New York City

The Challenges of Research and Making the Connection

Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library staff get satisfaction from the rewards of research, the joy of discovering or rediscovering something that brings context to a document--and consequently to lives of others. In fact, in many cases, we gain a greater understanding of our own lives, as well as the lives of others, through our research. However, when we fail to establish the context or history of a document, that same process can be extremely frustrating.

A2022_005_001DSPhilomathian Lodge lady's invitation ticket, 1859 December 29.
 

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library recently acquired the object pictured here. It reads: "Citizens' Grand Dress Ball, to be given to Philomathian Lodge, Thursday Evening, Dec. 29, 1859. Lady's Invitation." We are not certain who issued the invitation (which may also have served as an entrance ticket to the ball), but we believe that it may be have been Philomathian Lodge of New York City, the first Grand United Order of Odd Fellows lodge in America and an African American branch of the Odd Fellows.

As Professor Hermina G.B. Anghelescu explains in her article “A Bit of History in the Library Attic,” the information contained in ephemeral items, such as tickets, “is often not enough” to establish the context or history behind an item, and researchers may “need to draw from other sources” to establish a link. In short, this small invitation was designed to be used for an event. It was not necessarily designed for future observers, but to be used in the moment. Because of that, some information, such as the creator or place of creation, was often not included because it was unnecessary for the purpose of the object and to the woman who likely carried this with her to a Thursday evening ball in 1859.

Do you have any information regarding the history of this lady’s invitation or of Philomathian Lodge? Please free to contact us or to comment about this topic in the comments section below.

 


Captions

Philomathian Lodge lady's invitation ticket, 1859 December 29. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, FR 430.017.


References

Anghelesc, Hermina G. B. “A Bit of History in the Library Attic : Challenges of. Ephemera Research.” Collection Management 25/4 (2001), pp. 61-75.

 

 


New to the Collection: Portrait of Thomas Lownds (1762-1825)

2021_002DP1FG Thomas Lownds cropped
Thomas Lownds, 1800-1825. Probably New York, New York. Museum Purchase in Memory of Charles Gordon Lambert and through the Generosity of the Augusta Masonic Bodies, 2021.002. Photograph by Frank E. Graham.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently added this wonderful portrait to its collection. The subject of the portrait is New York City native Thomas Lownds (1762-1825), an intriguing character and a Masonic mover and shaker.

By profession Lownds (also spelled Lowndes) was a grocer and a baker. In middle age he left this trade to become superintendent of the alms house in New York City and of St. John’s Hall, a meeting place for many Masonic lodges in the city. Later he owned a boarding house and was, at the end of his life, in charge of running the city’s debtors’ prison. He also earned money serving as a Tyler for several Masonic groups. A history of Washington Lodge No. 21 notes that Lownds, who took his degrees at the lodge and served as its Master in 1808 and 1814, was “energetic, jovial, a good leader, and evidently popular among his companions” as well as “a restless, ambitious man, possessed of wonderful organizing ability.”

The same author described Lownds as “…inexhaustible in his enthusiasm for Masonry….” Lownds’ Masonic record supports this account. Lownds played key roles in several Masonic groups established in New York City in the early 1800s. He held the offices of Deputy High Priest and Grand Visitor of the Grand Chapter of New York in the 1810s. A charter member of the Aurora Grata Lodge of Perfection in 1808, Lownds later worked the Scottish Rite degrees with Joseph Cerneau, whose Rite was in competition with the Scottish Rite’s Northern Masonic Jurisdiction for many years. Additionally, Lownds held leadership roles in the at Columbian Commandery No. 1 and at the Knights Templar Grand Encampment in the 1810s. Lownds helped establish Cryptic Masonry in the United States, serving as Grand Master of the Grand Council when it was organized in 1823. From 1802 through the early 1820s, Lownds participated in almost all the forms of Freemasonry that were active in New York. When he died at the age of 63, the newspapers noted simply that Lownds was, “…an old and respectable inhabitant of this city.”

This undated portrait depicts Lownds as a vibrant man in middle age. In the image Lownds sits on a dark upholstered chair, with red drapery behind him. The understated background and his black clothing provide a contrast to Lownds’ expressive face, crisp neckwear, and the light-colored cane he holds in his right hand. This portrait is not signed, but its unknown artist left a compelling visual record of a strong personality who helped establish and sustain several Masonic organizations in their formative years.

 

References:

Robert W. Reid, Washington Lodge No. 21, F. & A. M. and Some of Its Members (New York, NY: Washington Lodge, 1911), 184-186.

“Died,” Statesman, New York, NY, December 16, 1825, p. 3.


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.

 Scan_2015-05-15_17-07-33


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.