Saturday, November 26, 2022

‘As fervency and zeal cool’

Click to enlarge.

On this date 162 years ago, the Most Puissant Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters of New Jersey and its first three constituent councils took form.

Scott Council 1 is still at it. In fact, we were practicing some of the work several hours ago. And we’re still kin to Union Lodge 19 (see above).

Kane Council 2 and Gebal 3 were euthanized by the Grand Master recently, although Gebal is back on life support. I would think a grand council would move (gilded) mountains to sustain its founding councils, but, ah, not quite.

162 = 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 2.

This is a tumultuous period for the Cryptic Rite in New Jersey, and it is hard to predict how much more time the Grand Council has to live. Years of frivolous leadership elected by a shrinking and apathetic membership spell doom.

It is the year 3022 for Cryptic Masons. The Deposit was made. Who in future years will remember it?

Saturday, November 19, 2022

‘Scottish Freemasonry Symposium, Part II'

Before delving into the content of the presentations at the Scottish Freemasonry in America Symposium of two weeks ago, I’ll share several dozen photos from the guided tour of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial we attendees enjoyed. (I’m not procrastinating. These Magpie posts take time.)

First, the view of the Memorial from the north windows of the Magpie’s suite. Freemasonry’s origins are lost in the mists of antiquity, and the Memorial was lost in the fog.

The famous statue. Bro. Bryant Baker’s big bronze looms in Memorial Hall.
It was dedicated in 1950 by President Harry Truman.

The Alexandria Washington Lodge 22 meeting room.
This sign was posted at the lodge’s previous meeting hall from 1804 to 1944.

Tracing Board of the EA°.

For the FC°.

And for the Sublime Degree.

Where the magic happens.

In the West. Note the placement of J&B.

The desk often has negative connotations, such as being a place of frustrating inactivity, but I bet the lodge secretary doesn’t mind sitting behind this one.
(‘I really just like to be at a desk.’ — Tom Stoppard.)

‘In the midst of Solomon’s Temple there stands a G,
A Letter fair for all to read and see,
But few there be that understands
What means that Letter G.’
— Masonry Dissected

And then there is Ye Olde Lodge Meeting Room.
There is an elegance to the small furniture.

The Three Great Lights of Freemasonry.
The Square must have been a Master’s collar jewel at some time.

The Master’s Pedestal.

Speaking of desks, if your Treasurer or Secretary complains about his, just show him what his ancestors had to work with!

This is described at the Memorial as a scarf. The Museum of Freemasonry in London has something similar, which it calls a snuff handkerchief. As much as you wouldn’t imagine unclogging your honker of GAOTU only knows what into a silk piece decorated with our symbols after indulging in a pinch of snuff, it is true that Masons of old adorned all kinds of items with the images of the Craft.

Don’t sit down.

I feel like Jeremy Cross himself gave direction when this was painted.

Replica of the apron presented to George Washington, after victory at Yorktown in 1781, by two merchants in France in recognition of ‘glorious efforts in support of American liberty.’ Bears some resemblance to the Mt. Nebo Apron, n’est-ce pas?

Replica of the gavel Washington employed in the cornerstone dedication of the U.S. Capitol in 1793. The original is custody of Potomac Lodge 5 in the District of Columbia. New Jersey’s research lodge once possessed a replica too, a gift from MW David A. Chase, who set us to labor. Sadly, someone ‘borrowed’ it years ago when we met in the Trenton Temple.

Various exhibits abound inside the Memorial. Here is a fiftieth anniversary loving cup, and a gorgeous specimen too, from Kane Council 2 of Royal and Select Masters in New Jersey. Kane would have reached its 162nd anniversary next Saturday, but its charter was revoked recently. I’ll be exposing that ugliness in an upcoming edition of The Magpie Mason.

Ceramic pitcher from Liverpool, England.
I’m imagining many servings of punch. Vivat!

I love the porcelain and ceramic and glass pieces of yore.
Masonic material culture today is so chintzy and uninspiring. 

St. Paul’s Lodge 481 commissioned this pipe tobacco humidor to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in 1911. Beautiful piece, and I’m not just editorializing because of my fondness for the pipe! See photos of an identical jar here. Like the Kane Council cup, this, and a whole lot of other Masonic ceramics, were manufactured in Trenton, New Jersey.


These punch bowls are found in Masonic museums up and down the East Coast,
and elsewhere, I’m sure. Made in China during the 1790s.

Good fire!

Glass flask.

Scrimshaw carving on bone or ivory was popular among sailors back in the day.

I’ll guess this is an English apron circa 1800. I forgot to take note of the identifying card that surely was next to this.

Aprons made of simple paper are used at meetings that draw large groups to accommodate all those who didn’t bring their own regalia. President Franklin Roosevelt (Holland Lodge 8) had two sons, James and Franklin, Jr., who were raised in Architect Lodge 519. This must have been a wing ding. In attendance were the Grand Master, Mayor LaGuardia, several state Supreme Court judges, and other dignitaries.

Ahiman Rezon originally was the book of constitutions of the ‘Ancients’ Grand Lodge circa 1751. In America, when home grown grand lodges began to organize in the former colonies, some of those identifying with the Ancients chose Ahiman Rezon as the title of their respective constitutions (e.g. Pennsylvania, South Carolina, maybe others). This text is the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania’s printed in 1783. What does the term mean? You’ll find different explanations in Masonic literature, such as the Hebrew for to help a brother or something similar. Im going with Shawn Eyers explanation: ‘Both Ahiman and Rezon are names from the Bible. In fact, the Biblical character Ahiman appears in the Ahiman Rezon, which lets you know immediately that all those who claim it is a mystery what Ahiman means have not bothered to read the book and don’t know their Bible.’

Sigh. Book publishing in the nineteenth century.

This beer can was left in the attic during construction of the Memorial in the 1930s.

There are other statues of Washington about the Memorial. New Yorkers ought
to recognize this one from its gilded twin inside the Hollender Room of Masonic Hall.

In the Louis A. Watres Library, they found space for Mark’s new book.

And, in closing, the ‘view’ that morning from the observation deck.


Thursday, November 17, 2022

‘The ALR’s new clothes’

Just another reminder that The American Lodge of Research will be on the road in two weeks, paying a visit to West Point Lodge 877 in the Hudson Valley. That’s Thursday, December 1 at seven o’clock. The lodge is right outside the Military Academy.

All Master Masons are welcome, so please let us know you’re coming by signing up here. Attire is suit and tie business casual with apron. Feel free to bring your own regalia, but I’m sure West Point Lodge will have aprons available for you.

Speaking of aprons, I am tasked with bringing our officers’ regalia to this meeting so, for now, I’ve got them inside an acid-free box in my subterranean climate controlled vault. The ALR recently purchased these aprons from Macoy. Great stuff. Expensive, but the quality definitely is there. Have a look:

This piece of embroidery is located on the apron flap.

Our new jewels did not come from Macoy, which is why they’re smallish and suspended from plain ropes. (We are a lodge of Masonic research and education, so there isn’t any pomp in our activities. Even our installation of officers leans toward the perfunctory.) The photo above shows superfluous pieces that came with the set. We don’t have Stewards, a Chaplain, a Marshal, or a Tiler.

Although sometimes a Chaplain wouldn’t be a bad idea.

See you December first!

‘New Dunbar biography’


A biography of Paul Laurence Dunbar was published earlier this year, and its author will discuss his subject in a lecture next Tuesday at New York Society Library. Dunbar (click here) was a Mason and a highly regarded poet at the turn of the century. From the publicity:

Gene Andrew Jarrett
The Life and Times
of a Caged Bird
The New York Society Library
Tuesday, November 22
6 p.m.
Live and online.
Free and open
to the public.
Register here.

On the 150th anniversary of his birth, a definitive new biography of a pivotal figure in American literary history.

A major poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was one of the first African-American writers to garner international recognition in the wake of emancipation. In this definitive biography, the first full scale life of Dunbar in half a century, Gene Andrew Jarrett offers a revelatory account of a writer whose Gilded Age celebrity as the “poet laureate of his race” hid the private struggles of a man who, in the words of his famous poem, felt like a “caged bird“ that sings.

Jarrett tells the fascinating story of how Dunbar, born during Reconstruction to formerly enslaved parents, excelled against all odds to become an accomplished and versatile artist. A prolific and successful poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, and Broadway librettist, he also was a friend of such luminaries as Frederick Douglass and Orville and Wilbur Wright. But while audiences across the United States and Europe flocked to enjoy his literary readings, Dunbar privately bemoaned shouldering the burden of race and catering to minstrel stereotypes to earn fame and money. Inspired by his parents’ survival of slavery, but also agitated by a turbulent public marriage,  beholden to influential benefactors, and helpless against his widely reported bouts of tuberculosis and alcoholism, he came to regard his racial notoriety as a curse as well as a blessing before dying at the age of only thirty-three.

Beautifully written, meticulously researched, and generously illustrated, this biography presents the richest, most detailed, and most nuanced portrait yet of Dunbar and his work, transforming how we understand the astonishing life and times of a central figure in American literary history.

Gene Andrew Jarrett is the Dean of the Faculty and William S. Tod Professor of English at Princeton University. He is also the co-editor of The Collected Novels of Paul Laurence Dunbar and The Complete Stories of Paul Laurence Dunbar.

I learned of this book and this event only a few hours ago, so I can’t say if this new biography reports Dunbar’s Masonic activities, but I asked the author about it via Twitter, and I’ll update this if I receive a reply. Dunbar was a great poet, so Masonic history or no, this speaking engagement will be worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

‘From the Attic of the Grand Lodge’


From the Attic
of the Grand Lodge

No, that’s not a horror movie about the “grand lodge” in New Jersey. It’s the theme of the 2023 International Conference on Freemasonry!

That’s next April in California. From the publicity:

We’ve all had the experience—or at least dreamed of it—of crawling through the attic or the basement and discovering a hidden treasure. For many California Masons, whose lodges have histories going back to the founding of the state, that Antiques Roadshow fantasy isn’t a fantasy at all. From centuries-old aprons and officers’ jewels, to paintings, ornaments, and documents, Masonic lodges can be a treasure trove of curiosities. But what are we supposed to do with this stuff?

That’s the question at the heart of the 11th International Conference on Freemasonry, taking place April 8, 2023 at the University of California-Los Angeles. The annual event, presented by the Grand Lodge of California, is an exploration of the vast collection of material culture—the technical term for that “stuff.” What should lodges do with it? How do we know what’s valuable and what isn’t? And how do these items, from Bibles to regalia to aides de memoire, help tell the larger story of Freemasonry?

The presenters:

Dr. Mark Dennis on “The Material Culture of Freemasonry: Not a Thing Apart from the World.”

Leigh Ann Gardner on “Obeyed the Last Summons and Entered the Grand Lodge Above: Fraternal Cemeteries as Material Culture.”

Adam Kendall on “Listening to the Secret and Silent.”

Dr. Aimee Newell on “Expressing Brotherhood and Nationhood Through Symbols: Masonic Material Culture in the United States.”

Read all about it here.

Monday, November 14, 2022

‘LaRocco is library’s new leader’

Michael LaRocco
Michael LaRocco is the new Executive Director of the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library of the Grand Lodge of New York, the Grand Secretary announced today. From the statement:

I’m sure many of you know Bro. Michael from his appearances as a presenter in our Library Lecture Series and in his very active presence in the Metropolitan Region. Michael is a Past Master of Lynbrook-Massapequa Lodge 822, as well as the current Assistant Grand Lecturer for the Nassau District. He is a member of the Holy Royal Arch, the Cryptic Council, the Knight Templars, and the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, NMJ. He is a Past Most Wise Master of Long Island Chapter of Rose Croix, a founding member the Magus Guild of the Valley of Rockville Centre, and the Ritual Director for the Valley of Rockville Centre. He received the Meritorious Service Award from the Council of Deliberation and was elected to be coroneted a 33° Mason, to take place in August 2023.

The Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Library and Museum wants to “Bring the Library to the Brothers.” As Michael has extensive professional communications expertise and is an excellent presenter, he is well suited for leading  this role in your Lodges and Districts.

He joins the Library staff of Bro. Alex Vastola, our Director of Collection Services, and Ms. Ratirat Osiri, our Curator. Please join me in welcoming him.

Congratulations Bro. Michael! Enjoy!

(It’s a dream job for me, but what do I know about running a library?)

Sunday, November 13, 2022


We who attended the Scottish Freemasonry in America Symposium last weekend at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Virginia were given a tour of the museum and other spaces in the building. This edition of The Magpie Mason is a sidebar to the main coverage of that event because I can’t resist sharing some photos of the Grotto exhibit.

What’s the Grotto? Surely you jest! Formally known as the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm, it is—as the name infers—the goofy side of Freemasonry in the United States. And elsewhere, actually. They’re establishing Grottoes in Mexico and other points south.

Anyway, here are my shots of the tidily curated MOVPER exhibit.

Nazir Grotto Marching Band uniform on loan from Bernard Mitchell,
Pasts Grand Monarch. Made by Drunkenbrod Tailors of Canton, Ohio, ca. 1940.

Great Mokanna costume, ca. 1960.
If you know, you know.

And, at Fredericksburg Lodge 4 in Fredericksburg: