Freemasonry in Popular Culture

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin in Action

G.I. Joe Classic Collection Colonel Buzz Aldrin Astronaut in NASA Space Suit, 1999. Hasbro, China. Gift of Robert V. Monacelli, 2019.015. Julia Featheringill Photography.

Astronaut and Freemason Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., was born in 1930 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Aldrin, the lunar pilot for the 1969 Apollo 11 space mission was, with fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong (1930-2012), one of the first humans—and one of the first Freemasons—to walk on the moon. American manufacturers made a number of wonderful commemorative items, including posters, plates, and toys, memorializing this historic event.  

In 1999 the Hasbro Toy Company released a special edition Buzz Aldrin action figure celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the moon landing. The Aldrin figure was part of the G.I. Joe: Classic Collection set produced by Hasbro in the late 1990s. 

Buzz Aldrin was initiated into Oak Park Lodge No. 864 in Alabama in 1955 and raised in Lawrence N. Greenleaf Lodge, No. 169 in Colorado in 1956. He is also a member of Clear Lake Lodge No. 1417 in Texas. 

This action figure complements the many other items we have related to Buzz Aldrin in the Library and Archives Buzz Aldrin ephemera collection.  

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

This collection includes a photograph fraternally inscribed to Ben B. Lipset, and a photograph of Aldrin walking on the moon addressed to former Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, George Newbury (1895-1904).

Do you have any ephemera related to Freemasonry and NASA? Let us know in the comments below! 








Don't Miss Our Lecture: Michael Halleran on Civil War Freemasonry

Rollins powder horn cropped 77_11_2We would like to remind our readers about the next lecture in our Civil War series. Michael Halleran will join us this Saturday, April 28, at the special time of 1 p.m. to speak on "Gentlemen of the White Apron: Freemasonry in the American Civil War." To learn more about the talk and the speaker, read our previous blog post about Halleran.

Here at the Museum, staff has done quite a bit of interesting research on the Civil War. Take a look at some of these previous posts - they are sure to engage your interest. If they do, Michael Halleran's lecture on Saturday may be just the way to flex your historical imagination this weekend.

Have you heard of silver badges worn by Freemasons fighting on the battlefields of the Civil War? We have some in our collection. Were they really used to identify a wounded Mason, so he could receive aid and comfort from Masonic brothers fighting under the opposing flag?

What do the Confederate imprints in our Van Gorden-Williams Library reveal about Masonic activities in the Confederacy during the American Civil War?

How hot was an 1863 discussion of what to do about a newly commissioned Confederate officer who was a longstanding member of a Masonic lodge in Indiana

What did we learn about a Union soldier's entry into the world of Freemasonry during the Civil War?

What did inquisitive Museum staff discover about a mysterious Civil War POW powderhorn that entered our collection without a history?

During the Civil War, federally issued currency included gold and silver coins. How did the world of commerce respond when those valuable metals disappeared into hoards and legal tender became scarce?

How did the Harper's Ferry arsenal bell end up on Marlborough, MA's town common?

Help us solve a mystery - If the men in our 19th century photo were not Civil War soldiers, who might they have been?

The Museum is offering the lecture as one in a series dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The series is designed to explore the history of this divisive conflict, and its meaning for our nation today. It is sponsored by Ruby W. Linn.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website,

Photo credit:

Powder horn, ca. 1863, Henry S. P. Rollins (1832-1869), Tyler, Texas, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 77.11.2.  Photo by David Bohl.

Michael Halleran on Civil War Freemasonry, 4/28

MHalleranMichael A. Halleran, a freelance historian, practicing attorney and Freemason, sets the standard for scholarship on Freemasonry in the Civil War. On Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 1 pm, he will present a talk entitled “Gentlemen of the White Apron: Freemasonry in the American Civil War.” The lecture will reveal the history behind the many mythical stories of Masonic Brotherhood across the Civil War battle lines. A signing of his acclaimed book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, will follow. Admission is free.

Halleran's research has helped Museum staff better understand objects in our collection, such as silver Civil War identification badges that display Masonic symbols. Read our previous blog post about how pleased we were to learn more about these objects. 

Halleran received the Mackey Award for Excellence in Masonic Scholarship by the Scottish Rite Research Society for his article on Civil War Freemasonry in that society’s journal, Heredom. He is a member of the Quatuor Coronati Correspondence Circle, and the Scottish Rite Research Society where he studies American military Masonry and the traditions of military lodges worldwide.

The Museum is offering the lecture series on occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The series is designed to explore the history of this divisive conflict, and its meaning for our nation today. It is sponsored by Ruby W. Linn.

Upcoming lectures in the series are:

Among the Ruins: Charles F. Morse and Civil War Destruction - Saturday, September 29, 2 pm. Megan Kate Nelson of Harvard University will unfold the Civil War experience of one Massachusetts soldier, Charles F. Morse, an officer in the 2nd Mass. Rgt. His letters, drawings, and other contemporary images will draw us into the world of ruin and destruction that participants in the war found themselves confronting.

Quilts for Civil War Soldiers: Stories from the Home Front and the Battlefield - Saturday, October 20, 2 pm. Pamela Weeks, Curator of the New England Quilt Museum, knows the stories behind the rare surviving Civil War quilts made by caring hands for soldiers fighting for North and South. Learn about the quilts, their makers, life on the home front during the war, and about how civilians organized to get desperately needed aid and supplies to the battlefield.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website,

Photo credit:

Courtesy of Michael Halleran

Exhibition Curator to Trace the Fashionable Roots of Masonic Regalia, 10/29

Join the Museum's Director of Collections Aimee Newell, Ph.D, for a tour of the exhibition, “Inspired by Fashion: American Masonic Regalia,” on Saturday, October 29 at 2 p.m. Newell, curator of the exhibition, will trace the fashion antecedants behind traditional Masonic costumes and regalia.

2008-039-27Popular television programs and movies have been known to poke fun at fraternal groups by featuring characters that belong to made-up fraternities with goofy names and even funnier hats and costumes. Do you remember Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble who were members of the “Royal Order of Water Buffaloes” on The Flintstones cartoon? Even among Freemasons, Masonic costume has been perceived as weird, funny or outlandish.

And, indeed, Masonic regalia can have an element of wackiness. But, we may think the same thing about the clothing we see in historic prints, paintings, and photographs from the 1700s and 1800s. Even people of the era reacted to what they perceived as the extremes of fashion by publishing cartoons and satires. Then, as now, fashion itself was as wacky, if not more so, than the regalia worn by Masonic groups.

Furthermore, when we start to look more closely, comparing Masonic costumes and photographs with clothing and images from the same time periods, we can see that regalia manufacturers often took their cues from fashion houses. Come and see garments and images from the Museum’s collection that demonstrate the four different design sources for Masonic garments – contemporary fashion, the military, Orientalism, and theater. Learn how there have always been connections between everyday style and Masonic fashion!

To participate in the gallery tour, meet Aimee Newell in the “Inspired by Fashion” gallery at 2 p.m. For more information, please call the Museum reception desk at 781 861-6559 or visit our website.

Image credit:

George S. Anderson, Grand Commander, Masonic Knights Templar of Georgia, 1860-1869. Smith and Motes, Atlanta, Georgia. National Heritage Museum, gift in memory of Jacques Noel Jacobsen, 2008.039.27.

Skeleton Leaves and Phantom Arrangements

2010_076_1DS1 The National Heritage Museum recently received a gift of four stereocards titled Skeleton Leaves and showing the same leafy arrangement shaped like a Masonic square and compasses symbol. One of the cards is shown here (for more on stereocards, see our previous post). I was struck by how quintessentially Victorian this image seems and became curious about the story behind the image.

According to the card itself, the publisher was John P. Soule of Boston. Soule was born in Maine in 1828. City directories for Boston from the late 1850s tell us that Soule was a partner in the firm of Rogers and Soule, Printsellers. Soule’s partner was none other than John Rogers (1829-1904), the sculptor whose “Rogers Groups” would become popular decorations in many Victorian homes. By 1859, Soule was identified as a “photographist” in the Boston directory. He went on to publish a number of stereocards in the 1870s, including this one. In 1888, Soule moved to Seattle; he died in 1904.

The Masonic symbol shown on the card is perhaps the most recognizable sign of the fraternity. The square and compasses represent reason and faith. The letter G in the center stands for God, geometry, or both. While this symbol was used on all sorts of objects during the late 1800s – from furniture to ceramics – this representation is done in a specific medium – that of skeletonized leaves (also called “phantom leaves” or “phantom bouquets”).

Instructions on how to pursue this type of project were provided in numerous late-1800s household guides and ladies’ magazines. For example, the March 1870 issue of The Lady’s Friend reprinted directions from an 1867 issue for skeletonizing leaves “at the special request of new subscribers.” The writer acknowledged the popularity of this activity, “These Phantom Bouquets are more beautiful than could be believed by those who have not seen them…We had not thought that anything so dainty and airily graceful could be preserved in this way.” To make one of these arrangements, the leaves were gathered while green and then soaked. The “green matter” had to be rubbed off the surface of the leaf, leaving the “fibrous network” or skeleton of the leaf. Once the leaves were thoroughly dry, they could be bleached and then formed into an arrangement.

This stereocard notes that an I.L. Rogers registered the image at the Library of Congress in 1873. Reportedly, a Mrs. I.L. Rogers of Springfield, Massachusetts, patented an improved method for skeletonizing leaves in 1877. While we were particularly interested in this image because of its Masonic content, a number of stereocards were available during the late 1800s showing other arrangements of “skeleton leaves,” primarily non-Masonic and decorative.

Have you ever tried skeletonizing leaves? Do you know more about Mrs. I.L. Rogers? Do you have a stereocard showing a “phantom arrangement”? If so, let us know in a comment below!


“John P. Soule Family,”

The Lady’s Friend 7 (March 1870): 202-206.

Routledge’s Every Boy’s Annual, London: George Routledge and Sons, 1866.

Skeleton Leaves, 1873, John P. Soule (1828-1904), Boston, Massachusetts, National Heritage Museum Collection, gift of Ronald T. Labbe, 2010.076.1.

The Adventures of Foxy Grandpa, Freemason. Or Is He?

77_36S1From 1900 to 1918, cartoonist Carl Edward Schultze (1867-1939) drew a popular comic strip about an old man and his young grandsons. Unlike “The Katzenjammer Kids” and other cartoons in which children get the better of their parents and grandparents, Schultze wanted the grandpa to be the smart one. Thus Foxy Grandpa was born. He plays practical jokes on the boys or makes their practical jokes on him backfire.

The comic strip’s popularity led to related products for sale, from toys and postcards to ornaments and doorstops. They also included the doll seen here. Made by Art Fabric Mills Company of New York, the dolls were sold in printed cloth sheets, meant to be cut out, sewn and stuffed. In a December 1904 issue of McCall’s magazine, the dolls were advertised for 25¢. Malted Cereal Company also promoted them. The Museum's doll is now featured in the exhibition "Curators' Choice: Favorites from the Collection."

Carl Schultze signed the cartoons “Bunny”—his childhood nickname—along with a drawing of a rabbit. The doll holds a rabbit, Schultze’s alter-ego, under his arm.

The Museum purchased this doll in 1977 because of the watch fob he wears, which features a square and compasses, a common Masonic symbol. However, no one at the Museum has been able to identify a Masonic connection for the character. We haven't found any evidence that Schultze was a Mason, nor have we seen any references to Masonry in the cartoons.

Foxy_Grandpa_Rides_the_Goat_web Then a few weeks ago, I discovered a book entitled Foxy Grandpa Rides the Goat for sale. As mentioned in an earlier post, some late 19th- and early 20th-century initiation rituals involved gags, such as “pushing a hoodwinked (blindfolded) candidate around a lodge room on a wobbly-wheeled fake mechanical goat,” one of which we have in the Museum's collection. I thought the book’s title might be a reference to Freemasonry, as did my colleagues in the various collections departments, so we purchased the book. And we were disappointed to find only one reference to Freemasonry in the book:

“Come and ride our goat, dear Grandpa,
     We see you’re a mason true,”
Said the boys as they glanced below
     At the mortar on his shoe.

Between the watch fob and the poem, it seems clear that Schultze was familiar with Freemasonry. Membership in Masonic lodges was at a peak in the early 1900s, so even the uninitiated likely learned about the fraternity through friends, colleagues, or family members who were Masons.

Schultze's references to Freemasonry are rather subtle, perhaps noticeable only to those who are looking for them. Especially since we have not been able to identify a lodge that Schultze belonged to, these clues seem like his wry joke, in the same vein as the cartoon itself.

If you know anything about Carl E. Schultze's Masonic membership or activities, please leave a comment on this post.


"Foxy Grandpa" Doll, 1903-1912. Art Fabric Mills Company, New York. National Heritage Museum Collection, 77.36. 

Foxy Grandpa Rides the Goat. (Chicago: M.A. Donohue & Co.), 1908. National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives Collection

A Nod to Freemasonry

SC83_19_5DP1 Bobblehead dolls – do you love them or hate them?  Do you have any in your office or your house?  Recently, the National Heritage Museum received two Masonic bobblehead dolls – both depicting Shriners (members of the Masonic group Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine) – joining two others already in the collection.

Our Collections Committee – which reviews all objects offered to the Museum by gift or purchase – was charmed by these toys.  Bobbleheads, also known as “nodders” or “bobbers,” seem to date back to at least 1842.  In his short story, The Overcoat, published that year, Nikolai Gogol described a character as having a neck “like the neck of plaster cats which wag their heads.”  In the 1920s, a New York Knicks basketball player bobblehead was produced and enjoyed some popularity, but it quickly waned.  In the 1960s, sports figure bobbleheads came into vogue once again and since that time, innumerable popular figures have been immortalized with their heads on springs.

Three of the Museum’s Shriner bobbleheads date from the 1960s, including the one shown at left.  These dolls have plaster heads on springs.  The figure wears a black suit with a white shirt and a typical maroon fez with a black tassel and a yellow and green Shrine symbol.  Unfortunately, we do not know exactly when or where this bobblehead originated.  It may have been a souvenir from a specific Shrine event, or perhaps just a whimsical toy that the original owner purchased.  Bobbleheads seem to be a perfect fit for Shriners – the group is known as “the playground of Freemasonry.”

We also have a Shriner bobblehead from about 2003, which a museum staffer purchased at our Heritage Shop and recently donated to the collection.  This newer doll has a plastic head and body, but shows remarkable similarities to our earlier ones.  Compare the photo of the plastic one at right to the plaster-headed bobblehead above.2008_043DP2

Do you have any other Masonic or fraternal bobbleheads?  If so, we’d love to hear about them in a comment below!

Top: Masonic Shrine bobblehead doll, 1960-1970, National Heritage Museum, gift of Mr. James A. Wieland, SC83.19.5.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Bottom: Masonic Shrine bobblehead doll, 2003, collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Jennifer G. Aszling, 2008.043.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society

Radio_Orphan_Annie_2_web Pictured here are the "New 1937 Secret Wig-Wag Signs" from the Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society booklet issued in 1937. Pictured below is the 1935 decoder pin that came as a premium from Ovaltine, Radio Orphan Annie's commercial sponsor. Children who had the decoder pin were encouraged to listen to the radio show, during which they'd receive an encoded message that could only be decoded if one was in possession of that year's decoder pin. The pin changed from year to year, insuring that only current members could decode the secret messages. (And, no doubt, insuring that children would pester their parents to buy Ovaltine.)

2006_013_5DS_webFreemasonry influenced a number of the fraternal groups that were formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and indeed many fraternal groups were founded by Masons. The Radio Orphan Annie Secret Society shows the influence that such groups had on popular culture as well. The"Wig-Wag" signs pictured above, for example, show how far those who created the Radio Orphan Annie Secret Society went in drawing from actual fraternal groups. Historically, individual Masons have held different opinions on precisely what they feel they can divulge to non-members. Despite this, there has always been consensus among Masons that they are obliged not to reveal the passwords, signs, and grips (i.e. handshakes) that are used to by Masons to identify each other. A number of fraternal organizations were patterned after Freemasonry - many have three initiation degree rituals and most have passwords, signs, and grips that a member promises not to divulge. The "Wig-Wag" signs, while intended for a children's group that might only be generously labeled as a "secret society," are similar to the type of signs that a member of a fraternal group will learn upon initiation and promise not to divulge to non-members.

Radio_Orphan_Annie_1_web So, perhaps it's not terribly surprising to find that Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society had its own set of passwords and signs. (Interestingly, and possibly because this was aimed at children, who are not, typically handshakers, there are no grips.) Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society, like some other fraternal groups (the ones for grown-ups), made sure that the passwords changed from year to year, insuring that only active members had the current password that would identify them to other members and/or allow them to gain access to the group's meeting.

The 1937 booklet for Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society was sent to children who joined the club that year. Little Orphan Annie started life, of course, as a comic strip, first published in 1924. Starting in 1930, a radio show began airing. The Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society radio show started in 1934. If you're not old enough to have joined the Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society, you might be familiar with it from a funny scene from the 1983 movie, A Christmas Story, in which the main character, Ralphie, receives his secret decoder from the Radio Orphan Annie Secret Society.

Because our rituals policy permits us to share once-secretive information for fraternal organizations that have gone out of existence, we can share with you the passwords and signs for the Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society from 1937. But remember, these must be used with care, as Annie herself reminds you in the booklet that accompanies this information:

"Sometimes outsiders may pretend that they are members of Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society when they're really not members at all. So whenever you want to find out for sure if anyone is a 1937 member - ask him to give the password to prove it.

You say to him: "Give me the 1937 secret password."
He should answer: "SIM-COR." (This new password is made up of the first syllables of the two words, "Simmons Corners" - the town were Annie lives with her foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. Silo.)"

The signs, of course, are pictured at the top of this post.

Top and bottom:
Radio Orphan Annie's Secret Society, 1937.
Call number: PN 6728 .L55 R3 1937
Gift of Robert A. Frank

Center: Radio Orphan Annie Decoder, 1935, National Heritage Museum Collection, Gift of Robert A. Frank, 2006.013.5

"Mister Mason was a Mason and a good one too"

Be_A_Mason_cover_web It's fair to say that Freemasonry has been having a bit of a pop culture moment during the past few years. The most recent example, of course, is Dan Brown's latest novel, The Lost Symbol.

But Freemasonry's appearance in popular culture is nothing new. Pictured here is sheet music for the song Be a Mason (And Take It By Degrees) which was published in 1916 (and whose first line is the title of this post). The music is by Albert von Tilzer, who was a well-known Tin Pan Alley composer. You might know him as the man who wrote Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

The song Be A Mason draws on people's familiarity with Freemasonry and puts a funny, even slightly risque, twist on it. Despite the title, the song isn't actually about trying to convince someone to become a Mason or even reminding someone that he should act more brotherly or fraternal.

Instead, the song plays on the listener's familiarity with the existence of the three "degrees" of Freemasonry: the Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason rituals that every candidate participates in when joining his local lodge. But, in fact, the song has nothing to do with joining a local lodge. Instead, it's a playful song about seduction, offering humorous advice on how a young man ought to move slowly, in steps, as he woos a woman:

Be a Mason, take it by degrees
Be a Mason, and you'll be sure to please
A little bit now, a little bit then
When you want some more, come back again...

If you're interested in more references to Freemasonry in music, be sure to check out the page put together by Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. You'll find references from Irving Berlin to Public Enemy.

Photo caption: Be a Mason (And Take It By Degrees). Cover illustration by Andre C. De Takacs. New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1916. National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, 79-1179SC, Museum purchase.

Symposium Keynote Speaker Jessica Harland-Jacobs to Bring New Perspective to the History of American Freemasonry and Fraternalism

On Friday, April 9, 2010, the National Heritage Museum will host an academic symposium, “New Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism,” presenting the newest research on American fraternal groups from the past to the present day. As the repository of one of the largest collections of American Masonic and fraternal objects, books and manuscripts in the United States, the Museum is proud to foster innovative research on American fraternalism.


JH-J_2 Our keynote speaker will be Jessica Harland-Jacobs, Associate Professor of History at the University of Florida and author of Builders of Empire: Freemasonry and British Imperialism, 1717-1927. Ms. Harland-Jacobs has chosen to speak on “Worlds of Brothers”, emphasizing how many fraternities, and Freemasonry especially, are conceived and operate as global institutions. While fraternalism has, by and large, been investigated from the perspective of the nation state, the talk will demonstrate how framing the history of modern-era Freemasonry on a world scale pays great dividends for our understanding of the phenomenon. In fact, as the speaker will explain, taking a global perspective can benefit contemporary American brotherhoods.


In addition to the keynote speaker, six scholars have been selected to present their research at the symposium. Look for an upcoming blog post that will describe the full program. Mark your calendars for a day of new discoveries and unexpected conclusions about how we interpret the history of American society and culture.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Harland-Jacobs.