Grand Lodge of Massachusetts

A White House Foundation Stone

Init Eye White House At the end of World War II, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) became aware that the White House needed extensive repairs.  Plaster was cracked, floors were sagging and repeated coats of white paint had covered the decorative carving on the exterior.  Upon further examination, the conditions were discovered to be even worse than anticipated.  A refurbishment project for the White House was undertaken over several years: the interior was completely removed and the exterior walls were supported with stronger foundations.  A steel frame was built within the shell.

During an inspection of the construction, President Truman noticed carvings on some of the stones in the original White House walls.  These marks were “signatures” left by the eighteenth-century stonemasons who worked on the original construction.  President Truman, an active Freemason, arranged for many of these stones to be sent to Grand Lodges across the United States.

The stone pictured here was sent to the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts in 1952 along with a letter signed by President Truman.  The president explained that “these evidences of the number of members of the Craft who built the President’s official residence so intimately aligns Freemasonry with the formation and founding of our Government that I believe your Grand Lodge will cherish this link between the Fraternity and the Government of the Nation, of which the White House is a symbol.”GL2004_0146S1 White House Stone

One of the White House foundation stones is on view as part of the National Heritage Museum’s exhibition, "The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry, and the Architecture of Washington, D.C."  The exhibition presents 21 oil paintings by 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 layout and design of the city.  The exhibition is supplemented with approximately forty objects from the National Heritage Museum’s collection. 

"The Initiated Eye" will be on view through January 9, 2011.  The paintings in the exhibition are the work of Peter Waddell, and 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.

Left: Within These Walls, 2005, Peter Waddell (b. 1955), Washington, D.C.  Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C.  Right: White House Foundation Stone, 1792-1800, American, Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts at the National Heritage Museum, GL2004.0146.  Photograph by David Bohl.


The Charlton Masonic Home

Charlton Masonic Home Overall During the late 1800s, the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts began to consider establishing a home for sick and aged Freemasons and their families in the state.  The Grand Lodge was motivated by larger social trends.  Prior to the Civil War, caring for the sick and the elderly was a family's responsibility.  After the war, concern for the problems of old age increased.  Families were not working together on their farms as much anymore, and more people began working outside their homes for pay, making the care of the sick and the old difficult.  Between the Civil War and World War I, the number of homes for the aged increased, retirement pension programs were established, and old age annuities began to be offered by insurance companies and by fraternal and mutual benefit societies.

Fundraising for the Massachusetts Masonic Home began in earnest in late 1907.  In December 1908, the Grand Lodge purchased the old Overlook Hotel property in Charlton, Massachusetts, located near Worcester in the central part of the state.  The photograph below shows Grand Lodge officers signing the purchase paperwork.  This photograph is part of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection housed at the National Heritage Museum.Charlton Masonic Home Ownership

By early 1911, the Grand Lodge had raised $148,290 from 30,000 Masons (about half of the state’s membership) and felt that they had sufficient funding to open the Home.  The dedication took place on May 25, 1911, with a crowd of 3,000 in attendance.  The Grand Master addressed the crowd, reminding them that “the establishment of the Home to-day is the result of no recent inspiration, but has been the growth of years.”  Over the next 100 years, the Charlton Masonic Home grew, with room for more and more beds added over the decades.  Known today as the Overlook Masonic Health System, the Home continues to flourish.

Left: Postcard, Bird’s-Eye View of Charlton Masonic Home, ca. 1911, National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, A96/066/6102.  Right: Signing the Papers for the Transfer of the Charlton Masonic Home, 1909, G. Chickering, probably Boston, Massachusetts, Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.7185.


Masonic Trench Art

GL2004_3033T 2009 marks the fifth anniversary of an agreement between the National Heritage Museum and the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, which brought the Grand Lodge collection to the Museum on extended loan.  Both organizations have seen many benefits over the past five years.  The Grand Lodge collection is professionally cared for, with each object inventoried and tracked.  In turn, the Museum is able to research, exhibit and publish the objects in the collection, along with new information about them.

I have been fortunate to work with the Grand Lodge collection for almost three and a half years.  Among the more than 12,000 objects, I have many favorites; the pendant pictured here is near the top of my list.  Made in one century and sold at auction in another, this small item attests to the universality of Freemasonry’s tenets and reminds us of the importance of tradition.

The pendant is similar in form and materials to many that were made as an early form of “trench art” by French prisoners in England during the Napoleonic Wars.  Between 1793 and 1814, there were over 120,000 French soldiers and sailors in British prisons.  Using what was handy, including bone, straw from their mattresses, paper, their own hair, and other materials, the prisoners fashioned these small pictures.  Many sold or traded their work for food, clothing or bedding to improve their living conditions at the prison.  French Freemasons in the prisons were allowed to form lodges.  Pendants like this one may have helped those Masons to remember their teachings and might have been used in the prison lodges to teach new members or to identify lodge officers.  These items were undoubtedly appealing souvenirs for English Masons, who purchased or traded for them with the prisoners.  

A century after it was initially made, this pendant was purchased at the 1901 auction of industrialist John Haigh’s (1832-1896) library by former Grand Master of Massachusetts Samuel Crocker Lawrence (1832-1911).  John Haigh was a native of England, but came to America in 1855.  Apprenticed as a calico printer, Haigh worked at the Pacific Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and later became part owner of the Middlesex Bleachery and Dye Works.  Initiated into a local lodge in Lawrence in 1859, Haigh was an active Freemason who frequently served as an officer.

Samuel Crocker Lawrence was initiated into Hiram Lodge in West Cambridge (now Arlington), Massachusetts, in 1854.  A Civil War general, Lawrence became president of the Eastern Railroad Company in 1875 and served as the first mayor of the city of Medford, Massachusetts, from 1892 to 1894.  An active Freemason, Lawrence bequeathed his extensive Masonic library to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts when he died in 1911.  Today, the Grand Lodge Library is named in his honor.

References:

Jane A. Kimball.  Trench Art: An Illustrated History.  Davis, CA: Silverpenny Press, 2004.

Mark J.R. Dennis and Nicholas J. Saunders.  Craft and Conflict: Masonic Trench Art and Military Memoribilia.  London: Savannah Publications, 2003.

William Hammond.  Masonic Emblems and Jewels: Treasures at Freemasons’ Hall.  London: A. Lewis, 1920.

Masonic Pendant, 1793-1815, England, Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts at the National Heritage Museum, GL2004.3033.  Photograph by David Bohl.


What do we collect?

89_76T1 Tracing Board Established in 1975 by Scottish Rite Freemasons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States, the National Heritage Museum tells America’s story. For over thirty years, the museum has collected, by gift and by purchase, objects that help tell that story. Today, the collection numbers over 16,000 objects. 

The collection’s primary strength is its American Masonic and fraternal items.  As the largest group of objects of its kind in the United States, the Museum’s holdings include over 400 fraternal aprons, over 2,500 fraternal badges and pieces of jewelry, and more than 1,000 items of fraternal regalia, as well as household and lodge furnishings, glass, ceramics and works of art, all decorated with Masonic and fraternal symbols.  The Museum manages an additional 12,000 objects and documents from the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts under a long-term loan agreement.  The Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives comprise 60,000 books, 1,600 serial titles and 2,000 cubic feet of archival materials related to American history and fraternalism.  Selected treasures from our collection can be seen on our website.  The Library’s catalog of printed books is also accessible online.

The Museum also collects material related to American history.  These items offer different perspectives for the interpretation of important events, people, themes and issues in American history.  For example, the Willis R. Michael collection of American and European clocks comprises an encyclopedic diversity of over 140 time-keeping mechanisms.  Many of these clocks are currently featured in the National Heritage Museum exhibition, "For All Time," on view through February 21, 2010.  The Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton Collection of more than 600 George Washington prints and related ephemera showcases the way that the memory of our first president has developed over the past 200 years.86_61_115DI1 Guyton GW print

The objects in the museum collection are highlighted in interpretive exhibitions, presented in educational programs and used as the focus of scholarly research.  All enrich our understanding of the past.  The National Heritage Museum actively seeks to add items to its collection that tell an engaging story, do not duplicate existing holdings and are in good condition.

If you have questions about the National Heritage Museum’s collection, or would like to make a gift to the collection or a financial donation to support future object purchases and conservation, we would like to hear from you. For more information, please contact Aimee E. Newell, Director of Collections, at (781) 457-4144 and anewell[at]monh.org.

Top: Masonic tracing board, ca. 1820, attributed to John Ritto Penniman (1782-1841), probably Boston, Massachusetts, National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 89.76.  Photograph by David Bohl.  Bottom: G. Washington, 1856, A. Chappel, artist, G.R. Hall, engraver, New York City, National Heritage Museum, Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton Collection, 86.61.115.


A Masonic Past Master's Jewel

GL2004_0145S1 As Freemasonry developed during the early 1700s in England and America, symbols were associated with each office.  The officers started wearing their symbols as silver pendants, called jewels, while attending meetings and public ceremonies.  Masonic jewels were almost always silver, generally made by a silversmith working in the area where the lodge met, although few are marked by their makers.  The lodge’s officer jewels belonged to the Lodge and passed from man to man as they entered and left office.  
 
The jewel seen here is a Masonic Past Master’s jewel.  Unlike lodge officer jewels, Past Master jewels were usually purchased by the lodge and then presented to the outgoing Master in appreciation of his service as leader.  The recipient would wear his Past Master jewel on his chest at lodge events to signify his experience.  This jewel was presented to James Dickson (1774-1853), Past Master of Boston’s St. John’s Lodge, in 1812.  Dickson was born in London and came to Boston by 1796, where he followed an acting career and managed the Boston Theatre during the early 1800s.  He later became a merchant, importing fancy English goods, and accumulated a fortune estimated at $100,000 by 1851.

Dickson became a member of St. John’s Lodge in 1804, serving in several offices between 1808 and 1815.  After receiving this jewel in recognition of his service as Master in 1812, Dickson again served the lodge as Master in 1818 and in 1829.  He also served as Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts; this jewel is now part of the Grand Lodge collection at the National Heritage Museum.

Past Master’s Jewel, 1812, Boston, Massachusetts.  Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts at the National Heritage Museum, GL2004.0145.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Boston Turns on the Lights for the Knights Templar in 1895

GL2004_2057 GLMA bldg KTScan At the end of August 1895, the city of Boston greeted 20,000 Masonic Knights Templar from around the country.  These men, and their wives, gathered in the city for their Triennial Conclave (see our previous post on this event).

While the parade on August 27 must have been quite a sight, it was not only the Knights Templar members that dressed for the event.  As part of the celebration, the Grand Commandery of Massachusetts and Rhode Island decorated the exterior of the Boston Masonic building with a spectacular display of bunting and electric lights. 

This photograph shows just how conspicuous the building was, with the large central Templar cross, Masonic keystone and square and compasses symbols.  Across the top of the building, the words “fraternity,” “fidelity,” and “charity” are spelled out in lights.  At night, when the lights were turned on, the building glowed for all to see.

Sadly, less than two weeks after the Conclave celebrations concluded, the Boston Masonic building caught fire and had to be torn down.  This was the second devastating fire on this site in thirty years.  In 1864, the previous building at the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets, which housed the Winthrop House Hotel as well as the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, caught fire.  Both times, no one was trapped in the building, but the Grand Lodge did lose treasured objects, regalia and papers. 

The Grand Lodge rebuilt their Masonic building at the same location – now 186 Tremont Street – and dedicated the new building in December 1899.  Today, that building is home to the Grand Lodge administrative offices, the Samuel Crocker Lawrence Library, five lodge rooms and a theater. Twenty Masonic groups regularly meet in the building.

To learn more about the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and the 1895 Triennial Conclave, visit the National Heritage Museum to see our exhibition, "The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts: Celebrating 275 Years of Brotherhood."  The exhibition runs through October 25, 2009.

Boston Masonic Building, August 1895, Massachusetts, courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2057.  


Happy Anniversary to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts!

GL2004_4500T July 30 marks the 276th anniversary of the formation of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts.  On that day in 1733, Henry Price (1697-1780) officially brought Freemasonry to America by constituting the Grand Lodge in Boston.  As Provincial Grand Master of North America, Price was charged with ensuring that the Grand Lodge followed the printed Constitutions, or rules, of the fraternity; kept the annual December feast day of St. John the Evangelist, one of Freemasonry’s patron saints; and established a “General Charity” for the “Relief of Poor Brethren.”  Two hundred seventy-six years later, the same kinds of activities continue to define the Grand Lodge, which is the third oldest in the world.

Originally owned by Henry Price, the chair seen here is now part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, which is housed at the National Heritage Museum.  Currently, it is on view in the Museum’s exhibition, “The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts: Celebrating 275 Years of Brotherhood.”  The exhibition will close on October 25, 2009, so do plan a visit soon.  (If you can't make it to the Museum by October 25, or want to relive your visit, take a look at our virtual version of the exhibition.)

London-born Henry Price apprenticed as a tailor.  He arrived in Boston in 1723 to pursue this trade and soon met with success, opening multiple shops.  He had become a Freemason in England prior to 1723.  In 1733, while in England on business, he approached the Grand Lodge of England with a petition signed by 18 Boston men seeking to form a Masonic lodge.  This petition was granted.  Price returned home to Massachusetts, where he constituted both the Grand Lodge and St. John’s Lodge, the oldest local lodge in the state.

In the early 1760s, Henry Price retired to Townsend, Massachusetts, where he served as representative to the Provincial Legislature in 1764 and 1765.  His several-hundred-acre estate, which included farms, mills and mechanical shops, reflected his prosperity.  On May 14, 1780, while splitting rails on his estate, Price’s axe slipped, wounding him in the abdomen.  He died six days later, at the age of 83.

This armchair shows a common style from the 1720s that was imported from England by the thousands.  Updated with painted graining at some point in its life, this example was cherished as a relic for almost two centuries.  Passed down in the Price family, the chair was donated to Henry Price Lodge in Belmont, Massachusetts in 1898, and then to the Grand Lodge Museum in 1930.

Armchair, 1700-1725, England, Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.4500.  Photograph by David Bohl.


The Ancient Landmark Lodge of Shanghai

The port town of Shanghai was one of the cities opened to foreign trade by the 1842 Treaty of Nanking. One of the effects of the treaty was that it created relationships between Shanghai and other, Western port cities. Trade, like colonialism, has been one of the factors that has led to the GL2004_10854_Ancient_Landmark_Lodge_certificate_web_version spread of Freemasonry around the world.  Boston was one of the American ports that exchanged goods with Shanghai.  Because of this trading relationship, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, located in Boston, began to explore the possibility of establishing Masonic lodges in the Shanghai area.

In 1864, during the Civil War in the United States, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts chartered a lodge in Shanghai, called the Ancient Landmark Lodge. In Shanghai at this time there were also individual lodges chartered by England and Scotland.  China was in many ways an open field for Masonic jurisdictions based in the West wishing to establish Masonic lodges in Shanghai, one of the faraway port cities that they traded with.

In 1922, Arthur D. Prince, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, made an official visit to the Ancient Landmark Lodge and to other Chinese lodges in the area.  He installed the officers of Ancient Landmark Lodge and wrote up a long report upon his return. 

By the 1920s men from the local Chinese population were being admitted to American Masonic lodges in the Shanghai area.  Freemasonry grew out of a Western philosophical system and for Masons, like Prince, an American in China in the 1920s, trying to apply Western thought to Eastern ideas could often prove challenging and sometimes revealed a common bias of the time that considered Western systems preferable to those in the East.  One of Prince's comments in his report was that many Chinese, who were followers of Confucius, could satisfy the requirements for admission to Freemasonry. This was probably because the basic teachings of Confucianism stress the importance of education and moral development of the individual as does Freemasonry.

In 1923, William Van Buskirk (b.1864), an American who lived in Shanghai, was made a Mason in Ancient Landmark Lodge. He  worked in a governmental position of Deputy Marshal for the Department of State of the United States.  Later, in 1926, Van Buskirk was elected Master of this lodge and was issued a Masonic certificate for this office, as seen in the image above. The National Heritage Museum also holds Van Buskirk's Masonic apron on loan.

Worshipful Master Certificate of William Buskirk, 1926, Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.10854

Sources used in today's post:

Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, A. F. & A. M., Boston: Caustic-Claflin Company,  v.1922, p. 451-487, v.1926, p.644.
Call numbers: 17.9763 .G751 1922, 17.9763 .G751 1926

Roy, Thomas Sherrard. Stalwart Builders:  The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, 1733-1978, Worcester, Mass.:  Davis Press, 1980.
Call number: 17.9763 .G751 R888 1971