New York City

Masonic Revelries and the Roaring Twenties

A recent acquisition to the Scottish Rite Masonic Library & Museum reminds us of the Fraternity’s adoption of Orientalism, its passion for revelry, and captures the lively spirit of the 1920s.

Mecca_Temple_Band_1922

After the opening of trade with Japan in the late 19th century, America’s consumer desire for all things “Oriental” grew exponentially, and of all the groups associated with American Freemasonry, the Shriners, noted for their use of the red fez, embraced the symbols and spirit of Orientalism to the fullest. This broadside addressed to New York State Assemblyman Alexander G. Hall, a member of both the Mecca Temple Shrine and the York Commandery, No. 55, invited Hall and his wife to the Colorful Oriental Durbar sponsored by the Mecca Temple Band of New York. The Durbar or reception was held at the 71st Regiment Armory on 34th Street and Park Avenue and highlighted by the music of the Mecca Temple Band, conducted by Arthur H. Hoffman.

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Captions

Colorful Oriental Durbar Broadside and Envelope, 1922. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Museum Purchase, MA 430.

The Mecca Temple Band of New York City, undated. The Masonic Postcard Collection. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Museum Purchase, MM 025.


Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?

78_75_6 Henry Boese In the summer of 1885, the nation mourned the passing of Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), the much admired general and president.  His family decided to bury him in New York City, where he had lived for some years.  A supporter donated a plot on the western edge of upper Manhattan and friends formed an association to fund and build a suitable memorial.  On the day of the funeral, over two weeks after Grant's death, sixty thousand marchers processed along Broadway. Citizens draped buildings along the route in black.  One million people viewed the miles-long procession. 

Memorial organizers constructed a temporary brick vault to hold Grant's remains.  Days after the former president was placed in the tomb, a local newspaper voiced concerns that mourners and relic-seekers might soon strip the surrounding trees of their leaves and remove all the gravel from the drive. Guards watched the tomb and helped keep order. 

Sited in a part of the city that was, at the time, more like the countryside, the vault's location featured expansive views of the Hudson River.  During the 12 years that organizers planned and constructed a permanent monument, the temporary brick tomb proved a popular destination for holiday-makers.  So much so that a New York landscape artist, Henry Boese (1824-1897), composed this peaceful scene of people at leisure strolling in the area on a sunny day.  His view emphasizes the picturesque location of the vault as well as the patriotic nature of the site with its flag and uniformed guard.  You can click on the image of this painting to see more detail, or come view it in person in Curators’ Choice: Favorites from the Collection at the National Heritage Museum.

81_26_19a_24DS1 cropped and edited for blogEventually, after many years of fundraising, design and building, workers completed the permanent memorial. At hundred and fifty feet high, making it the largest mausoleum in North America.  Building the structure required 8,000 tons of granite. The finished, permanent tomb continued to attract visitors, as seen in this amateur photograph taken by a member of the Gilman family in the early 1900s that is now part of the Museum's collection.  You can still visit Grant's Tomb today.

 Grant’s Tomb, 1885–1897. Henry Boese (1824-1897), New York, New York. National Heritage Museum, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Manney, 78.75.6.

Grant’s Tomb (from a negative). Member of the Gilman Family, New York, New York. National Heritage Museum, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Gilman, 81.26.19a.24.