Knights Templar

New to the Collection: Mourning McKinley

2008_021_5DP1 Commemorative glass and ceramic platters, mugs and pitchers were popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s – particularly those bearing the likeness of one of our presidents.  But, this glass platter, which was donated to the National Heritage Museum in 2008, the gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, seemed somewhat eerie to me given its inscription, “It is God’s way / His will be done.”

A quick search of the life dates on the platter, “Born 1843 / Died 1901,” confirmed that the man depicted is William McKinley, 25th president of the United States.  McKinley was assassinated while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  So, I initially attributed the rather severe verse to vestiges of somber Puritanism or to Victorian mourning ideals.

However, additional research turned up a far more pertinent explanation for the words on this commemorative platter.  According to the New York Times on September 14, 1901, McKinley’s last words as he died that day were “Good bye.  All good bye.  It is God’s way.  His will be done, not ours.”

Born in 1843 in Niles, Ohio, McKinley became a teacher until the Civil War broke out.  He enlisted in the Union Army, eventually achieving the rank of brevet major.  After the war, he became a lawyer in Canton, Ohio.  He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives and held two terms as governor of Ohio.  In 1896, McKinley was elected president of the United States, and was elected to a second term in 1900.  Unfortunately, his life was cut short on September 6, 1901.  On that day, despite the presence of Secret Service agents, anarchist Leon F. Czolgosz shot McKinley while he was shaking hands at a public reception at the Pan-American Exposition.  Despite quick medical attention, gangrene set in around McKinley’s wounds and he died on September 14, 1901.

In addition to his distinguished political career, William McKinley was a Freemason.  He received the first three degrees from Hiram Lodge No. 21 in Winchester, Virginia, during his Civil War service.  After the war, McKinley affiliated with Canton Lodge No. 90, Canton, Ohio, later becoming a charter member of Eagle Lodge No. 431 in Canton, Ohio.  He was also active in Royal Arch Masonry and the Knights Templar.

President William McKinley Commemorative Platter, ca. 1901, collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, 2008.021.5.  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.  


425 Horses and Thousands of Knights Templar

Ktwashingtonst1895_web In an exhibition on view here at the National Heritage Museum, The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts: Celebrating 275 Years of Brotherhood, there's a section devoted to the 26th Triennial Conclave of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States that was held in Boston from August 27-30, 1895, featuring many objects related to (or created expressly for) this meeting of Knights Templar.

You might be thinking, "What's the big deal? Did anyone in Boston even notice this Conclave?" In fact, it was a huge event. Just read the NY Times account of the parade held on August 27, 1895 where they report that "Boston has seldom, if ever, been so elaborately decorated. Practically every building along the line of the march, besides many of the side streets, is clothed in color, with appropriate mottoes and Masonic emblems, intertwined with streamers and bunting."

Interested in learning a bit more about this event, I checked to see what we have in the library's collection. Not surprisingly, we have a few different publications that were published expressly for (and about) the 1895 Triennial Conclave. The Report of the Triennial Committee is perhaps one of the richest. It's the official report of all of the various activities that took place over those three days.

Here are just a couple of interesting excerpts, which, I think, give a flavor of the events:

Ktprocession1895_web Committee on Horses and Horse Equipments: "By careful canvassing and advertising the Committee were able to provide 425 horses suitable for the purposes of parade..."

Committee on Receptions: "One of the earliest arrivals was that of the California Commandery, which was enthusiastically hailed by the large throng which awaited its coming at the Union Station. They were cordially welcomed by the Committee, and the ladies conducted to carriages. The Commandery having mounted their horses were escorted to their headquarters by Boston Commandery, 360 strong, receiving a continual ovation along the line of the route."

Committee on Music: "The majority of the visiting commanderies, however, brought their best local bands with them...One hundred thirty-seven bands, besides numerous drum corps, were distributed throughout the line [of the parade]."

But perhaps photographs of the event, two of which can be seen here, give the best sense of what it was like to be there. The top photo above shows a crowd of parade-watchers on Washington St., waiting for the parade to pass by; the bottom photo shows the staff of the Chief Marshall as the parade passes through Copley Square. The photos seen here are from:

Report of the Triennial Committee of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templars of Massachusetts and Rhode Island for the 26th Triennial Conclave of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States, held in Boston, Mass., August 27th-30th, 1895. [Privately printed, 1895].
Call number: 17.973 .U58

But if you really want to see photos, we've got a 500-page book (both too big and too fragile to scan), that goes a long way in documenting the events:

Mason, William A., ed. Photographic Souvenir: Grand Encampment of Knights Templar, 26th Triennial Conclave, held at Boston, Mass., Aug. 26-31, 1895. Boston : A.A. Rothenberg and Co., 1895.
Call number: 17.973 .U58 1895

Additionally, we have a number of postcards related to the 1895 Boston Conclave in our Duncan collection of postcards (MM 025) in the Archives.