The Washington Monument Commemorative Stone of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania

Click to enlarge.  Image from http://www.nps.gov.

Freemasons and students of Masonic history can claim many connections to some of America’s greatest national treasures.  Because of the esteem in which our Craft once held, it was not uncommon to have Masonic lodges asked to perform public cornerstone ceremonies and dedications to many of the nation’s best known buildings and monuments.  (readers may recall my Gettysburg blog here) As you can imagine, any organization asked to participate or contribute to the construction of a national memorial has a sense of pride and contribution to history.  The Masons are no different.

According to Pennsylvania Grand Lodge minutes, in June of 1848, an invitation sent from the Grand Lodge of Washington DC was received and accepted by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania to “attend and assist in the ceremonies of laying the corner Stone of the Washington National Monument.”  The ceremony took place the following month on July 04, 1848, Independence Day1

When the Freemasons laid the cornerstone of the George Washington National Monument in DC it not only put another short notation in the history books about the Masons, it also opened up an opportunity for Masonic lodges and other civic and patriotic organizations to have their mark placed in American history as part of the very structure itself.

When construction began the Washington National Monument Society, which formed in 1833 as a private association, allowed donation of blocks to be incorporated for a twofold purpose.  The first was so all states of the Union could feel represented by the monument, and the second was to aid in fundraising and construction costs.  The society originally planned to accept monetary donations along with the donated stones, but it seems many blocks came without such donation.2

There are 193 commemorative blocks inside the Washington Monument.  That is, there are 192 commemorative stones, and 1 commemorative block of copper ore. The latter donated by the state of Michigan.3   The stones were donated by individual states, societies, and private citizens.  These stones range is size and style.  Some are very basic with simple inscriptions, while others are incredibly complicated with fine detail.   The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania’s stone fits into the latter category.

The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, like many other societies, had an interest in donating a stone. In September of 1850 a motion was made to secure an appropriate amount of money “to procure a block of Penna. marble to be fashioned as a Keystone and inserted as part of the National Monument to Washington to bear the inscription from the Grand Lodge of Masons of the Keystone State in memory of the Masonic virtues of Washington or some other inscription that the Grand Master or Grand Lodge may direct.”4   A committee was formed for the purpose of designing and executing the project and to report the cost back to Grand Lodge.

In November that year the committee reported back that it had in fact met several times to work out the details of furnishing a block of marble as well as a design to be carved into the stone. The final cost of the stone was set not to exceed $500.00.  The carving design was supplied free of charge by committee chairman Bro. G. Parker Cummings who was Worshipful Master of Lodge No. 19.5

Gordon Parker Cummings

Gordon Cummings, or as most records record his name, G. Parker or GP Cummings, was a talented architect.  He was born around 1809 and was one of the first architects to have significant works on both coasts of the growing Republic.  Along with his many achievements, he was responsible for Philadelphia’s first structure supported by iron rather than timber, the cast iron Penn Mutual building. He also designed the Grand Lodge of Colored Masons, an Early English Gothic style, in 1851.  He went west to San Francisco after the gold rush boom where he is remembered for numerous building as well as the capitol of Sacramento.6

Cummings made it back to Philadelphia where died in 1889.  At the time of his death he was living in the Masonic Home in Philadelphia.  He was buried at Monument Cemetery, but unfortunately he did not remain there long.  Not to get too far off topic, but it is worth pointing out that in the 1950’s with expanding and changing times, Monument Cemetery which held more than 28,000 bodies was sold to Temple University.  Part of the university’s explanation required removing and relocating the bodies in the cemetery.  Today, it seems, there is no really good records of what happened to most of the bodies, with many being put into a mass grave.  Hundreds, if not thousands of headstones were dumped into the river.  To read more about Monument Cemetery check out The Cemetery Traveler blog here.7

William Struthers

Grand Lodge minutes indicate that the work was to be “carried out under the superintendence of a Special Committee appointed for that purpose, whose duty it shall be to see that none but the most skilful artists are employed and that the work be done in the most superior manner.” The man chosen to carry out said work was Bro. William Struthers.8

Detail on the George Washington tomb. (Photo from Adam T. Osman)

Struthers was born to Scottish parents in January of 1812.  He followed his family profession and became a marble mason.  His father John is credited with several well-known monuments including the new marble sarcophagi of George and Martha Washington as well as the sarcophagus of Henry Clay and that of Isaac Hull, Commodore of the United States Navy.9   I’ll point out here that, while Johns name is on the side of the Washington sarcophagi, and most historians believe he is the carver, there are claims that another man actually carved the eagle and shield, while Johns firm simply supplied the marble.10

By 1840 William and his father were working under the title John Struthers and Son.  William expanded the family business and his work can be seen in various places around Philadelphia, most notably Philadelphia’s City Hall.11

Struthers not only carved the stone for the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, but also was responsible for the Corporation of the City of Philadelphia stone.12

Despite the Grand Lodge Minutes on 1850 stating the stone would be placed at the 2nd landing, the actual location of the Grand Lodge stone is on the 16th landing, approximately 180 feet up. The following description was taken from “The Voice of Freemasonry” magazine in 1997.  (see link in reference for more Masonic stone information)13

On the 180-foot level, at the sixteenth landing, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania contributed a richly carved marble stone. Prominent upon the stone is carved an arch and keystone. The keystone contains a seal with four quarterings with a lion, a man, a cow, and an eagle, traditional emblems of the four apostles. Above the seal on the keystone is “Holiness unto the Lord”, below the seal is “From the Keystone State, A.D. 1851 A.L. 5851.” Above the keystone two angels guard with uplifted wings a small ark of the covenant. To the right of the arch is a crumbling wall surmounted by masonic tools set against a wooded hill. To the left is a wall of finished ashlar surmounted by a masonic altar and tools against another wooded hill. In the clouds on a banner to either side of the keystone is the inscription “Ad majorem Supremi Architect Glorium”.

While this is not meant to be a study of all the commemorative blocks in the monument, the resources below can provide hours of further study.

As of today the Washington Monument remains closed due to the earth quake that hit the Washington DC area in 2011.  Before the earthquake it was possible at certain times to ride the elevator up and walk down the inside to view the memorial stones.  This is no longer the case.  Perhaps someday things may change and you may be able to view the stone with your very eyes.

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  1. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging, Volume VII, 1840-1848, Page 494
  2. The Washington Monument: A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones p. 8 (http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/wamo/stones.pdf) accessed 9/28/13
  3.  The Washington Monument: A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones p. 1 (http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/wamo/stones.pdf) accessed 9/27/13
  4. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging, Volume VIII, 1849-1854, Page 112
  5. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging, Volume VIII, 1849-1854, Page 117
  6. Biography from the American Architects and Buildings database, http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/ar_display.cfm/22495, accessed 9/27/2013.
  7. How Monument Cemetery was Destroyed, The Cemetery Traveler – by Ed Snyder, http://thecemeterytraveler.blogspot.com/2011/05/how-monument-cemetery-was-destroyed.html accessed 9/28/13
  8. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging, Volume VIII, 1849-1854, Page 117
  9. Philadelphia Graveyards and Cemeteries, By Thomas H. Keels, page 107.
  10. Andrew Doig, John Struthers & George Washington’s Sarcophagus, accessed 9/28/2013 http://chicagoscots.blogspot.com/2011/04/andrew-doig-john-struthers-george.html
  11. Biography from the American Architects and Buildings database, http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/ar_display.cfm/22755, accessed 9/28/2013.
  12. The Washington Monument: A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones p. 124 (http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/wamo/stones.pdf) accessed 10/28/13
  13. The Voice of Freemasonry, Grand Lodge, F.&.A.M., of the District of Columbia, Spring 1997
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Learning How to Die – The Importance of the Skull in Freemasonry

27 October 2013 1 comment
The Caput Mortuum - Deaths Head

The Caput Mortuum – Deaths Head.

I recently returned from a very interesting presentation by Bro. Arturo de Hoyos at the October 2013 meeting of the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge.  Bro. de Hoyos was to present on Masonic ritual, but being that it was so close to Halloween, he informed us he would take the angle of the use of the skull in our Masonic ritual.  Boy, was this an eye opener.

Anyone looking for information on Freemasonry, no doubt, has come across illustrations of the skull and crossbones.  To many, this is an ominous item that we tend to shy away from today.  It is seen by some as morbid, evil, scary, and even Satanic by some.  It has been shoved to the corner of society with things we associate with being dark, negative, and unpleasant.

I am no different.  I have seen this symbol.  I realize it symbolizes death.  I understand that it was used early on more than it is used today, and I see why, by today’s standards, this symbol could be seen as sinister by many of the profane.

After watching this presentation and reflecting on what Bro. de Hoyos spoke about, I began to think that my definition and feelings on Freemasonry may be a little off.

When asked what Freemasonry is, I tend to repeat one of the first passages we all hear each month at lodge.  Found in the opening charge is the phrase “useful knowledge is the great object of our desire.”   This is simple.  It is much easier than the “system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols” definition that is standardly thrown around.

When someone asks, “What is the point of Freemasonry?”  I have to go no further than the first few words of our opening charge.  The purpose is to gain useful knowledge.  This knowledge is used to make us better people.  We use this knowledge to refine our characters and live better lives.

When I step back and look at the way I explain it to people, I realize that there is more.  The next question I ask myself is, “Why live a better life?”  On the surface it seems simple.  If you live a better life, you will be a better person.  You will improve all that is around you.  Things will go better and be better if you live a better life.   Still, there is more to living than what is here in now.  At the end of life is death.  Death is A LOT longer.

While it is true that being a good person can make your life better, I realized the purpose of living a better life is to achieve admission to a better afterlife.  In a nice life, we are on this Earth for 90 years, 100 if we are lucky.  100 years is a long time to a living human, but it’s just a blink of the eye in the grand scheme of things.  If the lifestyle lived as a Freemason is giving me knowledge to polish my rough edges, the end goal will be to get into Heaven.  (or whatever you call your spiritual afterlife) The end point of life is death.  This makes the purpose of Freemasonry simply to learn how to die.

Society seems to have taken the unpleasant images of the world and not just pushed them aside, but downright vilified them.  Anymore it seems as though displaying a skull and crossbones is downright creepy.  And really, in today’s day and age, it is.

This symbol has gone the way of the swastika in many regards.  Of course the about-face that the swastika took is an extreme example of symbol bastardization.  In today’s world it would be hard for most people to think a home flying a large swastika flag in the front yard is the best place to send your girl scouts to sell cookies.  The skull has taken a similar seat in society.

Why should we care about the skull?  Well, for starters we need to focus on what it actually symbolizes.  The skull is a symbol of death and mortality.  Pushing aside all profane and otherwise misuses of the skull, I think it’s time the Freemason starts to focus on the skull.  It might not even be a bad idea to display it in a place where he sees it every day.   For other peoples ignorance sake, I wouldn’t recommend displaying this on a 3×6 flag in your front yard, or even on a badge on the back of your car, but for the purpose of self-awareness it could be displayed inside your home, on a key ring, maybe even as an accompanying symbol on your masonic ring.  You are doing this for your own good, no one else.

If you do this, of course, you need to also be educated enough to be able to defend yourself when the questions inevitably start coming.  I realize there are many reasons we don’t use this symbol as much as we once did in regular craft Freemasonry, but I think it would benefit us all to be reminded daily why we live by the working tools.  Death is just around the corner.  We have no idea when it is coming, and we have no idea how old we’ll be when it happens.

As we strive to live by the working tools, we need to keep in mind the reason for doing so.  Knowing what the working tools mean won’t make you a better person if you aren’t executing their direction.  Understanding Masonic Philosophy won’t help you if you don’t use it as a tool for improvement.  All the knowledge in the world won’t transform you into the fine ashlar for use in that spiritual temple unless you are actually polishing your rough edges.

So, is Freemasonry about acquiring useful knowledge to live a better life?  Yes.  However, in light of my most recent experience, I think Freemasonry could be more about preparing you to die.   The skull is no more sinister than the swastika if you look at its original symbolic purpose.  The skull is merely a reminder that you will die.  Shouldn’t we be privately using this more as just another daily Masonic symbol?  I know I will be.

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Modern Masonry

21 September 2013 1 comment

The Modern Masonic Family in Pennsylvania

Image

A lot has changed in Freemasonry in the past 100 years.  It seems a lot of that change has happened in the last 10 years. Our fraternity, which is extremely similar from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, also has an endless list of differences that sometimes are confusing to the new Mason.

I will start off with saying this blog post was written for the Mason who has a few years in already.  I am writing it for the Mason who has maybe made a few missteps by jumping into an appendant or concordant body too quickly.  This is meant to be satire, and maybe even slight criticism of the system, but all in good fun.  Don’t take it too seriously.

I’ve put together this chart to illustrate some of these differences as seen by a Pennsylvania Freemason.  Much of this can be applied to other jurisdictions, but being from Pennsylvania, this is how I see it.

Most of us are familiar with the charts that pop up in Masonic books or in the front of your bibles that illustrate the supposed hierarchy of Freemasonry.  As a Freemason with a little experience, you should know much of this hierarchical illustration is not as it seems in the pretty charts.  By that, I mean, yes, there is a progression.  Some degrees have prerequisites.  Some appear to be the top.  The traditional chart illustration, no doubt, leaves the new Mason feeling like his puny three degrees are worthless.   However, after a few years of learning the system, one realizes that that nicely organized chart is misleading.  I have created this chart, which is not as pretty, and possibly even just as confusing, to illustrate how I see it.

Another thing about my chart: I’ve left off the many many many other appendent bodies of Freemasonry such as AMD, Eastern Star, the youth groups, etc.  Perhaps someday I’ll incorporate them, but for now I think this tells a pretty good story.

Looking at this chart you will see that we start much like the common illustrations start, with the first three degrees.  A man moves from an entered Apprentice, to Fellow Craft, to Master Mason with the first three degrees in the first three steps.  These steps typically take about one month per degree to complete.    What is different about my chart, however, is that directly beside the first three steps in Freemasonry is an escalator that takes a man from ground level to Master Mason with no effort and in literally a fraction of the time.  In my opinion, the journey from darkness to Masonic light does not happen as it should with the escalator and typically requires a little more work on the candidate to figure out.

The Shrine
From the platform of Master Mason, if one chooses to do so, he can jump directly onto the rocket ship that takes him to Shrine membership.  Of course, you’ll also see that they become members of Shriners International, not the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, which no longer exists.  Once the new member becomes a Shriner (sometimes a few hours after he becomes a dues paying Mason with a card in his wallet) it takes some time to learn that this new fraternity he is in, which at one time appears at the pinnacle of some Masonic family illustrations, is in fact, no more than separate, but noble, fraternity with very little Masonic connection at all.  Even the original logo is falling away as the new logo of Shriners International is slowly cutting the last remaining connection to the Freemasons.

This brings us to the next item to cover:

The Scottish Rite

Now, since I am part of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, this chart only displays how things are in my neck of the woods.  Notice that instead of a clean cut hierarchy of degrees, what we have here is more like the game Chutes and Ladders.  The new Mason who just put a Blue Lodge card in his wallet now enters yet even another body of Freemasonry and takes the ladder directly to that glorious number 32 just as immediate as he took the escalator from 1-3.  The new member is quickly impressed with everything thrown his way, and is told that he should, at some point in his life, go through and witness all of the degrees of the Scottish rite.  The chutes and ladders make this possible.  Sometimes the 14th degree is being put on, the next time the 10th and 25th may be put on.  Feel free to climb around and slide down back and forth between degrees.  What is difficult to illustrate here is that degrees are not always conferred in your local Valley.  While each Valley does have the capability to do each degree, the reality is, many do not have a consistent rotation of all of the degrees.  If you want all the degrees you will need to hit the road, sometimes traveling across several states to “collect them all.”   Oh, another thing that is difficult to illustrate is that just because you may have witnessed them all, in the Northern Jurisdiction, they can change from time to time.  With this, even if you have seen them all, you may need to see them all again if you want to stay 100% current.

This brings us to:

The York Rite

Now, this is yet again confusing to the new Mason who jumps right in.  In Pennsylvania at least, our York Rite System differs from many other York Rite Jurisdictions in that we have a Grand Chapter of Pennsylvania.  Yep, we have a sovereign and independent Grand Chapter that we share mutual recognition with the some other sovereign state Grand Chapters and the General Grand Chapter International.

In our Grand Chapter there are a series of degrees that run from 4-7.  That SHOULD be 4 degrees, although the candidate goes from 4-6, skipping over the 5th degree, or Past Master degree.  This gave me the idea to illustrate this entire Rite as game of hopscotch.

In Chapter, new candidates just become what has been dubbed a “Virtual Past Master” when they go from degree 4 to 6.  In Pennsylvania, the Past Master degree is actually conferred on you upon being elected to the position of Worshipful Master of your Blue Lodge, and is conferred by the Past Masters of your Lodge.  This is where you get the word of the chair and become a Past Master.

Again, this is Pennsylvania, most other Grand Chapters actually have the Past Master degree that give you the word of the chair making you a Past Master, even if you have never served as Master of your Lodge.   To complicate it a little more, in most European Lodges there is not a Past Master degree, but an “Install Master” degree.  It would be time consuming and monotonous to list all of the differences of individual Jurisdictions in regards to their Past Master degree, but if you want more info a simple internet search for “Past Master Degree” can yield many results.

As the York Rite moves from Chapter, we go into Council, which from there moves on to Commandary.  Notice the graphic: the hopscotch graphic gets further away as you move higher up the Rite.  I did this to illustrate that in my opinion, as you move further away from Chapter, you get further away from Freemasonry.

While Council still follows closely the story we are familiar with in Blue Lodge dealing with the temple and Hiram Abiff, the degrees deal more with the building/destruction/rebuilding of the temple.  It can be confusing to some as it is considered a prerequisite for Commandary in some Jurisdictions, (not in Pennsylvania) and is a series of three degrees, but only two are required for advancement in York rite, and one is only sometimes put on.  This optional, or honorable, degree, Super Excellent Master, is illustrated to the side as it is not always part of the game, and many people chose not to even see it even if offered because they are only doing Council to get to Commandary and the Knight Templar Degree.  It is worth repeating here that in some York Rite Jurisdictions Council is not required to go onto Commandary, while in others it is.

From Council we go into Commandary, which is a series of degrees also referred to as the Chivalric Orders by some.  These degrees are beautiful, and when correctly put on are said to be some of the most powerful of the entire degree system.  As stated above, these degrees are wonderful, but move away from Masonic principles, and some could argue are even un-Masonic altogether.  The order of the Knight Templar is conferred upon those only who promise to defend the Christian religion.  While this is wonderful for an individual Christian, it is very exclusionary, and goes against one of the most basic tenants of Freemasonry as being “on the level.”   For guys like me, this is extremely conflicting as I recognize its exclusionary practice, but someday I would like to experience this degree and become a Knight Templar.

While our system isn’t perfect, it is our system and it is up to us to use it to its fullest.  Perhaps my entire write up and illustration can be considered a waste of time as the purpose of Freemasonry is to make a good man a better man.  While I have a vision of how Freemasonry should work, it is just that, MY VISION.  There may be another guy who becomes a better person out there while taking all the short cuts available to him.  In that case, Freemasonry worked for that guy too.  We are all brothers, we are all human.  My hope is that this satirical illustration and written opinion can help others view the system in a slightly different manner.  Maybe it will be an eye opener; maybe it will make some folks mad.  The point is, you can use Freemasonry to its fullest, or you can use parts of it as it fits your life.  Educate yourself, and then try to educate others.  Be aware of the degree system before jumping in.

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The Level

20 September 2013 Leave a comment

The Level

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The level is a tool that is used by operative masons to prove a horizontal surface is flat, exact, and equal all the way across. However, for the Freemason, it can hold the meaning of equality.

A Mason is taught in the second, or Fellowcraft, degree that all men have the same opportunities for advancement in our lives as long as we work for it. Thus, the level dignifies labor and the man who performs it.

Inside and outside of a Masonic lodge, members are to conduct themselves as equal and “on the level” without regards to wealth, social distinction, civil office or service to mankind. A man is viewed and judged by his character and skill and how he applies himself, not his social class, job, family heritage or skin color.

Are you using it accordingly?

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The 24 Inch Gauge

8 September 2013 2 comments

The 24 Inch Gauge

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One Brotherhood….Two Different Brothers

26 August 2013 1 comment

One Brotherhood....Two Different Brothers

I made this just for fun. Don’t take it too seriously.

The Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial Rededication Roadtrip

The Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial Rededication Roadtrip
20 Year Anniversary Rededication at the Gettysburg Cemetery

05_27_13_rededication (94)

The Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial in gettysburg

Because this is a personal blog I will from time to time stray from strictly Masonic education and move into personal experience.  While not trying to get too far away education, my recent experience traveling to Gettysburg was both enlightening and educational.

Not everything was Masonic, as I will explain further, but it was all very cool.

Being a pretty big history buff, anything that contains any shred of American History is usually on the top of my list of things I want to learn more about.  When you add in Freemasonry to the above it takes my level of interest off the chart.

The 20th Anniversary Rededication Ceremony of the Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial gave me an excuse to put everything I love into one day and hit the road with some friends and brothers.   I couldn’t have had better company.  Three likeminded history buff Freemasons in one car made for a great day.

McConnellsburg Mt. Zion Masonic Lodge

McConnellsburg Mt. Zion Masonic Lodge

Two of us are from Bedford County, so naturally we picked Historic Lincoln Highway as the most direct Route to Gettysburg.  Coming through Fulton County into McConnellsburg where we met up with our friend, we stopped at Mt. Zion Lodge No. 774 to carpool.  We also experienced our first Civil War site of the day.

While not Masonic, the “Confederate Dead” graves and historical marker sits in McConneslburg on Rt. 16, Buchanan Trail (39°55’26.31″N  77°59’1.73″W).  This is the resting place of two Confederate Soldiers who were killed in a Skirmish a month before the Battle of Gettysburg.

Confederate Dead

Historical Marker at the Confederate Dead location in McConnellsburg

As the story goes, the men of the 1st New York (Lincoln) Calvary led by Capt. Abram Johns arrived in McConnelsburg about a month before the battle of Gettysburg.  Also in McConnellsburg was an unarmed militia cavalry out of Huntingdon led by H. M. Morrow.  Jones who sent a picket detail east to watch for any Confederates, was conversing with Marrow when the detail galloped back into town giving the news of the approaching confederates.  To this, Jones made the decision to fight.  You can read about the entire skirmish here, but to make this long story short, quite a saber battle ensued, while perusing retreating confederates, two were killed just north of town, and Jones’ men were able to capture a few rebels who were marched them out of McConnellsburg  to Bloody Run (Modern Everett.)

Confederate Dead

The final resting place of 2 confederate soldiers in McConnellsburg.

The Confederate soldiers were William B. Moore and Thomas Shelton.  They were taken into town, prepared for burial and returned to the place near where they fell to be interred.  Later the same day a mass of confederate soldiers arrived back in McConnellsburg were a door to door search was conducted for weapons before they headed east back over the mountain. 8

Try as I might, I could not force a Masonic connection here, although I am very open to someone else trying.  I couldn’t find a record of these two CSA soldiers in any Masonic context, nor of that of Abram Jones.  As a side note, I did find he is buried in Los Angeles CA, which I found pretty weird.  I am looking into this more.

Leaving McConnellsburg, we drove a short distance to Chambersburg, PA.  For anyone who has not been through this town, do yourself a favor and put this on your list.  The Masonic lodge in Chambersburg is not only the oldest Masonic building in PA, (built in 1823 as a Masonic Hall and still used as such) it is also one of the oldest buildings in the city, as it was spared from the destruction of the Confederates in 1864.

About a year after the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate Gen. John McCausland led troops to the city where he demanded a ransom of$ 100,000.00 in gold from the merchants and citizens.  This was in supposed retaliation of federal destruction to private property in the Shenandoah Valley.5   When the merchants refused to pay he ordered the city to be raised. The destruction consumed nearly 550 houses and left roughly 2,000 residents homeless.

Chambersburg Masonic Lodge

Chambersburg Masonic Lodge: Spared from destruction during the confederate razing of the city in 1864.

As the legend goes, a “high ranking” Confederate officer spotted the building and recognized its significance.  Supposedly he confirmed with the neighbors that it was, in fact, the Masonic Hall.  Because of this, the building (or entire block depending on which story you heard) had guards placed around it sparing it from destruction. 6

While this is a very romantic story, unfortunately none of this can be 100% authenticated.  What we do know is that most of the city was burned and that this particular block went pretty much untouched.  Local legion and folklore can be wonderful things, but unfortunately without concrete proof we may never know the entire story or the exact circumstances in which the Masonic Hall was spared.   With that said, I believe it probably happened exactly like the legend states.

Oddly enough, the 1864 burning of Chambersburg wasn’t the first, or the second time, that this city was occupied by the Confederates.  One year earlier, leading up to the battle of Gettysburg, a Virginia Cavalry brigade, under Brig. General Albert G. Jenkins occupied the town and burned several warehouses and the Cumberland Valley Railroad structures and bridge.  Around the same time, much of the Army of Northern Virginia past through this area heading to Carlisle and Gettysburg.  General Lee even headquartered at a Farm near town.

Prior to this, in October of 1862, Confederate Maj. General J.E.B. Stuart raided the city with 1800 cavalrymen.  They caused about $250,000 dollars in damage and made off with guns and horses.  They failed at their main goal of burning the railroad bridge across the Conococheague Creek at Scotland, five miles north of town.  This they accomplished the following year.

Thadeus Stevens Blacksmith Shop

Thadeus Stevens Blacksmith Shop along Rt. 30 near Caledonia State Park.

From here we continued on the Lincoln Highway toward Gettysburg.  By chance we came upon another site that has a semi-Masonic, but not really at all, significance.  This was the blacksmith shop of Thadeus Stevens.  His shop sit directly along the Lincoln Highway near Caledonia State Park (39°54’23.77″N  77°28’44.21″W)

As many of you know, Thadeus Stevens was a Pennsylvania Representative who led many charges for civil rights and abolition of slavery in general. Stevens changed his party  affiliation quite a bit being a Federalist, Anti-Mason, Whig, and Republican at different times, however, we, as Freemasons,  tend to remember him as being perhaps one of the most ardent anti-Masons during the Ant-Masonic movement.

Folklore and myth claims that Stevens was rejected from a lodge in Gettysburg, which could have added to his Anti-Masonic attitude.   To help clear this up, in fact, there is no record of Thaddeus Stevens petitioning a lodge in Gettysburg.   There has only ever been one Masonic Lodge in Gettysburg.  This lodge was warranted as Good Samaritan Lodge No. 200 in 1825, just before the Morgan Affair and anti-Masonic movement that swept the United States.  Lodge No. 200 was broke up in 1832 as a result of the movement.  It would be dark until 1859 when it was re-organized as Lodge No. 336.

In 1887, a man by the name of Joshua L. Lyte wrote a letter published in the Masonic Voice Review laying out proof based on primary sources and lodge minutes that there was never a record of Stevens petitioning Gettysburg Lodge.  Rather than re-write his entire letter here and make this longer than it needs to be you can either take my word for it, or read the actual letter here.7

Outside of Good samaritan Lodge No. 336 in Gettysburg

Outside of Good Samaritan Lodge No. 336 in Gettysburg. The location of this well known tourist statue is peculiar to me.

Moving on from this short stop we approached Gettysburg, the highlight of the day.  When we first got into Gettysburg we were ahead of schedule so we just drove to the downtown square.  Conveniently, Good Samaritan Lodge No. 336  is located directly in the heart of town.  The door was open, so we went in.  On site preparing for the ceremony were several members of Good Sam lodge including Worshipful Master Matthew P. Terpstra who gave us a brief peek around the lodge room.  Great guys! 9 Driving to the cemetery was the impressive site of hundreds of Masons in aprons walking on the street.  For a block there was a parade of aprons, collars, jewels, and suits all moving toward the center piece of the Friend to Friend Monument.

At the Friend to Friend Monument

The three of us at the Friend to Friend Monument.

The monument, which is impressive in itself, was made even grander by being surrounded by every body of Freemasonry you can think of.

The Friend to Friend monument was created 20 year ago to commemorate the battlefield meeting of Confederate General, Bro. Lewis Armistead and Union Army Captain Bro. Henry H. Bingham.  Where, as the story goes, Bingham assisted the mortally wounded Armistead near the high water mark.  Both Bingham and Armistead were members of the craft.  It is also a fact that Bingham did receive some of Armistead’s personal effects.  While there is not really any proof that the motives were Masonic in nature, it did represent a meeting in which two brothers from opposite sides of the field met and demonstrated compassion.

Image

Grand Master Jay Smith and Past Grand Master Edward Henry Fowler, Jr.

The rededication was complete with a moving presentation by the Grand Lodge officers and Grand Master Jay Smith.  There was present many Past Grand Masters including Edward Henry Fowler, Jr. who was Grand Master 20 years ago at the original dedication.

This is not the only Masonicly significant monument in Gettysburg. On the contrary, one of the larger and arguably more nationally important monuments at Gettysburg, the Soldiers National Monument, has a historic Masonic connection.

On July 04, 1865 a cornerstone ceremony for the Soldiers National Monument in Gettysburg took place.  In office at the time of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania was Grand Master Lucius H. Scott. According to the 1865 minutes of the Grand Lodge he states:

“Among the official duties I have been called to discharge during the past Masonic year, none have appeared to me more important so far as the dignity and honor of the Grand Lodge is concerned, than that of laying the corner stone of the Soldiers National Monument at Gettysburg.”1

Grand Master Scott further explained that one month prior to this event he received a letter from David Wills, president of the Soldiers National Cemetery, informing him that invitations to this event were sent to Masonic lodges in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and DC.  Wills explained that the Grand Master of DC wrote back asking if the fraternity was to perform the cornerstone ceremony, and if so, which Grand Jurisdiction would awarded the honor.  To this, Wills explains that he conferred with a local Pennsylvania lodge who suggested their desire to have their own Grand Lodge perform the ceremony.  With this, the invitation was extended to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.2

To read through Grand Master Scott’s lengthy report on this historic event, it can be easily assumed that he knew of the significant and historic importance of this event.  He even offers and apology for the lengthy written segment in the minutes.

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Standing by the Soldiers National Monument.

While arrangements were made for President and Brother Andrew Johnson to be present for the ceremony, he was unfortunately unable to attend due to illness.  He sent in his place the Marshal of the District of Columbia, Judge Gooding who delivered a personal letter from him during the ceremony.3 President Johnson was a southerner from Tennessee who belonged to Greenville Lodge No. 119.4

This was perhaps one of the most educational days I have had in a long time.  I am glad to have witnessed the rededication ceremony and look forward to my future trips to Gettysburg.

  1. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdictions Thereunto Belonging. Volume XI, 1865-1874, Page 32.  (Available Online Here)
  2. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdictions Thereunto Belonging. Volume XI, 1865-1874, Page 32-33.  (Available Online Here)
  3. The Soldier’s National Cemetery at Gettysburg, John Russell Bartlett, page 63-64 (Available Online Here)
  4. Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Albert G. Mackey and Harry LeRoy, Volume 2, 1909, Page 645 (Available Online Here)
  5. Burning of Chambersburg Historical Marker, Accessed 5/28/2013, http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-202
  6. George Washington Lodge #143, History, Accessed 5/28/2013, http://gw143.org/about-our-lodge/history/
  7. The Masonic Voice Review, Volumes 66-68, 1887,Page 147, Available on Google Books, Accessed 5/28/2013
  8. Confederate Dead [McConnellsburg] Historical Marker, Explore History, Accessed 5/29/2013 (Available online here)
  9. Gettysburg, Good Samaritan Lodge No. 336: http://www.gettysburgmasonicbodies.embarqspace.com/

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