Knights of Pythias

Quilted Celebrations of Masonic and Fraternal Activity

2011_059DP1DBThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library received the Masonic quilt at left as a recent gift.  It was made in 1981 and helps us bring our fraternal quilt collection closer to the present, allowing us to compare and contrast this quilt with others from the 1800s and early 1900s (see these previous blog posts!).  Anyone who quilted or sewed during the late 1970s and early 1980s may recognize some of the fabrics if you look at them closely.  We loved the story that the donor told about this quilt's history.  His aunt, a lieutenant commander and nurse in the U.S. Navy, made this bed covering for him on the occasion of his installation as Master of Crescent Lodge in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, for the second time.  Edith Bowen, the quilt's maker, bought a book about Masonic symbols here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library to help her design the quilt, which includes appliqued squares and compasses, cornucopias, a lyre and other recognizable symbols.

Shortly after we received this Masonic quilt, we were also given the fraternal quilt at right.  Made in 1989, it shows the symbol of the Pythian Sisters, a female auxiliary of the Knights of Pythias (for more on this group, see our posts), which was formed after the Civil War.  This quilt was a gift, honoring the accomplishments and volunteer efforts of one Pythian Sisters member, on the occasion of the group's centennial. 2011_066_4DP1DB

Have you made any Masonic or fraternal quilts?  Have you received one?  If so, we'd love to hear about it in a comment below.

Masonic quilt, 1981, Edith M. Bowen, United States.  Gift of Stephen J. Twining, 2011.059.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Pythian Sisters quilt, 1989, unidentified maker, United States.  Gift of the Estate of Geraldine M. Worley, 2011.066.4.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Fraternal Mysteries: Knights of Pythias Degree Lodge Team


Knights of Pythias Degree Lodge Team, ca. 1890, Unidentified Maker, Parkersburg, West Virginia, Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.116.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library owns over a thousand photographs. A number of these photographs feature unidentified men and women in mystery locales, performing unidentifiable group rituals, or at unknown meetings and events. We are starting a series called “Fraternal Mysteries” in order to crowd source potential information about photographs that are difficult to identify. The museum staff conducts extensive research on our collection but is sometimes left stumped when the only potential clues about a photograph or artifact are a few illegible handwritten notes on the back of the object, a small sign, or an element of clothing. We hope to get these and other images in our collection in front of as many history enthusiasts and fraternal members as possible in order to help us build richer and more accurate stories about our collection objects.

Recently the collections team made some progress in identifying one of these mystery photographs. In 1988, the Museum & Library purchased the Grant B. Romer Fraternal Photographic Collection. Grant B. Romer was the conservator of photographs at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, N.Y., for many years. The collection numbered over 180 items and included a wide variety of ambrotypes, ferrotypes, daguerreotypes

Knights of Pythias Degree Lodge Team, ca. 1890, Unidentified Maker, Parkersburg, West Virginia, Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.115b.

and silver gelatin prints of members of fraternal organizations. Fraternal organizations represented in the collection include, the Improved Order of Red Men, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Loyal Orange Institution, Odd Fellows, Knights Templar and Knights of Pythias.

There are three photographs in this collection identified as a “Knights of Pythias lodge degree team.” These photographs feature a group of about thirty men dressed in demon costumes in a rural outdoor setting. In the above photo they are posed in a group photo and in the other two they are standing in what appears to be a cross and circle formation. A handwritten note in pencil identifies the location as “Parkersburg, W.VA.” Typed notes included with the photographs state that this Knights of Pythias degree team photo is “showing Mephistopheles costumes (Mephisto suits) used in the Amplified T----- Rank for the character PL.” Part of the name is redacted.

The photos are highly intriguing. The collections team wanted to verify the group as the Knights of Pythias and determine the ritual or event in the image. After some research in our own library and archives we found two references that seemed to describe the depicted ritual and match the typed notes on file. In an 1872 Knights of Pythias ritual book titled Amplified version of the Knight degree, a character named Pluto is mentioned and seems like a plausible match for the "character PL."  The character Pluto was also referenced in relation to the Amplified Rank degree. In an 1882 M. C. Lilley regalia catalog titled Lodge paraphernalia for all three ranks including the Amplified Third we found a ritual name and costume descriptions matching the information in the file. Advertisements for related ritual paraphernalia included Mephisto costumes, facial hair, and masks for PL (again probably for the character of Pluto). The catalog marketed the paraphernalia to Knights of Pythias lodges “working the amplified third rank degree” because it seems apparent that not all Pythian lodges practiced it.

Knights of Pythias Degree Lodge Team, ca. 1890, Unidentified Maker, Parkersburg, West Virginia, Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.115a.

The Knights of Pythias Phoenix Lodge No. 72 in Mill Valley, California, mentions the 1930 authorization of a new degree called the "Pluto Degree" on the history section of their website. They write "it is likely the Pluto Degree was a reintroduction of the 1872 amplified version of the Knight Degree." We could not find reference to the Amplified Third degree in later ritual books from our collection and it is unclear when the degree stopped being practiced.

As of now, based on the information we have found, we believe these photographs depict a Knights of Pythias degree team practicing the Amplified Third Rank degree for the character Pluto sometime in the 1890s.

There are quite a few uncertainties; why are they practicing the ritual outside? Do these images really correspond with the information from the previous owner?

Do these images or men look familiar to you? Do you have any information about this Knights of Pythias degree ritual?  Please write a comment below or contact Ymelda Rivera Laxton, Assistant Curator at [email protected] with information or if you have any questions.

To see these photographs and more from our Knights of Pythias collection, visit our Flickr page at:

Want to help us identify or research more mystery photos in our collection? Stay tuned for our Fraternal Mystery Flickr album launching in January 2016.




Ritual of the Knights of Pythias, containing the forms for opening and closing, and the ceremonies of the different ranks, together with other forms of ceremonial work by order of the Supreme Lodge, S.l. : the Supreme Lodge, Knights of Pythias, 1882


Register Now! April 11, 2014 Symposium - Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism

UN2000_0131_49DS1Don't miss out!  Register now for the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library symposium on Friday, April 11, 2014 - Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism.  This day-long symposium seeks to present the newest research on American fraternal groups.  By 1900, over 250 American fraternal groups existed, numbering six million members.  The study of their activities and influence in the United States, past and present, offers the potential for new interpretations of American society and culture.

The day will include:

"Mid-Nineteenth Century Lodges: Middle-Class Families in the Absence of Women," Kristen M. Jeschke, DeVry University

"Bragging Brethren and Solid Sisters? Contrasting Mobilization Patterns Among Male and Female Orders During the Spanish-American War," Jeffrey Tyssens, Vrije Universiteit Brussels

"Painted Ambition: Notes on Some Early Masonic Wall Painting," Margaret Goehring, New Mexico State University

"Pilgrimage and Procession: The Knights Templar Triennial Conclaves and the Dream of the American West," Adam G. Kendall, Henry Wilson Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Grand Lodge of California

"The Colored Knights of Pythias," Stephen Hill Sr., Phylaxis Society

"'The Farmer Feeds Us All': The Origins and Evolution of a Grange Anthem," Stephen Canner, Independent Scholar

Participants will also have their choice of a tour of our exhibition, "A Sublime Brotherhood: 200 Years of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction," a behind-the-scenes tour of the Museum collection, or a tour of highlights in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives.

Registration is $65 ($60 for museum members) and includes morning refreshments, lunch and a closing reception.  The day runs from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.  To register - BY MARCH 21 - visit our website and complete a registration form.

The symposium is funded in part by the Supreme Council, N.M.J., U.S.A.


Would You Jump? The Knights of Pythias Test of Steel

2013_057_1a-bDP1DBAt the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, we collect objects, documents and books associated with any and all American fraternal groups - Masonic and non-Masonic. Recently, we were given this set of props that was used by the Knights of Pythias. While these two items may look identical in the photo - triangular wooden bases covered with pointed spikes - there is a crucial difference between them. On one, the spikes are metal and unyielding. On the other, the spikes just look like metal but they are actually rubber.

Founded by Justus H. Rathbone in 1864, the Knights of Pythias based their ritual on the story of the friendship between Damon and Pythias (for more on the Knights of Pythias, see our other posts). Like many American fraternal groups, and because founder Rathbone was a Freemason, the Knights took inspiration from Freemasonry, which was officially established in America in the 1730s. Like Freemasonry, the Knights of Pythias have three degrees, called ranks, each with an initiation ritual.

These props, known as the "test of steel," were a part of the ritual for the third Knights of Pythias rank - the rank of Knight. A published version of the ritual from 1928 explains how these objects were used. The candidate was asked to examine the one with the metal spikes. Then the officers would swap in the prop with the rubber spikes, without the candidate noticing. The Master at Arms would take the candidate to a set of steps and make sure he walked to the top. At the word of the man playing the King, the candidate had to jump into the center of the spikes. An earlier published version of the ritual, from 1882, differs slightly in that it does not call this part of the ritual the "test of steel," and suggests that these bases with spikes were not always used. In this version, the "instrument" is not specific - a blank is left in the text. The Master of Arms is commanded simply to go to the armory and "bring forth the first instrument of ---- upon which [his] hand may chance to fall." The rest of the ritual is conducted very similarly to that in the 1928 version - the candidate is led to the top of the steps and asked to jump after seeing the real item, which is then exchanged for the "fictitious" one (as it was called in the 1882 published ritual). Knights of Pythias Shall I Jump Postcard

A postcard in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection shows a tongue-in-cheek allusion to the "test of steel." Seen here at right, it shows a woman on top of a block with a bouquet of flowers on the floor in front. Inscribed on the block is the Knights of Pythias symbol and the words "Shall I jump?" A member of the Knights of Pythias would understand the allusion being made by the postcard.

Do you have any props from American fraternal groups? Tell us about them in a comment below!

Knights of Pythias Test of Steel, 1900-1930, American. Gift of James J. Bennette, 2013.057.1a-b. Photograph by David Bohl.

Postcard, 1910, H.A. Bliler, American. Museum purchase, A87/219/1.

Sources Consulted:

Ritual of the Knights of Pythias (Supreme Lodge, 1882).

Revised Knights of Pythias Illustrated (Chicago: Ezra A. Cook, 1928).

Masonically Inspired: Order of United American Mechanics and the Knights of Pythias

97_019T1 AOUM print By 1900, over 250 American fraternal groups existed, numbering six million members.  Many of these groups looked to Freemasonry for inspiration in creating their rituals, their symbols and their structure.  Two of these groups – the Order of United American Mechanics and the Knights of Pythias – show Masonic influence in the colorful prints reproduced here.  The National Heritage Museum collection includes hundreds of prints like these, which are invaluable sources to study Masonic and fraternal history, as well as American history and culture.

Founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1845, the Order of United American Mechanics was a patriotic, social and benevolent fraternity that aimed to help native-born Americans find employment, and to assist members’ widows and orphans and members who could not work.  The group’s mission reflected the resentment that some American workers felt toward immigrants who were hired at lower wages.  Its emblem, shown at the print’s center (at left), consisted of a square and compasses – similar to the well-known Masonic symbol – around the arm of labor.2000_027DI1 Pythias Print

The print at right is titled The Brotherhood of Pythianism.  The Knights of Pythias was founded in 1864 in Washington, D.C., to renew brotherly spirit in the wake of the Civil War.  Founder Justus H. Rathbone (1839-1889), possibly the man depicted at the top of the print, was a Freemason.  Like Freemasonry, the Knights of Pythias awarded three degrees through rituals.  However, the Knights’ rituals followed the story of the friendship of Damon and Pythias, rather than the building of King Solomon’s temple.  This print prominently displays the group’s motto, “Friendship, Charity, Benevolence.”

Left: American Order of United Mechanics, 1870, Strobridge and Company, Cincinnati, OH, National Heritage Museum, 97.019.  Photograph by David Bohl.  Right: The Brotherhood of Pythianism, 1900, The M.C. Lilley and Company, Columbus, OH, National Heritage Museum, Anonymous Gift, 2000.027. 

Can you help us solve this mystery?

2006_010a-eDP1 Mystery Jewels Recently, the National Heritage Museum acquired a set of fraternal jewels, which you can see here (click on the picture for a closer look).  The five jewels appear to be part of a set.  They are made out of the same metal and have identical pins at the top, with a crescent moon and a five-point star resting on clouds.  Each jewel has a different pendant hanging from the top piece: a harp, crossed gavels, scales, an open book and a lantern.  They were found in Connecticut, although it is not known if they were originally made or used there.

The jewels do not show any engraving or inscriptions to help us identify the group that initially used them so we are seeking more information.  Have you ever seen anything similar?  Do you know of a fraternal or Masonic group that uses these symbols?

In the May 2009 issue of the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s The Northern Light, we published a picture of these jewels and asked the same questions.  Prior to this, we received suggestions that the jewels might be from the Daughters of the Nile or the White Shrine of Jerusalem, but comparisons to symbols and jewels from those groups are not conclusive. 

Northern Light readers wasted no time in contacting the Museum with suggestions.  One reader noted a comparison between the star and crescent on the jewels and at the Odd Fellows cemetery in Ennis, Texas.  While similar, the mystery jewels differ significantly from other Odd Fellows jewels in the National Heritage Museum collection.  For another reader, the symbols on the mystery jewels called to mind the moon and star seen on jewelry for members of the Dramatic Order of Knights of Khorassan, a group related to the Knights of Pythias.  But comparisons between our mystery jewels and the symbols for this group did not turn up a conclusive match.  Still another reader suggested that the jewels might be associated with the Moorish Science Temple of America.  We welcomed all of the suggestions and continue to search for the answer to this mystery.

If you have any ideas, please write a comment below and let us know.

Set of Jewels for Unidentified Fraternity, 1880-1930.  Museum purchase, collection of National Heritage Museum, 2006.010a-e.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Shall We Dance?

A1992_180lodgedancecard_web The card seen here is from a social event that took place on Wednesday, November 27, 1889. On that date, the Eureka Lodge, No.4 of the Knights of Pythias of Lynn, Massachusetts held their annual concert and dance on Thanksgiving Eve.  In addition to this wonderful illustration, the card  contains information that gives us a sense of what the evening must have been like - from the types of dances that were danced to the various dishes served at dinner. The program for the evening included a concert by Reinewald’s Eighth Regiment Band and Orchestra, a full military band. 

The first part of the program (MA 015) was a set of dances including quadrilles, waltzes, contras, schottisches, followed by an intermission and supper.  According to the program, the menu consisted of roast turkey and cranberry sauce, chicken, mashed potatoes, various salads, cold meats, oysters, ice cream and cake, tea and coffee, and fruit.  Following dinner, there was more dancing, including more quadrilles, a Portland Fancy, a Danish, and a Redowa. Several of the dances are named for other fraternal groups of the time period such as “Red Men”, “I.O.O.F”, “K.G.E”.  These names refer to the Improved Order of Red Men, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and the Knights of the Golden Eagle.

Though the peak of participation in the Knights of Pythias was during the late-19th century, they still exist today, with headquarters in Quincy, Massachusetts. They are still accepting new members if you are interested.