Posts by Stacey Fraser

The Rainbow Apron, “. . . a sacred symbol that binds”

2008_026_1DI2 - small
Miniature Rainbow Apron. 1922-1931. Gift of Audrey E. Martin, 2008.026.1.

Freemasons wear aprons – some simple in design, some very ornate – as a symbol of connection to the practical origins of the order and a visual emblem of membership. The collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library contains more than four hundred aprons, one of the largest collections of aprons in the United States.

The International Order of the Rainbow for Girls was founded in Macalester, Oklahoma one hundred years ago, in 1922. As an auxiliary body of Freemasonry, the organization draws much of its symbolism and ritual from Masonic sources. A perfect example of this is the miniature apron that a Rainbow girl is given at her initiation and wears on her wrist for certain organizational events. The connection is made explicit in the initiation ceremony, where the new Rainbow Girl is told, “It is a sacred symbol that binds. To your father, if he were a Mason, the lambskin apron was sacred, and though you may never fully know its meaning, it will be dear to you because he loved it, and to him it was priceless.”

These scaled-down versions of Masonic aprons retain the same shape, flap, and ties as their inspiration. They are made of white lambskin, as with Masonic aprons. Like many Master Mason aprons produced in the twentieth century, these miniature aprons featured blank lines under the flap where the owner could, as on this example, write her name, address, and the assembly to which she belonged.

The apron shown here once belonged to Ruby Vandergrift Duncan Kramer (1911-2007). Ruby was born in Belmont, Massachusetts on April 28, 1911. Her parents, Oscar and Gertrude, were from Nova Scotia. Ruby was named after a Canadian aunt who died of illness at age 22. Her parents also had another daughter, named Pearl.

2008_026_1DI1 - small
Miniature Rainbow Apron. 1922-1931.  Gift of Audrey E. Martin, 2008.026.1.

Ruby was a member of Waltham Assembly No. 2 when she owned this miniature apron. Other examples of Rainbow aprons in the collection are from Massachusetts and Ohio and date from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1980s. Ruby’s apron dates from the early days of the Rainbow Girls in the 1920s.

Ruby lived at 34 Davis Road in Belmont for most of her life. She attended Boston University and graduated with a teaching degree in 1932. After teaching for one year, Ruby moved to a role as a clerk for the Belmont Electric Light Department, where she worked for forty-one years. She later married Howard Kramer, a Mason in Belmont Lodge from 1940 through 1970.

Ruby died in Belmont on October 11, 2007 at age 96. Her miniature apron survives as a tangible connection to her time in the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls in Massachusetts and to the Masonic fraternity.

---

Further Reading:

 


New to the Collection: Blood Donor Recognition Pin

2022_049DI1
Blood Donation Lapel Pin. ca. 1983. Gift of Kamel Oussayef, 2022.049a-b.

New to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's collection this month is a small gold-colored lapel pin bearing a square and compasses and a “G” in blue enamel. Masonic lapel pins are abundant in both members’ homes and the Museum’s collection. This, however, is the first pin in the collection in the shape of a drop of blood.

Throughout the United States, more than ten state Grand Lodges sponsor a Masonic blood donation program of some kind. The model for many programs involves a coordinator at each local lodge who schedules blood drives on location and encourages brethren to donate. Each unit of blood donated by individual lodge members is counted towards the total for the whole lodge.

Lapel pins are given to individual members who achieve certain blood donation milestones. Some, like this one, are awarded for an initial donation of one unit. Others are given when the Mason reaches a certain volume of blood donated. For example, the Virginia Grand Lodge Blood Program specifies that new donors and donations under two gallons receive the pin type shown here, with a “G” in the center of the Masonic square and compasses. When an individual donates more than two gallons, each subsequent pin bears the number of gallons, increasing by increments of two.

Some Masons donate impressive volumes of blood throughout their lives, such as Scottish Rite Mason Steven Fishman of Georgia, who has donated over thirty-seven gallons since the 1970s. Given that one gallon is equal to eight one-pint donations and that donors can only give once every eight weeks, achieving that volume would take a minimum of forty-five years.

As mentioned above, individual donations by members are counted towards the one lodge’s contribution to the blood program. In Rhode Island, for example, lodges who seek to earn the Grand Master’s Award are advised to participate in local blood drives and ensure at least ten percent of their eligible members give blood.

This new addition to the collection helps us tell the story of how Masons, as the Virginia Blood Program Manual says, “. . . facilitate donations in an organized and craftsman-like fashion . . .”

---

Reference and Further Reading:


Hurricane Gavel

GL2004_2657DI5 small
Gavel, ca. 1939. Massachusetts. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2657.

High in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey, there is a grove of Cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). In the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection cared for at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, there is a gavel made from the wood of one of these trees. The story of this gavel – from seeds to storage – brings together natural science and Masonic ingenuity.

In the early 1900s, Charles Sargent (1841-1927), the first Director of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, wanted to add examples of Cedrus libani to the collection of trees and shrubs at the site. However, these trees – which are mentioned in the Bible – grew primarily in the warmer climate of Lebanon and did not seem suited for New England weather. With the help of German naturalist Walter Siehe (1859-1928), Sargent was able to locate a forest of Cedars of Lebanon in the Taurus Mountains in Turkey. These trees grew further north and at higher altitudes and the two men thought they might also grow in Massachusetts.

In early 1902, Siehe shipped a number of cedar cones to Sargent and the trees were propagated in the greenhouses at the Arboretum. They started well and were planted on the grounds. By 1930, the Turkish Cedars of Lebanon were growing well and producing their own seed cones. The experiment was a success.

Then came the Hurricane of 1938, one of the most severe storms in New England history. The storm devastated the forests of the Northeast, destroying an estimated two billion trees in New York and New England. In the Arboretum, at least five of the Turkish cedars fell victim to the storm. (Happily, in 2022, eight of the original trees still survive on site.) As for the hurricane-damaged ones, a group of local Masons “grasped the opportunity to perpetuate these trees Masonically,” as one of them later said.

William Judd (1888-1946) was a member of Eliot Lodge in Dorchester and a gardener at Arnold Arboretum. During the clean-up after the hurricane, he and Welby McCollum (1887-1952) of West Roxbury Lodge decided to use some of the cedar wood to make a gavel. Given that McCollum worked as a builder, he may have crafted the piece.

After the gavel was completed, it was given to West Roxbury Lodge’s Past Master, Alexander McKechnie (1887-1965). He wrote out the story of the gavel on two typewritten pages – kept with the item – as a draft of his planned speech for a January 1940 presentation to West Roxbury Lodge. McKechnie mentioned in a handwritten addendum that he intended to present the gavel to the lodge and thence to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts if desired. His note is addressed to Joseph Earl Perry (1884-1983), then-Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, and ends, “If you decide to put this gavel in the Museum you can pick out the important points in the above for a small card.” This small piece of material culture made of wood more than one-hundred-twenty years old still has a big story to tell.

Reference and Further Reading:

Anthony S. Aiello and Michael S. Dosmann. “The Quest for the Hardy Cedar-of-Lebanon,” Arnoldia, Volume 65, Issue 1 (2007). https://arboretum.harvard.edu/stories/the-quest-for-the-hardy-cedar-of-lebanon/


New to the Collection: Pyramid Court Daughters

2022_008_4DS
Members of Pyramid Court No. 17, 1960s. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2022.008.4.

In this photograph, new to the collection in 2022, a group of women wearing white dresses and either white fezzes or a crown poses for a photo with a man in a suit wearing a darker fez. This image features members of a women’s auxiliary group of Prince Hall Shriners, the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine of North and South America and Its Jurisdictions, Inc. in Philadelphia in the 1960s. Historically Black fraternal groups in the United States have a fascinating history and objects like this photograph help us better understand it.

Based on organization proceedings and area newspapers, this photo appears to show members of Pyramid Court No. 17, Imperial Court Auxiliary, A.E.A.O.N.M.S., Philadelphia along with one member of Pyramid Temple No. 1, A.E.A.O.N.M.S., also of Philadelphia. The A.E.A.O.N.M.S. was founded in 1893 in Chicago as a charitable, benevolent, fraternal, and social organization, dedicated to the welfare and extension of Prince Hall Freemasonry. Its women’s auxiliary was founded in 1910 in Detroit. The latter group was established at the behest of a committee headed by Hannah Brown, Esther Wilson, and Lucy Blackburn, wives of Prince Hall Shriners from Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. These women and others had already created eight “courts” (similar to Shrine Temples or Masonic lodges) for female relatives of A.E.A.O.N.M.S. members. In 1909, they requested an official “Grand Court” to oversee the activities of the local groups.

This international organization, then known as the Imperial Grand Court of the Daughters of Isis, is now called the Imperial Court. The organization boasts more than nine thousand members that meet in more than two hundred courts throughout the United States, as well as Canada, Bahamas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Korea and Western Europe. Members are known as Daughters.

Their regalia includes ceremonial collars worn with white dresses, shoes, and gloves, along with white fezzes or crowns. Decorated with embroidery and/or rhinestones, these fezzes bear the name of the owner’s court and a profile of the Egyptian goddess Isis. When a Daughter serves as Imperial Commandress, the presiding officer of a court, she wears a crown in place of a fez. In this photograph, since a woman in the center of the group wears a crown, she was likely the Imperial Commandress of Pyramid Court No. 17 when the photo was taken.

In their analysis of African American fraternal groups over a period of around one hundred fifty years, social scientists Theda Skocpol and Jennifer Lynn Oser found that “black women played an unusually strong role in African American fraternal federations.” The Imperial Court is an excellent example of Black women leading fraternal groups. It exists because women who were already organizing local courts applied for official recognition from A.E.A.O.N.M.S. The auxiliary’s schedule of meetings, fundraising events, and annual sessions is very similar to that of the brother organization.

In the past and today, the women’s and men’s groups under the umbrella of the A.E.A.O.N.M.S. gather together at an annual joint session. Daughters of the Imperial Court Auxiliary and Nobles of A.E.A.O.N.M.S. work together at all levels to accomplish the charitable, social, and Masonic goals of Prince Hall Shriners.

If you know of or have any materials related to the A.E.A.O.N.M.S. or its women’s auxiliary, please let us know by writing in the comments section below.

---

References and Further Reading:


A Maine Mason at Sea

In 1852, shipbuilders in Calais, Maine, near the American border with Canada, launched a ship named the Lincoln. The following year, the Lincoln would commemorate American Independence Day many miles from Maine, in the Aegean port of Smyrna, Greece (now İzmir, Turkey). Like the Lincoln, her captain that day left his Maine home to make a living in the maritime world of the nineteenth century.

PXL_20220829_152030006 (1)
Bark Lincoln, W.H. Polleys Master Laying at Anchor in Smyrna July 4th 1853. Raffaele Corsini, Smyrna, Greece. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 85.9.

In this watercolor, acquired by the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in 1985, the Lincoln is shown lying at anchor in the foreground, with the city, its castle, and surrounding hills in the background. The ship bears four flags: from bow to stern, the “Union Jack” or Navy Jack, a blue flag with a Masonic square and compasses, a masthead pennant, and an American flag. The Lincoln’s Union Jack, a blue flag with white stars flown on American ships, appears to have twenty-six stars and her American flag twenty-one stars. Given that the United States had thirty-one states by 1853, perhaps the ship’s owners or captain had not updated her flags or, more likely, the painter took artistic license with these details.

It is believed that ship’s captains sometimes raised a flag bearing a square and compasses to invite Masons in the area aboard their vessel. To local residents and other mariners, this signaled his fraternal affiliation and served as an invitation for conversation, informal meetings, and trade. The Lincoln was in Smyrna in July 1853 to purchase opium, a common ingredient in American patent medicines at the time.

The Lincoln’s captain and 1/16 share owner for her first five years was Woodbury H. Polleys. Polleys was born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine in 1817 and raised in Portland Lodge No. 1 in 1844. When he took command of the ship, he had been, as he later wrote in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, “at sea as Master of a Ship since June 1848, principally trading between Europe & southern ports . . .”

After the Lincoln, Polleys went on to captain other vessels, including at least three Union ships during the Civil War. These included the USS Katahdin, USS Oleander, and USS Madgie. The latter two ships were part of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron, preventing Confederate vessels from eluding the Union trade blockade. After the Madgie sank off North Carolina in 1863, Polleys traveled north to Maine for a month’s leave “to procure a new outfit and visit my family.”

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Polleys used his knowledge of international trade to serve the new United States as Consul to Barbados and Commercial Agent to Cuba. Woodbury H. Polleys died of suicide in 1885 and is buried in Portland’s Pine Grove Cemetery. His headstone bears a Masonic square and compasses, as his ship’s flag did that day in 1853, many miles from Maine.

If you want to dive into this piece of artwork further, you can visit it and many others in our exhibition, “What’s in a Portrait?,” now on view at the Museum & Library. You can also visit the online version of the exhibition.

Further Reading:


Mysteries in Clay: Pisgah Forest Masonic Pottery

New to the museum’s collection this spring are three pieces of North Carolina pottery bearing Masonic decoration. These items – a small bowl, a vase, and a cup or pencil holder – were created by Pisgah Forest Pottery in western North Carolina in the 1940s and 1950s. They join two previously-purchased bowls in the collection that match the new bowl nearly exactly. Our now-five-piece collection of Pisgah Forest Pottery inspires some interesting questions about their purpose, use, and Masonic connection.

Pisgah pottery - 2022.023.1-3 - small
Pisgah Forest Masonic vase (1959), cup (circa 1948), bowl (1942). Pisgah Forest Pottery, Arden, North Carolina. Museum purchase, 2022.023.1-3.

Pisgah Forest Pottery was founded in 1926 by Walter Benjamin Stephen (1876-1961) in rural western North Carolina, near the Blue Ridge Parkway. He was a member, trustee, and Past Master (1945) of West Asheville Lodge No. 665, which merged with another Asheville Lodge in 2002. After Stephen’s death at the age of 85 in 1961, his step-grandson Thomas Case kept Pisgah Forest Pottery going with the help of another employee, Grady Ledbetter. Case died in 2014, and is buried in the same location as his grandfather, New Salem Baptist Church Cemetery. Nichols-West Asheville Lodge No. 650 performed the funeral ritual for Case.

Pisgah Forest Pottery officially closed in 2014, following Case’s death. Its historic pottery-making tools and equipment were donated to the North Carolina Museum of History. Examples of work from this important pottery are held and exhibited at other museums, such as the Smithsonian, the Asheville Art Museum, and the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum. Popular with collectors, pieces of Pisgah Forest Pottery frequently come up for auction.

All three of the Scottish Rite Museum’s bowls are cobalt blue with a pink glaze inside. The bottom of each bowl bears the company’s mark (a potter sitting at a wheel) and the words "Pisgah Forest / 1942”. They have a raised, unglazed emblem on the exterior which bears a double-headed eagle gripping a sword in its talons with a square and compass on its breast and a "32" glazed in blue above. On the two pieces purchased in 2019, the raised text "Asheville" appears below the emblem. However, on the piece purchased in 2022, the text reads: “Asheville Scottish Rite”. Given that all three bowls bear the same year and were clearly following a set design, it is interesting that our newest acquisition also has the words “Scottish Rite” added to it. For whom were these Scottish Rite Masonic bowls made? Much of Stephen’s usual work was sold to tourists in the region. Were these items produced as custom orders for the local Scottish Rite Valley? Were they given as gifts to Masons? More research is needed in order to determine the context and purpose of these bowls.

The inscriptions on the newly-acquired vase and cup give us a little more information about who likely owned and use them. The light blue vase has the words “To my Good Friend and Brother Dr. S. S. Fay 33° / Stephen - 1959" painted neatly in white glaze, along with a white cross with two bars and a double-headed eagle bearing a “33” on the neck of the vase. Walter Stephen was semi-retired from the pottery by about 1949, but he still created new pieces on his own in a small studio he built on his property that he called “Lone Pine Studio”. The vase inscription and date seem to indicate that he made this vase as a gift for a friend who was a 33° Mason. With help from the Grand Lodge of North Carolina, we’ve identified “S. S. Fay” as Scott Stuart Fay, who was a member and Past Master of John A. Nichols Lodge No. 650, the lodge that later merged with Stephen’s West Asheville No. 665 in 2002. Fay was a West Asheville doctor who was born in 1882 and died in 1980.

The cup has a light blue glaze that matches the vase and is personalized with a white clay emblem on the exterior which bears a keystone and the words "C. C. Ricker / G. H. P. / 1947-48". The “G. H .P.” here helped identify the owner. These letters stand for “Grand High Priest” and paired with the keystone on the cup, suggests that “C. C. Ricker” was elected a Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of North Carolina in 1947. With this information, the Grand Lodge of North Carolina helped us confirm the likely recipient of the cup as Charles Carpenter Ricker. Ricker, an active Mason, served as Grand High Priest, Grand Master (1962), and Grand Commander of North Carolina.

As many members know, one of the benefits of Freemasonry is the chance to convene and form friendships with fellow Masons. We don’t know if Walter Stephen met Scott Fay and Charles Ricker through business dealings in Asheville or if they met as brethren, but these personalized pots underscore their Masonic connection.

Reference and Further Reading:

Our thanks to Eric Greene at the Grand Lodge of North Carolina for his research assistance on this post.