, known as the House of the Temple. Although Scottish Rite members attended, the gathering was, in fact, a DeMolay event. A uniformed degree team of twenty-eight boys from Kansas City Chapter—the original DeMolay chapter—had traveled from Missouri in order to institute Robert LeBruce Chapter of DeMolay, Washington D.C.’s second DeMolay chapter. The Kansas City contingent also included a number of adults, among them DeMolay’s founder Frank S. Land (1890-1959). Those present in the room included 107 boys chosen to receive the degrees, as well as the boys’ fathers. Members of the Southern Jurisdiction’s Supreme Council, who were already in town for their own meeting, also attended.

Among those receiving the two DeMolay degrees that evening was nineteen-year-old Robert Emmet Doyle, Jr. (1903-1988). His DeMolay certificate is pictured here. In anticipation of the institution of the chapter, members had unanimously elected Doyle as the first Master Councilor of the Robert LeBruce Chapter. The founding of the Robert LeBruce Chapter in 1921 was part of a larger trend. DeMolay experienced tremendous growth in its first few years. Although originally located only in Missouri, where it began, by 1922, after only three years in existence, DeMolay boasted chapters in nearly every U.S. state.

Doyle followed the tradition of many Masons, by having his certificate autographed by nearly thirty Masons hailing from California, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Texas, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C. Among these signatures, those of two U.S. presidents, Warren G. Harding (1865-1923) and William H. Taft (1857-1930), stand out. Harding autographed and dated the certificate on April 24, 1922, while he was president. Because he was a Scottish Rite Mason, he added a “32°” after his name. Taft did not date his signature, but did include the name of his lodge, Kilwinning Lodge No. 356. All of the dated autographs are from 1922 and 1923, so it seems likely that Taft’s is also from around this time. In the early 1920s, the former president served as Chief Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Based in Washington, D.C., Doyle also collected signatures from various Scottish Rite Masons from the Southern Jurisdiction, including the long-serving Sovereign Grand Commander, John Cowles (1863-1954).

Just a few years after joining DeMolay, Doyle was raised a Master Mason in his father’s lodge, Lafayette Lodge No. 19. Doyle became a Scottish Rite Mason in the Southern Jurisdiction as part of a fifty-five member class upon which the 14th degree was conferred on October 28, 1924, at the Washington D.C.-based Mithras Lodge of Perfection No. 1. By the 1940s, Doyle had moved from Washington D.C. to California, where he lived until his death in 1988. His certificate, now in our collection, helps illustrate the deep connection between DeMolay and Scottish Rite Freemasonry.

Caption:
DeMolay certificate issued to Robert Emmet Doyle, Jr., 1922. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, Museum Purchase, A2017/024/001.


Digital Collections Highlight: The 1817 Presidential Inauguration and the Scottish Rite

James Madison letter to David Daggett 1817The Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website contains a rich collection of digitized documents from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. As we approach Inauguration Day on January 20, it seems worth taking a look at a 200-year-old document in our collection (pictured here), which is related to both Scottish Rite Freemasonry and Inauguration Day. 

In this letter, dated January 1, 1817, President James Madison requests the presence of Connecticut Senator David Daggett (1764-1851) at a special session of the Senate held on March 4, 1817. At this session, Vice President elect Daniel D. Tompkins was sworn into office, just prior to the official inauguration ceremony of President-elect James Monroe. (Inauguration Day used to be in March, until the passage to the 20th Amendment in 1937, which moved it to January.) Tompkins was governor of New York from 1807 until 1817 and then served as Vice President under Monroe from 1817 to 1825. Tompkins’ name may also be familiar to you because of his Scottish Rite connection. He served as the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s first Sovereign Grand Commander from 1813 until 1825.

The Madison letter is among items digitized from the Library & Archives’ G. Edward Elwell, Jr., Autograph Collection which consists of documents collected by G. Edward Elwell, Jr., 33°, (1886-1969) a member of Caldwell Consistory (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania) and a professional printer. The items in the Elwell Collection, which was generously donated to the Museum & Library by the Caldwell Consistory, span nearly 500 years of history (1489-1960), and each contains the signature of a well-known figure from American or European history.


New Acquisition Sheds Light on President Garfield as a Knight Templar

Garfield 2 (2)As I was flipping through a new acquisition, a minute book from the Hudson River Commandery No.35, I found a touching full-page tribute to President and Sir Knight James Abram Garfield (1831-1881).  His 1881 memorial is prominently displayed in the minute book (left) of this commandery from Newburgh, New York.  The page is written by hand in beautiful calligraphy.  

On the date of September 27, at Newburgh,the minute book reads, "A communication, under date of Sept. 23rd, 1881 was read from the Grand Commander of the State of New York, announcing the death of the late President of the United States:--Sir James A. Garfield, and ordering appropriate draping of asylum and other proper notice of the sad event..."  After considering the communication from the Grand Commander, the Eminent Commander of the Hudson River Commandery No. 35 made a motion that a separate page be written and put in with the records in memory of Garfield.  It is a fitting tribute for a former President and Sir Knight.  The "draping of asylum" referred to the meeting place of a Commandery and means retreat or place of safety. The recommendations to place mourning drapery at the asylum were observed.  Such tributes were recorded all over the United States in Knights Templar, Royal Arch, and other Masonic Proceedings.

On September 23, 1881, Knights Templar groups were part of Garfield's funeral procession and ceremony, along with soldiers, statesmen, and other dignitaries.  Among the Knights Templar groups were members of Columbia Commandery No. 2 of Washington.

In addition to participating in Garfield's funeral, the Knights Templar of Columbia Commandery No. 2 had also accompanied Garfield during his presidential inaugural procession on March 4,1881.  Garfield gave a short inaugural address and lasted in office only a matter of months--from March until July 2, 1881 when he was shot by an assassin at a railroad station.  He died on September 19, 1881 from infection of the wound.

Being a Knight Templar, Garfield had many other Masonic affiliations.  Garfield was made a Master Mason in 1864 at Columbus Lodge No. 30 in Columbus, Ohio and lived nearby in Cuyahoga County.  He attended Williams College, taught classics at Hiram College, became a brigadier general during the Civil War, and then was elected by Ohioans to Congress in 1862.  During the time he was in Washington as a congressman, he was affiliated with Pentalpha Lodge No. 23, as a charter member in 1869.  He became a Knight Templar in 1866 at Columbia Commandery No.2 in Washington and received degrees 4 through 14° in the Scottish Rite in 1872 from Albert Pike(1809-1891) of the Southern Jurisdiction. 

 

Image Caption:

Minute Book, Hudson River Commandery No. 35, Newburg, New York, 1865-1893.  Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, A2014/19/1.

 

For Further Reading:

Baldwin, Charles E.  History of Columbia Commandery no. 2, Knights Templar, 1863-1938.  Washington, 1938.    

Brown, E. E.  The Life and Public Services of James A. Garfield. Boston:  Lothrop, 1881.

Conwell, Russell H.  The Life, Speeches, and Public Services of James A. Garfield.  Boston:  B. B. Russell, 1881.

Doyle, Burton T and Homer H. Swaney.  Lives of James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur:  With a Brief Sketch of the Assassin. Washington:  R. H. Darby, 1881.

 


New to the Collection: A Masonic Stamp Collage

2013_051DS1The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently received this charming stamp collage as an addition to its collection.  The Masonic square and compasses symbol, representing reason and faith, along with the G in the middle, symbolizing God, geometry or both, is made out of postage stamps cut to fit the shape.  Above the symbol, the maker trimmed the portraits of George Washington (1732-1799) and six other presidents who were Freemasons out of stamps and applied them to the page.  More presidential portraits appear below the square and compasses emblem.

The collage is signed at the lower right corner: "John J. Buechler / 1929."  Unfortunately, although Buechler would seem to be a less common last name, a search of the 1930 U.S. Census records turned up several possibilities and we are currently unable to precisely identify which Buechler made this collage. 

We are very pleased to add this piece of intriguing folk art to our collection.  Donor Albert K. Resnick, who purchased it at a stamp show, generously gave it to the Museum & Library after enjoying it for forty years.  As he explained, "It represented my two main interests - Freemasonry and stamp collecting."  We look forward to preserving it for and exhibiting it in the future.

Masonic Stamp Collage, 1929, John J. Buechler, United States, gift of Albert K. Resnick, 2013.051.  Photograph by David Bohl.

 

 


George Washington Welcomes You!

Museum_Washington_CloseUp for portalIf you have visited the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library since 1979, you have been greeted by a statue of George Washington (1732-1799) outside the building.  As you may know, Washington was a Freemason.  Initiated in 1753 in Fredericksburg, Virginia, he became the first Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22, in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1788.  That lodge was later named Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 to honor the first President.  (For more posts related to George Washington, click here.)

The statue that greets our visitors today is pictured at left.  In 1784 the Commonwealth of Virginia commissioned the well-known French artist, Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828), to make a sculpture of George Washington.  Houdon traveled to Mount Vernon in October 1785, where he took measurements of Washington and made plaster casts of the man's face and limbs (check out this link for more on Houdon's process).  In 1791 Houdon completed the work and in 1796 it was installed in the Virginia State House.  The statue, which is 81 inches high, combines elements representing aspects of Washington's life.  In it he holds the cane of a gentleman, wears a soldier's uniform, stands in front of a farmer's plow, and rests his arm on an ancient Roman "fasces" or bundle of thirteen sticks - signifying his authority and the unity of the thirteen original states.  In 1910 the General Assembly of Virginia authorized the Gorman Company to make bronze replicas.  The one on view in front of the Museum is one of twenty-two made in the 1910s and 1920s.Library GW resized

Prior to the installation of the Gorman Company statue in front of the Museum in 2006, a statue of Washington by sculptor Donald DeLue (1897-1988) welcomed visitors.  Recently, that statue has been reinstalled in the reading room of the Museum's Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives (at right).  This is a half-size replica of the original statue, which the Grand Lodge of Louisiana commissioned from DeLue in 1959.  That nine-foot-tall statue was erected in front of the Public Library in New Orleans.  According to DeLue, the museum's sculpture is the "original model from which the large one was made."  It depicts Washington wearing his Masonic apron and holding a gavel as he stands next to an column-shaped altar.  The statue was a gift of the Stichter family in memory of Wayne E. Stichter, the Grand Lieutenant Commander of the Supreme Council and the Scottish Rite Deputy for Ohio.  Brother Stichter had served as Vice President of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library prior to his death in 1977.

Top: George Washington, 1924, from original by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828), Gorman Company, Providence, Rhode Island, loaned by the Scottish Rite Valley of Columbus, Ohio, EL2004.001.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Bottom: George Washington as Master Mason, 1959, Donald DeLue (1897-1988), United States, gift of the Stichter Family, 2010.042.1.

 


A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words

96_005_3DS1Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library staff and volunteers are currently working to digitize our entire collection of historic photographs. This part of the collection includes over 1,000 images from the 1800s and 1900s, many showing men and women in their Masonic and fraternal regalia.

You can browse and search the images that have been digitized by visiting our website. Click on “Collections” and then click on “Online Collections” and “Click here to start a search of our online collection.” You will be taken to a new window where you can search for all of the photos by typing “photo,” or you can search for specific subjects, photographers, places or any other term. To date, we have almost 300 photos scanned and available for viewing, with more added each month.

The photograph above is just one example of the images now available online. It shows members of Boston Commandery, Knights Templar, during a visit to Mount Vernon in Virginia. When we first scanned the photo, we did not have any information about the date the photo was taken. But, with a little research, we learned that it depicts the group of Knights who visited George Washington’s home during their attendance at the 1889 Conclave (or triennial meeting) in Washington, D.C. Indeed, a Boston newspaper account of the trip notes that on October 10, 1889, the group traveled to Mount Vernon on a boat and “from the wharf they marched to the tomb where resides all that is mortal of that most eminent Mason, Brother George Washington.” The newspaper goes on to explain that “the knights then went to the portico of the famous old mansion and were photographed…” According to their own history, “on arrival [the Knights] formed a square about the tomb of Washington, when an impressive service was held…The old mansion was visited, and pleasant hours were spent on this historic estate.”

Pilgrimages to Mount Vernon seem to have been popular during the late 1800s. Another image in the Museum’s collection, seen below and taken in 1859, shows St. John’s Commandery No. 1, from Providence, Rhode Island, during their visit to Washington’s tomb at Mount Vernon. According to a published account of the visit, the men marched off the boat “to the sounds of mournful music” and first visited Washington’s tomb, as seen in the photograph. They next visited the house itself, which had fallen into disrepair. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association had purchased the estate the year before St. John’s Commandery’s visit, in 1858, and would open it to the public in 1860, after beginning a careful refurbishment.93_019DI1

Please tell your friends and family about our photo collection – and keep checking back to see new images as we add them. We hope not only to be able to share our wonderful collection with visitors near and far, but also to encourage scholars and researchers to use these images in order to better understand the history of Freemasonry and fraternalism in America.

References:

Boston Daily Globe, October 7 and 11, 1889.

Historical Sketch of St. John’s Commandery No. 1 of Knights Templars. Providence: Rhode Island Printing Company, 1875.

History of Saint Johns Commandery Number One, Providence, 1902.

Memoir of the Pilgrimage to Virginia of the Knights Templars of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, May 1859. Boston: A. Williams and Company, 1859.

A Sketch of Boston Commandery of Knights Templars. Boston: Triennial Committee, 1895.

Boston Commandery at Mount Vernon, 1889, Virginia. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Collection, Gift of Harvey B. Leggee Collection of Shrine and Fraternal Material, 96.005.3.

St. John’s Commandery No. 1 at Mount Vernon, 1859, Virginia. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Collection, Special Acquisitions Fund, 93.019.


An Update on a Connection Between Masonic Aprons

2009_080T1 Back in December 2010, I wrote a blog post about an exciting new addition to our apron collection – one that came with a note linking it to President Grover Cleveland.  In the post I explained why it seems unlikely that Cleveland ever actually wore the apron and I compared the Cleveland apron with one in our collection that was printed with a design by Lewis Roberson and Oliver T. Eddy of Vermont, probably between 1814 and 1822. I am including the images of those two aprons here again, so you can see the similarities between the two designs.83_46_1DI1

Around the same time that the Cleveland apron post went live, I received an inquiry from the library at the Grand Lodge of Conneticut. They asked me about an apron with a design that is signed by Abner Reed of East Windsor, Connecticut. In the course of answering the inquiry, I realized that the Cleveland apron shows virtually the exact Reed design! We are fortunate to have a signed example of Abner Reed’s apron in the National Heritage Museum collection, which you can see below.

80_14DI1 Reed was born in 1771 and began working as an engraver in the 1790s, despite having served an apprenticeship with a local saddler. He pursued a successful engraving business through the 1820s and then worked more sporadically through the 1840s. In 1851, he moved to Toledo, Ohio, to live with his daughter and remained there until his death in 1866.

The signature on the apron reads “Eng’d by A. Reed for Br. S. Dewey.” Sherman Dewey was a charter member of Eastern Star Lodge No. 44 in Willimantic, Connecticut. There is no record that Reed was a Freemason in Connecticut. In addition to the Cleveland apron, two other aprons in the Museum’s collection show a strong similarity to Reed’s design but are not marked with the printed signature. One of the three is a painted version of the printed design. All three, including the Cleveland apron, probably date later than 1800 when Reed created the signed apron.

References:

Barbara Franco, Bespangled, Painted & Embroidered: Decorated Masonic Aprons in America, 1790-1850, Lexington, MA: Museum of Our National Heritage, 1980.

Donald C. O’Brien, “Abner Reed: A Connecticut Engraver,” The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 44 (January 1979): 1-16.

Top: Masonic apron, 1825-1850, American, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of the Grand Lodge of AF & AM of Illinois, 2009.080. Photograph by David Bohl.

Middle: Masonic apron, 1814-1822, Lewis Roberson and Oliver T. Eddy, Wethersfield, Vermont, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Paul D. Fisher, 83.46.1. 

Bottom: Masonic apron, circa 1800, Abner Reed (1771-1866), East Windsor, Connecticut, National Heritage Museum collection, Museum Purchase, 80.14.


"The Initiated Eye" Extended Until February 26, 2011

02 Have you visited the Museum’s exhibition, "The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry, and the Architecture of Washington, D.C."? Worried that you’ll miss it? Well, fear not – we are extending it for one more month. "The Initiated Eye" will now be open until Saturday, February 26, 2011. We hope you will make plans to see it before it disappears!

"The Initiated Eye" presents 21 paintings by artist Peter Waddell, based on the architecture of Washington, D.C., and the role that our founding fathers and prominent citizens (many of whom were Freemasons) played in establishing the city. The depictions of historical events, activities, and ceremonies carefully explain and demystify Freemasonry for the public. In addition to the paintings, approximately 40 objects from the National Heritage Museum collection enrich the exhibition.  The Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. We are located at 33 Marrett Road (Route 2A) in Lexington, Massachusetts. Please visit our website for more information.

This painting, The Age of Reason Made Manifest, shows the working plan for the city of Washington, D.C., laid out on a desk at Monticello. The creative dialogue between Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), George Washington (1732-1799), and Pierre L’Enfant (1754-1825) resulted in a classically-inspired vision and plan for Washington, D.C. Although the vast majority of the design was realized, a few key landmarks seen here were not built. The Supreme Court building was to have taken the form of a Roman temple at the site of Judiciary Square; the Washington Monument would have been an equestrian statue of George Washington; a rostral column would lie south of it; and a cascade flowing from a pyramid would grace the base of Capitol Hill. 

The paintings in the exhibition were commissioned by, and are the property of, the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C., with all rights reserved. This exhibition is supported by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A.

The Age of Reason Made Manifest, 2005, Peter Waddell, Washington, D.C., Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C.  Photograph by Carol Highsmith.