Relief organizations

"Bogus Mason Was Locked Up": Masonic Impostor Duncan C. Turner

MasonicImpostor_Turner_smaller_cropped Long-time readers of our blog will know that every May we return to the topic of our very first blog post: Masonic impostors. This year we focus on a man named Duncan C. Turner (born ca. 1847), who was featured in the 1903 booklet, Album of Masonic Impostors. He was previously published in the Masonic Relief Association's Official Warning Circular No. 147. The Album of Masonic Impostors' description of Turner is brief and to the point:

"Alias McNeill. Acacian Lodge No. 705, Ogdensburg, N.Y. Served time in prison."

An article published in the Buffalo Courier newspaper on November 14, 1897 makes it clear that the circulars published by the Masonic Relief Association worked. The newspaper recounts how Turner's profile was published in recent issues of the monthly Official Warning Circular - first showing up in the July 1897 issue. The article continues, noting that a "more recent letter announced that he [i.e. Turner] had been arrested in Cleveland and sentenced to the workhouse for sixty days, for working his swindle in that city. He recently regained his liberty and a still later [note in the Association's] circular stated that he was on his way East, all Relief Boards being instructed to keep a sharp lookout for him."

The article also reports how it was that Turner was apprehended in Buffalo by a Mason who had, indeed, kept a sharp lookout for him. After having met a local Mason, Henry Cutting, in town, Turner claimed that he had just arrived in Buffalo and had "fallen into a little ill luck." Cutting gave him the business address of Charles F. Sturm, who ran a furniture store in Buffalo and was the secretary of Buffalo's Masonic Board of Relief, which coordinated Masonic charity in the city. Turner made his way to Sturm's furniture store and "told Mr. Sturm a pitiful tale, which he concluded with an appeal for enough money to take him to New York." The article continues, noting Sturm's reaction to having a known impostor present himself to him: "On hearing the man's name, Mr. Sturm almost leaped from his seat in surprise." The article notes that Sturm called the police, who arrested Turner, "who was charged with being a tramp."

The Buffalo Courier reported about Turner's appearance in court on November 14. At that hearing, it was revealed that Turner had defrauded Masons in Briar Hill, NJ, Toronto, and Cleveland. The judge noted that Turner had already served sixty days in the Cleveland Workhouse for "obtaining money from Masons in that city by fraudulent pretense. The judge in the Buffalo courtroom sentenced Turner to sixty days in the penitentiary. At the sentencing, the judge declared that Turner "was the greatest liar with whom he had come in contact during his career as a dispenser of justice."

Want to read more about Masonic impostors? Be sure to check out all of our previous posts on the topic.


"William Maxwell": One of the Most Dangerous Frauds at Large

Portrait of "William Maxwell" from Album of Masonic Impostors, 1903.

Each year in May, we return to the topic of Masonic impostors, which we covered in our first blog post back in 2008.

This year we present a man called William Maxwell, who was featured in the 1903 booklet, Album of Masonic Impostors. He was previously published in the Masonic Relief Association's Official Warning Circular No. 209. The Album colorfully describes him as having changed "his name and the Lodge he claims membership in, as easy as a rapid change artist in a vaudeville show." The description also suggests that Maxwell knew what cities and towns to avoid, stating, "Since we first published him he did a big business where our circulars do not reach."

George Fleming portrait
Portrait of George Fleming from January 23, 1898 edition of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.


In January 1898, Maxwell - whose real name appears to have been George Fleming - was arrested in Seattle, Washington, and convicted of obtaining money under false pretenses. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. The January 23, 1898 edition of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer carried a front-page article about Fleming titled "Bled Masons for Eight Years: George Fleming Confesses to a Long Career of Crime." In the continuation of the article, on page 7, an illustration of Fleming makes it clear that the "William Maxwell" pictured above and the George Fleming convicted in Seattle are the same person. Fleming claimed a number of different aliases and boasted of having made of career out of defrauding Masons and taking their money. By way of showing how successful he was at posing as a Mason, Fleming claimed to have duped Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, who was then the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England out of $150 while dining with him in Paris.

Although the article mentions various aliases used by Fleming during his eight years of swindling, one name, "William Maxwell," is conspicuously absent. It seems likely that this was a new alias that Fleming began using after having been released from prison. If Fleming served the entirety of his two-and-a-half-year term, he would have been released in the summer of 1900. Existing evidence suggests that it did not take him long to resume his career as a Masonic impostor.

For example, the 1903 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska mention Maxwell and their encounter with him, calling him "one of the most dangerous frauds at large." A brief entry in the Omaha Daily Bee for January 28, 1903 reads, "William Maxwell, the alleged Masonic fraud, has left for parts unknown." It is unclear where Fleming/Maxwell went after leaving Omaha or when he died.

If you want to read more about Masonic impostors, be sure to check out all of our previous posts on the subject.

Masonic Impostors, or, You've Been Warned: "Beware of This Moocher"

Fred Coopey November 1946 BulletinThe Album of Masonic Impostors was the subject of our very first blog post, back in May 2008. Each May, we revisit the subject of Masonic impostors to celebrate another year of blogging at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

This year, we feature the front page of The Bulletin of the Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada, No. 630, from November 1946. The entire page focuses on Fred Coopey, a Masonic impostor with at least seventeen aliases listed. As with many Masonic impostors, what little I was able to find about Coopey suggests that he was living a hard knock life early on. The 1920 U.S. Census lists a Fred Coopey, born the same year as the Bulletin's Coopey, as being a 17-year-old inmate at the New Jersey State Home for Boys in Jamesburg.

In just a few words, the Masonic Relief Association's Bulletin paints a picture of a man who has traveled far and wide, using a number of different aliases, and who has imposed on the charity of Freemasons along the way. The inclusion of fingerprints suggests prior criminal behavior on the part of Coopey.  

If you want to learn more about Masonic imposters, including an answer to the question why would someone impersonate a Freemason?, be sure to check out our previous posts on Masonic imposters.

Lecture: “The Boston Red Cross in the 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic: Vanguard Fighter or Rogue Chapter?”

Marian Moser-JonesOctober 17, 2015

2 p.m.

Lecture by Marian Moser Jones, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, Department of Public Health

As World War I drew to a close, a new crisis appeared at home: the worldwide influenza pandemic had reached American shores. In August of 1918 the first influenza cases began to appear in sailors stationed in Boston Harbor. Within months the disease spread across the country sickening as many at 25 million Americans and killing over 550,000 of them. With most nurses still overseas and local authorities overwhelmed, the government turned to the Red Cross to care for the sick.  Boston’s local Red Cross chapter acted quickly to meet the needs of the emergency. However, once the Red Cross National Headquarters stepped in to call the shots, the headstrong Boston chapter ignored or rejected their directives. 

In this, the fourth of a five part series exploring The U.S. Home Front During World War I, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library has invited noted scholar Marian Moser

Jones, Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, to explore the Red Cross-led response to the 1918-1919 flu in Boston and New England, and discuss whether the local officials acted wisely in charting their own course during this deadly public health crisis.

This lecture is made possible by the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P.  Linn Foundation and is part of the lecture series, “The U.S. Home Front during World War I: Duty Sacrifice, and Obligation.”


Jones, Marian Moser. The American Red Cross: from Clara Barton to the New Deal. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).

How to Catch Masonic Impostors Using Index Cards

MSA BulletinThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's blog turns seven years old this month! As in years past, we celebrate the anniversary of our blog by revisiting the topic of our very first post: Masonic impostors.

Pictured above is the back page of the November 1933 (No. 552) Bulletin of the Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada, which explains how the Masonic Service Association distributed index cards of people known to impose upon Masonic relief boards for charity under false pretenses so that local boards of relief could compile an index of known "crooks and impostors."

Be sure to read all of our previous posts on Masonic impostors for more information about why someone would impersonate a Mason and how the Masonic Service Association and local Masonic relief boards attempted to detect those trying to defraud them.


Five years of blogging - and another Masonic impostor

MasonicImposter_Engle_smallerOur blog turns five years old this month and, in keeping with our previous anniversary posts, we take yet another look at a Masonic impostor.

This year we feature Albert B. Engle. The brief description under his photograph in the Album of Masonic Impostors reads, in part, "It was with the greatest of difficulty we obtained even this picture. In his tramping about, is accompanied by two sons. He has served several sentences for obtaining money from Masons by false pretences."

The October 1902 issue of the Quarterly Bulletin of the Iowa Masonic Library featured a short article on Engle, titled "An Imposter in Iowa," which reported that Engle had been active in Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. The Bulletin article reports that he was arrested and charged with obtaining money under false pretences. (You can read the whole article here.)

Engle appears to have been active - and on the move - for quite some time. A Los Angeles newspaper item from 1909 - seven years after the Iowa article mentioned above - reported that Albert B. Engle and his sons, Henry and William, had been sent to the county workhouse for vagrancy. The article states that "According to Detectives Boyd and Jones, who made the arrests, the trio have been beating their way from eastern cities to Los Angeles on the plea that they are Masons who had been held up and robbed of all their money and playing upon the sympathies of Masons for financial reasons. (You can read the whole article here.)

If you want to learn more about Masonic impostors and the Album of Masonic Impostors, just check out our previous posts on the topic, which we link to in the first paragraph above.

[Portrait of Albert B. Engle, in] General Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada. Album of Masonic Impostors. New York: Press of Eclipse Printing Co., 1903.
Call number: 19.78 .A345 1903

Baseball Players Cannot Be Beavers: Fraternal Benefit Societies

Beavers_Constitutions_1907_webFraternal life insurance companies occupy their own niche in the life insurance market today. All trace their roots back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when hundreds of mutual benefit societies were formed in order to provide death benefits and life insurance to individuals who joined. Most of these organizations had initiation rituals which were later dropped as these fraternal organizations morphed into more traditional life insurance companies.

Life insurance companies are, naturally, risk averse. And they were back when they existed as mutual benefit societies. The 1907 Constitution and By-Laws of the Beavers' Reserve Fund Fraternity (pictured here), a mutual benefit society established in Stoughton, Wisconsin in 1902, made it clear that people whose occupations were dangerous were disqualified from being members. Here's Section 9 of the By-Laws:

No person engaged in any of the following occupations shall become a beneficial member of the Fraternity:

Railroad conductor, brakeman, switchman, fireman or locomotive engineer; miner employed underground; mine inspector or mine tracklayer; pit boss; professional rider or driver in races; professional baseball or football player, aeronaut; sailor on the Great Lakes or seas; engineer or fireman on any steamer; plow polisher, plow grinder; submarine operator; paid fireman in any city of more than fifteen thousand inhabitants; empoyee in slag furnace or lead works; soldier in the regular army or in time of war; employee in any factory where gunpowder, nitroglycerine, dynamite or any other dangerous explosive is manufactured; glass blower, oil well "shooter," brass finisher, steel blaster, professional nurse, employee in color or white lead factory, circus equestrian or trapeze performer.

The list is both a chilling reminder of some dangerous occupations (oil well "shooters") and also contains some reminders that even the whimsical-sounding jobs (trapeze performer) are there for a reason.

As for the Beavers' Reserve Fund Fraternity, it was established in Stoughton, Wisconsin in 1902. In 1912, the organization changed its name to Beavers National Mutual Benefit. In 1931, they dropped "Beavers" from the name and simply became National Mutual Benefit, the name they still go by today.

Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of occupational injuries and fatalities [pdf], which you might be more familiar with as a news story about the most dangerous jobs in America.

Stay tuned for more on the Beavers in an upcoming post.

Constitution and By-Laws of the Beavers Reserve Fund Fraternity, Adopted by Grand Colony. (Mount Morris, IL: Press of Kable Brothers Company, [1907])
Call number: HS1510 B42 1906
Gift of Michael T. Heitke

"Tramping about, victimizing Masonic lodges"

A2002_118_1_Imposter_posters_web Our blog turns two years old this week. In celebration of that anniversary, we invite you to take a look at our very first post, which discusses early 20th century Masonic impostors. While you're at it, also be sure to take a look at our follow-up post from a year ago, Masonic Impostors Redux: "sleight-of-hand and song-and-dance man."

Keeping with that theme is today's object - a broadside that was sent out to local Masonic boards of relief in 1877, warning them of a man posing as a needy Mason, and attempting to take advantage of Masonic charity. It is, essentially, a wanted poster for a Masonic impostor.

The broadside warns of a man going by the name "Herbert Sydney," and claiming to be an English Mason, supposedly left destitute by the huge fire in St. John's (Quebec) in June 1876. As the poster reports, the Masonic Lodge at St. John's reported that they knew of no Mason by that name.

As we discussed in earlier posts, the success of Masonic impostors during the late 19th and early 20th centuries relied on staying one step ahead of Masonic relief boards spreading the word. This broadside mentions that "Herbert Sydney" swindled relief boards in Baltimore and that he then went to Washington, DC. It's unclear where he went next, but no doubt he was hoping to reach Masonic relief agencies in cities that had yet to receive this "Caution!" broadside.

The broadside closes by warning that the man going by the name of Herbert Sydney is, like many Masonic impostors at the time, thought to be "tramping about, victimizing Masonic lodges."

Masonic Imposter broadside. D.K. Osbourne & Co., Baltimore, MD, 1877. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, A2002/118/1.  

Masonic Impostors Redux: "sleight-of-hand and song-and-dance man"

MasonicImposter_Logsdon_smaller Our blog turns one year old this week, and we thought we'd harken back to our first post and return to the subject of Masonic impostors, by featuring another image from the Album of Masonic Impostors, published by the General Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada in 1903.

But first a little background about the organization that published the Album. In 1885, a number of Masonic organizations in North America met in Baltimore to organize the General Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada, in order “to establish a central organization for the purpose of facilitating the discovery and exposure of persons traveling about the country and imposing upon the charities of Masons.”

One of the main ways that they accomplished this was by publishing a warning circular that was distributed to relief boards in major cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. From there, the relief boards would pass on the information within their local jurisdiction. The goal of all this? To try to spread information about known frauds and impostors who were looking to bilk Masonic relief boards out of money. The Masonic Relief Association compiled physical descriptions, and sometimes photos, of known impostors into their circulars and sent the circulars to relief boards - hopefully in advance of the arrival of the Masonic impostors described within.

Shown above is Patrick Logsdon, from the Album of Masonic Impostors. He is described as follows:

Traveling showman, sleight-of-hand and song-and-dance man. Claims to have been a rough rider and wounded at San Juan Hill. Says he is a member of a Lodge in Lexington, Ky.

WarningCircular_September_1928_smaller The Album contains impostors who all originally appeared in one of the warning circulars. But what exactly was this circular and what purpose did it serve?

The Official Warning Circular (No. 503, September 1928 is shown here) was distributed by the Masonic Relief Association to the various masonic relief boards throughout the country. The hope was that by centralizing communication, word could spread faster than a Masonic impostor could travel. For example, if the relief board in Chicago discovered someone trying to defraud them, they could send a telegraph or place a telephone call to the Masonic Relief Association. The Association would include this information in the compilation of their four-page monthly circular - publishing names, descriptions, and sometimes photographs of known Masonic impostors who had been caught attempting to defraud local relief boards. The circular was mailed out to all the relief boards that belonged to the Association. By the time the Masonic impostor in Chicago made his way to Boston, the Boston relief board would already have seen his mug shot in the warning circular. (An aside: if you're interested in communication networks and how news travels, check out our post on the spread of the Lexington Alarm from last month.)

In addition to publishing newly reported impostors, the Official Warning Circular also republished old cases, reported missing persons, and gave a list of "Lost Receipts" - i.e. Masons who had lost their membership cards - cards which subsequently might have fallen into the hands of a current, or future, Masonic impostor, who might assume the name and identity from the membership card.

Suggestions for Further Reading

General Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada. Album of Masonic Impostors. New York : Press of Eclipse Printing Co., 1903.
Call number: 19.78 .A345 1903

Croteau, Jeffrey. "Brotherly Deception." Cabinet, Spring 2009 (Issue 33). Brooklyn NY: Immaterial, Inc., 2009.

Halleran, Michael. "Be on the Qui Vive—Cowans, Swindlers, and Con Men, Then and Now." Scottish Rite Journal, May/June 2009. Washington, DC: Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry of the Southern Jurisdiction, 2009.

In addition, the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives also has a number of issues of the Official Warning Circular, as well as some of the proceedings of the annual meeting of the Masonic Relief Association.

A Little Secret Ritual With Your Insurance, Perhaps?

Equitable_aid_society_2_web Pictured here are two illustrations from the Ritual of the Equitable Aid Union, published in 1889. The book is similar to ritual books that Masonic and other fraternals organizations have either published or used, and which were especially in abundance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If you're unfamiliar with a ritual book (also often called a cipher, since they are/were often written in code), one can think of ritual books as scripts to plays, in a way – they contain the text of various ceremonies and dramatic, performance-based rituals that are performed, or enacted, at the official meeting of a fraternal group (like a Masonic lodge). Ritual books are used by those who are going to be performing the ceremonies as a script to memorize. As with plays, they aren’t used when the actual ceremonies are enacted.

This ritual is particularly interesting because it contains illustrations. Although many of the ritual books from this time period contain charts such as those that illustrate the layout of a room where ceremonies are to be performed, not many contain colorful illustrations that depict various parts of ceremonies.

The Equitable Aid Union was organized at Columbus, Warren County, Pennsylvania on March 22, 1879, and they appear to have taken the word “equitable” quite literally by admitting both men and women equally. The organization was only around for eighteen years, dissolving in April of 1897 (you can read the New York Times article about the dissolution here). Mutual benefit societies flourished during the period of 1870 and 1900, during a time when millions of Americans derived no benefits from their employers. By joining a mutual benefit society, a person could obtain health, life, and/or burial insurance. (See our earlier post on how some folks tried to defraud Masonic relief agencies, by impersonating Freemasons.) According to the Cyclopaedia of Fraternitities, the Equitable Aid Union “sought to bring men and women into its Unions to promote benevolence, charity, social, and mental culture, to care for the sick and needy, to aid one another in obtaining employment, and to assist each other in business.”

Equitable_aid_union_3_webThe Equitable Aid Union included four Masons among its founders. Its ceremonies, like many other fraternal organizations’ at the time, were patterned after Freemasonry. Mutual benefit societies not only provided relief in times of need, but, like Freemasonry, they also offered members the chance to participate in self-improvement activities, secret rituals, and social functions. Mutual benefit societies also promoted ideas tied to a self-reliant work ethic, as well as the idea that support (financial, social, etc.) might be more easily achieved when a group comes together, rather than by each individual working in isolation.

Here’s an excerpt from the Ritual of the Equitable Aid Union which, I think, gives a good sense of the ethos of the organization:

Chancellor: Conductor, what say you of Equity?

Conductor: Worthy Chancellor, if Equity in all its benevolent workings were to pervade the various ranks of our social life, rulers would not oppress their people, nor masters act unjustly towards their servants; nor would the people or servants refuse to submit to just and equitable laws, but all would act their part in this great moral machine, with harmony and delight, and every station in life would contribute to the prosperity and happiness of the other.

And here are more complete citations for the books mentioned in this post:

Ritual of the Equitable Aid Union for the Use of Subordinate Unions, Under the Jurisdiction of the Supreme Union ; Adopted at the Annual Meeting of the Supreme Union, held at Columbus Warren Co., Penn'a., March 1889. Titusville, PA: Equitable & Union Herald Printing House, 1889.
Call number: HS 1510 .E8 1889

Stevens, Albert C. The Cyclopaedia of Fraternities: A Compilation of Existing Authentic Information... of More Than Six Hundred Secret Societies in the United States. New York: Hamilton Printing and Publishing Company, 1899.
Call number: 00 .S844 1899