Masonic aprons

New to the Collection: Master Mason Apron

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Master Mason Apron, 1800-1820, unidentified maker, United States, Museum purchase, 2014.115.3. Photograph by David Bohl.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library was very excited to purchase this apron at auction last fall.  It has a rather jaunty painted decoration on silk.  The central image includes a mosaic pavement with two columns supporting a distinctive pedimented archway, hung with pink drapery.  At each side is a taller column, one with an allegorical figure of Faith, the other with Charity.  In the center, in the midst of a blue sky, sits a figure of Hope with an anchor.  Scattered along the sides are several Masonic symbols, often included on Master Mason aprons.  Unfortunately, we do not know who made or owned this apron.

But, it does bear a striking similarity in style and design to an apron now in the collection of the Detroit Historical Society.  That apron shows the same blue and white mosaic pavement and a very similar pedimented archway with drapery, although in blue rather than gold.  It also has the allegorical figures of Faith, Hope and Charity.  According to family history, this apron was owned by Oliver Williams (1774-1834), who became a Freemason in Corinthian Lodge in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1813, but moved his family to Detroit a few years later.

Family history for that apron attributes it to a William Marshall.  And there was a William Marshall in Boston who joined the city’s Lodge of St. Andrew in 1797.  However, he is listed as a merchant on his membership card at the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.  Advertisements in the Boston newspapers from 1808 to 1815 note that Marshall specialized in wallpapers:  he “has on hand, a good assortment of new figured Paper Hangings and Borders, some of which are his own making,” as well as beds, bed ticking, mattresses and upholstered furniture.  Given this evidence, this apron may have been purchased from Marshall’s store – or there was another William Marshall who worked actively as an artist. 

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Master Mason Apron, 1800-1820, unidentified maker, United States, gift of Robert U. Brown, 85.76.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

The pedimented archway that is so prominent on this apron calls to mind the elaborate doorway pediments that were popular in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts during the mid-1700s.  Perhaps the artist of this apron was from that area, or had visited and was influenced by the doorways.  The bright color scheme was popular during the early 1800s.  Here are examples of two other aprons from our collection that employ similar colors and symbols.  The history of ownership and manufacture has been lost for each, but taken together with the one we just purchased, we can see that Freemasons of the early 1800s enjoyed bright colors and a similar rendering of central Masonic symbols.

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Master Mason Apron, ca. 1836, unidentified maker, United States, Museum purchase, 98.063.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

To learn more about our apron collection, see our new book, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, available June 2015 at www.scottishritenmj.org/shop.

 

 


New to the Collection: A Royal Arch Apron

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Masonic Royal Arch Apron, ca. 1820, Henry Parmele, probably Connecticut, Museum purchase, 2014.115.4. Photograph by David Bohl.

With over 400 Masonic and fraternal aprons in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection, we can be choosy when we add to our holdings.  But we are always intrigued when an apron with a different style or decoration shows up.  This was the case with this one, which we purchased at auction last fall.  The engraved design was new to us and we were very excited to add it to the collection.  The central archway with the ark of the covenant, columns, drapes and the figures in the center and to the sides all relate to the ritual for the Royal Arch degree.  The (originally) red trim also helps identify this apron as one that would have been worn to Royal Arch chapter meetings.  Unfortunately, the history of this apron has been lost and we do not know who originally owned it.  It also does not have any markings identifying the engraver or the printer.

Many engraved designs used on aprons were also used on certificates.  As far as we know, we do not have a copy of this certificate – yet.  But, our friends at the Henry Wilson Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry in San Francisco do have a copy of a certificate decorated with this engraving.  That certificate does have some information about the publisher and sellers.  Printed along the bottom of the certificate is “Pub[lishe]d by H. Parmele.  To be had of [Comp[anion]s?] S. Maverick N. York A. Doolittle New Haven and J.W. Clark Albany.”  Presumably the apron was printed from the same plate, or at least a plate engraved by the same person who cut the plate for the certificate.

Printer and publisher Henry Parmele (ca. 1781-1821) was active in Connecticut.  He reportedly came up with the idea of an illustrative Masonic chart of symbols before Jeremy L. Cross’s (1783-1860) The True Masonic Chart, or Hieroglyphic Monitor (1819), but Cross beat Parmele to the press and his book, with its groundbreaking illustrations, was available first.  Cross’s book became a best-seller and Parmele’s chart languished.

The other men named on the certificate were all active engravers in their respective locations.  Doolittle worked with Cross on the illustrations for his The True Masonic Chart.  Maverick (b. 1789), Doolittle (1754-1832) and Clark (dates unknown) inevitably both engraved and sold Masonic certificates, along with many other types of documents.

To learn more about our apron collection, see our new book, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, available June 2015 at www.scottishritenmj.org/shop.  Members of the Museum & Library or of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction can pre-order the book now (April 2015) through May 31 at a discounted price, by mailing this form with a check.


New Book on Masonic Aprons!

The Badge of a Freemason cover

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is pleased to announce that its new book, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, will be available in June 2015.  We are now (March 2015) offering pre-order discount pricing for Museum & Library members and for Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction members.  The discount will be available until May 31, 2015.  See below for order instructions.

Soon after the Museum & Library was founded in 1975, the collection began to grow.  Masonic aprons were among the first donations.  Today, with more than 400 aprons, the Museum & Library has one of the largest collections in the world.  Examples date from the late eighteenth century to the present and come from the United States, England, China and other countries.

Called “the badge of a Freemason” in Masonic ritual, the fraternity’s apron was adapted from the protective aprons worn by working stonemasons during the 1600s and 1700s.  Still worn by members today, the apron remains one of the iconic symbols of Freemasonry.  Written by the Museum & Library’s Director of Collections Aimee E. Newell, Ph.D., this catalogue presents more than 100 aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection with full-color photographs and new research.  The aprons are organized chronologically to help demonstrate their evolution in shape, style and materials from the eighteenth century through the twentieth century.

This lavishly illustrated volume offers stories to be enjoyed by Freemasons around the world, as well as new ways to understand these aprons for scholars, researchers and museum curators.  The Badge of a Freemason is the first in-depth study of American Masonic aprons published in recent decades and is a fascinating resource for collectors, enthusiasts and museums. Scottish Rite Apron Pages 194-95 2-12-15 Resized

Special Discount for Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction members and Museum & Library members - $33 (plus $9.95 shipping and handling and 6.25% sales tax of $2.06 for Massachusetts addresses).  Membership must be current – to become a Museum & Library member, click here.

Mail this form by May 31, 2015, along with your check payable to:

Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Attn. Aimee E. Newell, 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA  02421

The book will be available June 2015 for $39.95 (plus shipping and tax, if applicable).  Order online at www.ScottishRiteNMJ.org/shop.

 


New Book: Curiosities of the Craft Available Now!

Curiosities CoverThe Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library have partnered to produce Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection.

On July 30, 1733, Henry Price (1697-1780), appointed by the Grand Lodge of England, gathered his Masonic brothers at a Boston tavern and formed what would become known as the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts.  Over the following 280 years, the Grand Lodge withstood wars, anti-Masonic sentiment and fires.  At the same time, the Grand Lodge amassed a collection of Masonic and historic objects, mementos and documents that tell not only its story, but also the story of Boston, New England and the United States.

Drawing on new research by authors Aimee E. Newell, Hilary Anderson Stelling and Catherine Compton Swanson, the book includes over 130 highlights from the Grand Lodge collection of more than 10,000 items acquired since 1733.  These objects represent the rich heritage of Freemasonry in Massachusetts and tell stories of life in the fraternity, in the state and around the world.  Some items were made or used by Massachusetts Masons, while others have associations with famous American Freemasons, such as George Washington (1732-1799) and Paul Revere (1734-1818).

Introduced with a history of the Grand Lodge collection, the catalog treats the themes of Traditions and Roots, Ritual and Ceremony, Gifts and Charity, Brotherhood and Community, and Memory and Commemoration.  Through the treasures of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection, this publication explores the ordinary men, craftsmen and extraordinary leaders who built and sustained Freemasonry in Massachusetts for centuries.

To purchase the catalogue for $44.95 (plus sales tax and shipping), contact the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts at 617-426-6040 or order online at www.massfreemasonry.org.

 


New to the Collection: A Cerneau Consistory Apron

2011_032DP1DBEven in the context of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s collection there is something so tempting about the forbidden. At least, that’s the feeling I had when a prospective donor offered this Masonic apron to us recently. I do have a soft spot for Masonic aprons in general, and then I learned that this one was supposedly worn by a member of the Cerneau Scottish Rite Consistory in Lenox, Massachusetts, during the 1890s. That did it – I was intrigued and immediately agreed that it should be added to our collection.

But, some of you may be wondering who – or what – is Cerneau, while others are grimacing in disgust. For those that don’t know, Joseph Cerneau (1765-1848) was a French Freemason who lived in San Domingo and then Cuba before moving to New York City in 1806. While in Cuba, Cerneau joined a Scottish Rite group and was given the authority of a Deputy Inspector General. This allowed him to confer several degrees on other prospective Scottish Rite members in Cuba, but the jurisdictional restriction does not seem to stopped Cerneau from conferring the degrees once he reached New York. Debate has raged ever since over whether he acted out of confusion or greed (since he would receive a fee from each man who received the degrees).

In 1813, the Scottish Rite Supreme Council in Charleston, South Carolina, sent a member to investigate Cerneau, as well as two additional groups claiming to have jurisdiction in New York. After Cerneau refused the member's request to inspect his records, he was denounced “as an imposter of the first magnitude, and whom we have expelled from Masonic Asylum within our Jurisdiction.” Cerneau was not daunted by the pronouncement and continued to confer degrees.  He oversaw his own Supreme Council until 1827, when he left New York to return to France. Despite Cerneau’s departure from the United States, his name continued to serve as an umbrella term for spurious and irregular Masonic groups, like the one associated with this apron.

Information provided with the apron when it was donated suggests that it was worn by George Washington Ferguson (1865-1936), an ice dealer in Lenox who joined nearby Evening Star Lodge in 1891. At the time, many men who belonged to their local lodge found that they wanted to learn more about Masonic symbolism and philosophy.  Joining additional Masonic groups allowed them to do this, as well as to increase their social circle. The Scottish Rite, with twenty-nine additional degrees, is often called “the University of Freemasonry,” because of the allegorical lessons that its degrees teach. However, in 1891, the nearest recognized Scottish Rite Consistory to Lenox was in Worcester, almost ninety miles away. But, in April 1891, the Cerneau Supreme Council formed Berkshire Consistory No. 56 in Lenox and, according to the information with the apron, Ferguson joined this group. Records of Berkshire Consistory’s founding state that there were thirty-six charter members.

Berkshire Consistory No. 56 continued to meet throughout the 1890s, even hosting the Grand Sovereign Consistory’s “annual rendezvous,” or meeting, in 1895. In response, the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, which had denounced Cerneau and his group back in 1813, established the Onota Lodge of Perfection in nearby Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Relations between the two groups proved to be difficult over the next several years.

Questions remain unanswered about George Ferguson and Berkshire Consistory No. 56. Did he ever switch to the recognized Onota Lodge of Perfection? How long did Berkshire Consistory No. 56 remain functional? Please write a comment below if you know more about the story, or have additional questions.  This year, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, saluting its longevity.  This apron is a scarce reminder of the competing Berkshire Consistory No. 56 and its story.

Cerneau Scottish Rite Apron, ca. 1891, American. Gift of Pittsfield Masonic Association, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 2011.032. Photograph by David Bohl.


Don't Miss "Inspired By Fashion" - Closing March 24!

78_47T1Don’t miss your chance to see “Inspired by Fashion: American Masonic Regalia” at the National Heritage Museum! The exhibition closes March 24, 2012 (visit our website for hours and directions). Here are a few objects from the exhibition to whet your interest.

Freemason J. Hull sat for this portrait in the early 1800s wearing his Masonic apron, sash and medal. Hull’s apron resembles the one designed by Abner Reed of Connecticut, which you can see below (and check out our previous post about Reed). It is difficult to make out the details on Hull’s medal, but it may be a mark medal. In the Mark Master degree, members chose an individual symbol to represent themselves. The mark medal shown here was made for H. Gardiner around 1800. He chose a crossed keys symbol for his mark, which also represents the treasurer’s office in the lodge.80_14DI1

During the early 1700s, Freemasonry offered a way for upper-class men to socialize and share views. Soon after, the fraternity experienced a tremendous upsurge in popularity among many classes of men, in part because its values of parity and brotherhood resonated with supporters of American independence. Lodge clothing also mirrored these Masonic principles of equality and brotherhood.

89_17S1From the 1700s on, Masons had a public presence, wearing their regalia and participating in parades on special occasions. In this way, men associated themselves with Freemasonry, while also creating an identity for the lodge itself. In part, members communicated this message by moving within contemporary fashion conventions. Specific items of clothing made from special materials conveyed the fraternity’s values as well as identifying the wearers of men striving for character and class.

If you are interested in learning more about the intersection of men's fashion and Masonic regalia, we hope you will come see "Inspired by Fashion"!

Mr. and Mrs. J. Hull, ca. 1800, Unidentified Artist, American. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Special Acquisitions Fund, 78.47a. Photograph by David Bohl.

Masonic Apron, ca. 1800, Abner Reed (1771-1866), East Windsor, Connecticut. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Museum Purchase, 80.14.

Mark Medal, ca. 1800, probably New York. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Special Acquisitions Fund, 89.17.

 


Masonic Apron Mystery: Are These From the Same Hand?

76.22 Windsor Conservation PhotoAs we have explained in previous posts, we have a wonderful collection of Masonic aprons at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. This striking painted apron, which is among my favorites, recently received some conservation treatment prior to being shown in our current exhibition, Inspired by Fashion: American Masonic Regalia. Prior to the treatment, the apron was in poor condition with severe splits to the silk ground fabric, as well as discoloration and staining. Conservator Deirdre Windsor of Windsor Conservation in Dover, Massachusetts, carefully surface-cleaned the apron as part of a treatment to stabilize it for exhibition and research, and to aid its long-term preservation. She humidified the apron to flatten out the creases and ripples. And, in order to employ best practices in preserving and exhibiting the apron, it was put into a pressure mount that provides full support of the fragile silk and protects the apron from airborne pollutants and soils.

The apron was donated to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in 1976 by a descendant of its original owner, Conrad Edick (1763-1845). Edick was born in German Flats, Herkimer County, New York, and lived there until the town was burned by the British in 1779, when he and his stepfather, Nicholas Weaver, moved to Stone Arabia, Montgomery County, New York. Shortly after the move, in 1780, Edick volunteered as a ranger in the Revolutionary War and saw several subsequent service assignments until his regiment disbanded in 1784. In 1787, Edick settled in Deposit, New York, where he married Margaret Whitaker (1770-1798) and became a merchant. Shortly after Margaret died in 1798, Edick married his second wife, Elizabeth Sneeden (1778-1858). With his two wives, Edick had nine children.

Records at the Grand Lodge of New York show that Conrad Edick was a member of Charity Lodge No. 170 in Deposit between 1814 and 1819. Other details about his Masonic membership require further research. The materials used to make the apron, along with the style of clothing worn by the Masons depicted on it help us date the apron to the early 1800s. This evidence supports the idea that Edick wore this apron to lodge meetings in Deposit.84_15DI1

The distinctive decoration of the apron suggests that it may have been made by the same person who created a second apron in the Museum’s collection (at right). The Museum acquired this second apron at auction in 1984, so unfortunately, we do not know its provenance – where it originally came from, or who owned it. But, the striking similarities in the colors and motifs strongly suggest that both aprons were made in the same shop.

Adding intrigue to the story about these aprons is the recent discovery of two more aprons showing a very similar style – in the collection of the Henry W. Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry at the Grand Lodge of California in San Francisco. Collections Manager Adam Kendall takes it from here to tell us about those aprons:

571_Fraktur_Edick clone_1The first example (at left) is almost identical to the Edick apron, although in this case, there was no provenance documented in the original museum records and, unlike the Edick apron, there is no name inscribed within the ovals on the upper flap; they are left blank. However, its resemblance is uncanny and its possible relationship was brought to my attention by first seeing the Edick apron in Bespangled, Painted and Embroidered by Barbara Franco. The layout, the materials, the colors, the Germanic fraktur-style lettering, and the overall artistic style all point to a possibility that the aprons are from the same artist, or at least a close copy from a similar time period.

The second apron (below at right) is also similar to the Edick apron and gives much more detail: an inscription under the flap states that it was "used to raise Brother Ralph Hankins, Tammany Lodge No. 83, November 16, 1807." St. Tammany Lodge was founded in 1800 near what is now Milanville, Pennsylvania—a 45 mile distance from Deposit, New York (the latter location being the origin of Edick’s apron).

Like the two other aprons, it is hand painted and inked on silk with various Masonic symbols - most prominently the personification of Hope standing beside her anchor. On the rounded flap is an all-seeing eye flanked by two cherubim holding cloth banners that spell out Sanctum and Sanctorum. The entire scene is stylistically reminiscent of the aforementioned aprons, the common design of other Masonic aprons of that era notwithstanding.7912_Tammany_whole

While there are many stylistic similarities—particularly the cherubim and the calligraphy (Sanctum and Sanctorum) upon the festoons in their tiny hands, it is my belief, due to slight artistic differences, that this apron may not have originated from the same maker as Edick’s. However, it is most certainly from the same general location, and resembles the Palatine German decorative art motifs common in Edick’s birthplace of German Flats, Herkimer County, NY. As observed by Franco, “Edick’s apron is a Germanic interpretation of a popular Masonic design which appeared in English and American engravings between 1790 and 1815.” I do believe the two aprons within the possession of the Henry W. Coil Museum and Library can be classified in this same category.

Have you ever seen another apron decorated like this? Please let us know in a comment below. And, to see the Edick apron in person, visit the Inspired by Fashion exhibition before March 24, 2012.

Top Left: Masonic Apron, 1800-1820, New York. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, gift of J. Earl Edick, 76.22. Photograph by Windsor Conservation.

Top Right: Masonic Apron, 1800-1820, probably New York. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Special Acquisitions Fund, 84.15. Photograph by David Bohl.

Bottom photos: Courtesy of Adam Kendall, Collections Manager at the Henry W. Coil Library & Museum of Freemasonry, www.masonicheritage.org.

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


Miss Rose Lipp: Masonic Authority

SC79_12_6aDP2 In March 1912, the New England Craftsman, a monthly Masonic magazine published in Boston, Massachusetts, noted that one of the city’s regalia makers had recently changed storefronts and reminded readers that the owner “is recognized as an authority on correctness of design for the costumes of every period.” Rather than a brother Freemason, this notice referred to Miss Rose Lipp, a female manufacturer and dealer in “Masonic Supplies,” who maintained her business over at least thirty years, providing the aprons, jewels and uniforms essential to Masonic meetings and rituals.

94_012_5aDI1 The 44 items with Rose Lipp’s label in the collection of the National Heritage Museum attest to the variety available from her shop, as well as to her facility with regalia from all Masonic groups. We have 28 aprons, most for local lodges, but a few were sewn for Royal Arch chapters. For example, in 1924, she made a set of officer’s aprons for the newly-constituted Russell Lodge in Arlington, Massachusetts. The 14-apron set is now in the Museum’s collection and the Master’s apron is seen here. These aprons were a gift to the lodge from the other lodges in the district.

In addition to the aprons, we have two turbans, two robes, one sword, one sword belt, one hat, one fez, one badge, one collar, two miniature souvenir aprons, and four Scottish Rite sashes with Lipp’s label. One of those sashes is shown here; it was originally presented to Josiah T. Dyer when he received his 33rd degree from the Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A. SC79_12_6aDP1 All of these objects help us to better understand the role that a female entrepreneur like Rose Lipp played in Boston Freemasonry.

Label Detail from Scottish Rite 33rd-degree sash (see below).

Masonic Apron, 1924, Rose Lipp Regalia Co., Boston, Massachusetts, collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Russell Lodge, A.F. & A.M., Arlington, Massachusetts, 94.012.5a.

Scottish Rite 33° Sash, 1910-1930, Miss Rose Lipp, Boston, Massachusetts, collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of the Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., SC79.12.6a. Photograph by David Bohl.


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.


New to the Collection: An Apron with a Story

2009_080T1 Recently, the Grand Lodge of AF & AM of Illinois generously donated a Masonic apron to the National Heritage Museum.  Regular readers of our blog will know that the Museum is fortunate to have a top-notch apron collection – and that we are always looking to add aprons with interesting stories.  This one does not disappoint!

Although this apron is in only fair condition, it came with a typewritten note that explained, “Apron taken from casket [of President Grover Cleveland] by Mrs. Emily Hurlburt, a first cousin, of Hammond, Ind.  Mrs. Hurlburt gave apron to her son, Mr. Chas. W. Hurlburt.  Mr. Hurlburt died recently and his son, Mr. Wm. Hurlburt not being a member of the craft, wished some one interested to have it, and gave it to Jack Mundinger.”  While it is not unusual for us to receive objects with notes like this, it was exciting to get an apron associated with a U.S. president.  And, we are always wishing we had more history about the objects in our collection – who owned them and when, for example – so this note just added to the interest.

At the same time, even though we love this kind of note attached to an object, we have cultivated a strong sense of skepticism every time we read one – presidential association or not!  So, I did some research and turned up a number of facts that seem to contradict the information in the note.  First of all, Grover Cleveland was not a Freemason, although he seems to have been “sympathetically disposed to the Craft” according to numerous websites.  This assessment seems to stem, in part, from a remark Cleveland made at a banquet following the dedication by the Grand Lodge of Virginia of the monument erected to Washington’s mother, Mary.  Cleveland stated that he “regarded it as his misfortune that he had never been made a Mason.”  There was talk at one time in the Grand Lodge of New Jersey of making him a Mason “at sight,” but it never happened.  So, the odds that Cleveland ever wore or owned this apron seem pretty slim.

So, then I tried to investigate the family connection that is outlined in the note.  Another dead end because, as far as I can tell, Cleveland did not have any first cousins named Emily.  And, then, I found an account of Cleveland’s funeral in the New York Times from June 26, 1908, where it notes that the only relatives expected at the funeral were Cleveland’s sister, Rose, and his nephew, Cleveland F. Bacon.  I suppose that this cousin, Emily Hurlburt, could have taken the apron from the casket at some kind of private family viewing, but it seems unlikely that she wouldn’t have attended the funeral as well.  That leaves aside the question of why Cleveland would have had a Masonic apron in his casket to begin with, since he was never a Mason.83_46_1S1

The apron itself probably dates to the 1825 to 1850 period and is printed with a design that seems to resemble one on an apron by Lewis Roberson and Oliver T. Eddy of Vermont (at right), already in the Museum's collection.  If you compare the two, you will notice a number of similar motifs and a similar layout.

Despite the contradictions in the accompanying note and the very slim possibility that this apron ever belonged to President Cleveland, we are pleased to add the apron to our collection.  It represents yet another early 1800s apron design, which will allow us to compare and contrast many other aprons in our collection.  Although the apron's story of presidential associations is probably not true, it still tells a tale that captures our interest!

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.

Bottom: Masonic apron, 1814-1822, Lewis Roberson and Oliver T. Eddy, Wethersfield, Vermont, National Heritage Museum Collection, gift of Paul D. Fisher, 83.46.1.  Photograph by John M. Miller.