The Isaac R. Stewart Memorial Wing Cornerstone Memorial Box Unveiled

The Grand Lodge Library and Museum has received the Memorial Box time capsule that was once sealed within the cornerstone of the Isaac R. Stewart Memorial Wing at the Masonic Home.

The new hospital wing was erected to increase the hospital capacities for those in need, and it was made possible by Brother Isaac R. Stewart’s contribution. On St. John’s Day, June 22nd, 1963, the Memorial Box was presented by the Grand Treasurer RW Walter Dobler before it was sealed within the cornerstone laid by the Grand Master MW Harry Ostrov. The wing was finished and dedicated on November 23, 1963.

MW Harry Ostrov and Mrs. Isaac R. Stewart at laying the cornerstone ceremony. From Empire State Mason Magazine, July-August 1963 issue. Photographer unknow.

 

When the Isaac R. Stewart Memorial Wing was renovated, the time capsule the renovation, the time capsule was uncovered and unsealed at the dedication of the American Orchid Lodge Room at Masonic Care New Rochelle by Grand Master MW William M. Sardone on September 27th, 2021.

The box contained various documents such as: the Grand Lodge of New York’s Proceedings of 1962, a program of the cornerstone laying ceremony, a letter from the Grand Master, Empire State Masons magazines, an annual report, an Utica Daily Press Newspaper and photographs. The by-laws and annual report of Oswegatchie Lodge No. 687 were also included in the box, as Brother Isaac R. Stewart, whom the building wing was named after was a member of this lodge.

 

The documents inside the Memorial Box

 

The letter from the Grand Master MW Harry Ostrov address to the future brethren can be read as follows:

 

 

 

Reference & Photo:

Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York. 1964.

“Isaac R. Stewart Hospital Wing Cornerstone Laid June 2, St. John’s Day.” Empire State Mason, 1963, p. 24.

Ceremony of Laying the Cornerstone of the Isaac R. Stewart Memorial Wing at the Masonic Home, 1963.

 

 

Collection Highlights: The Obelisk artifacts

The Egyptian Obelisk, also known as Cleopatra’s Needle was built by King Thutmes III. Originally erected in Heliopolis, it was moved to Alexandria in 23BC before being transported to New York City and erected in Central Park. In October 9th, 1880, 141 years ago, nine thousand masons marched the parade to Park and 82nd street, escorted by Edward M.L. Ehlers, the Grand Marshal. Then, the cornerstone was laid by Jesse B. Anthony, the Grand Master, and the Grand Line officers

 

The Obelisk artifacts in our collection:

 

A Baton used in cornerstone-laying ceremonies

 

The obelisk baton was carried by Edward M.L. Ehlers, the Grand Marshal of that day. The baton is sophisticatedly ornate and is decorated with amethyst and ivory handle. Carrying the baton, the Grand Marshal escorted the Grand Lodge parade to the ceremony site.

 

Gavel used in cornerstone-laying ceremonies

A wooden gavel used in the ceremony, as mentioned in the proceedings “The Grand Master then advanced to the stone, spread cement upon it, gave it three blows with the gavel”. The gavel was made from the wood from the ship Lawrence of the Battle of Erie, plated with gold-color metal. It had been used in several cornerstone laying ceremonies.

 

Egyptian Obelisk Commemorative medal

A commemorative medal issued by Grand Lodge of New York.

 

Reprinted programme of the cornerstone-laying ceremony

Reprinted program issued by Continental Lodge in 1934. The booklet provides all the details of the ceremonies, the officers and the story behind the obelisk.

 

Paul Orban’s painting of the laying cornerstone ceremony

 

Painting by Paul Orban, depicting the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the Egyptian Obelisk for Masonic Outlook, January 1930 issue cover.

 

The Masons and the Antarctica Expedition

In 1928, Admiral Richard E. Byrd launched the much anticipated expedition to Antarctica. He and his crew settled the base camp as they landed on the continent, and from there, they flew the first flight ever over the South Pole. Boarding the flight, there were Admiral Richard E. Byrd, the expedition leader and navigator, Bernt Balchen, the chief pilot, Harold I. June, co-pilot and radio operator, and Ashley McKinley, the photographer. For the brethren, it is the noteworthy accomplishment that three of the four crew abroad this historic flight over the South Pole were masons.

 

Richard E. Byrd was raised in Federal Lodge no. 1, Washington D.C. in 1921, and he dimitted to Kane Lodge no. 454, New York in 1928. He had flew Kane Lodge’s flag from masthead of the ship during the expedition. Kane Lodge members presented him Kane Lodge Gold Medal upon his return from his first Antarctica Expedition, with the greeting from President Hoover via telegram. The Grand Lodge of New York awarded him the Distinguished Achievement Medal later in 1947.

 

Program of Presentation of Distinguished Achievement Medal to Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd

 

Bernt Balchen was raised in Norsemen Lodge no. 878 in 1927. A few weeks prior to the expedition, the Norsemen Lodge presented the US flag to Bernt Balchen at the Testimonial Dinner at Hotel St. George in August 25, 1928. He carried the flag with him as he flew the plane over the South Pole.

Program of Testimonial Dinner given to Balchen before his departure for the Antarctic expedition, the US flag presented to him is printed on the cover

 

Portrait of Balchen attached inside the program with the poem dedicated to him by RW Charles H. Johnson.

 

Upon his return to America in 1930, the Norsemen Lodge welcomed him with Homecoming Dinner in June 23rd 1930, where he presented the flag to Charles H. Johnson, the Grand Master. The flag is beautifully displayed in frame and still in care of Grand Lodge of New York Library and Museum. He was later appointed as the Grand Representative of Grand Lodge of Iceland in 1954 and awarded the Charles H. Johnson Medal in the same year.

 

The US flag in presented in frame

 

 

Program of Homecoming Dinner to celebrated his return from the expedition.

 

 

Harold I. June was raised in Kane Lodge no. 454 in 1931, very little is known about his Masonic activity. It is reported that he was present along with Richard E. Byrd at the unique communication of Antarctica Lodge no. 777 under the Jurisdiction of Grand Lodge of New Zealand at the Antarctica camp base “Little America” where they settled back in their first expedition.

 

References:

“Heroes Welcomed From Antarctica.” Masonic Outlook, vol. 6, 1930, p. 370.

Kane Lodge No. 454. Master’s Note , Oct 15 1959.

New York Masonic Temple Postcard Collection

We are delighted to announce that our New York Masonic Temples postcard collection is now digitized and available for view in our online museum. This impressive online postcard collection wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of RW Howard J. Lasker, member of Wadsworth Lodge no. 417. His incredible collection of Masonic postcards consisting of 4,250 items was donated to our museum in 2008, and they have contributed exceptionally to our valuable ephemera collection.

Being part of fraternal organizations was highly popular among men in the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, and resulted in numerous Masonic Temples being erected and dedicated to accommodate the members. However, as the membership declined in later years, many of Masonic buildings went through change and renovation, change of ownership or were demolished. The images of Masonic buildings published on postcards by various publishers have, unintentionally, preserved the visual history of Masonic architecture in its prime.

 

Variants of Albany Masonic Temple Postcards. Each has slightly different details from the others.

 

The majority of our New York Masonic Temple postcard collection consists of:

Lithographic postcards, known for colorful and eye-pleasing visuals and commonly traced from the real photograph or negative.

Postcards of Brooklyn Masonic Temple with different coloring and details from different publishers.
Postcard of Buffalo Masonic Temple, dedicated in 1888 and demolished in 1971.

 

Postcards of Utica Masonic Temple, very likely sourced from the same photograph.

 

The real photo postcards whereas the negative was developed directly onto the postcard paper.

Photographic postcard of Newport Masonic Temple, dedicated in 1903.

 

And a reproduction of the photograph printed on the postcard.

Two postcards of Sacket Harbor Masonic Temple, they are the same photograph but the left one is the real photo postcard while the right one was printed on the postcard.

 

The New York Masonic Temple postcards are the first batch of our massive postcard collection that are digitized, as they are the excellent visual resources and references of the New York Masonic Temples history and their diverse architectures. We are hopeful that we will be able to make more of our fascinating Masonic postcards available to the public soon.

 

References:

“Postcard History.” Smithsonian Institution Archives, 19 Sept. 2013, siarchives.si.edu/history/featured-topics/postcard/postcard-history.

Bassett, Fred. “Wish You Were Here!: The Story of the Golden Age of Picture Postcards in the United States.” Postcard Collection – New York State Library, New York State Library, 24 May 2021, www.nysl.nysed.gov/msscfa/qc16510ess.htm.

Nigro, Carmen. “Using Postcards for Local History Research.” The New York Public Library, The New York Public Library, 3 Apr. 2018, www.nypl.org/blog/2015/12/04/postcards-local-history-research.

Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, 2009, p. 307.

Transferring Physical Display to Online Display: Jewelry Collection

Decades ago, the Grand Lodge Library and Museum had very different exhibit displays from today. Thousands of artifacts were displayed in several cases and cabinets within the Grand Lodge Library and Museum on the entire south end of the 17th Floor. As the collection grew bigger along with its popularity, the Board of General Activities determined to display as many artifacts as possible, to make the collection easily accessible to the public.

 

North side of the 17th Floor Library. Published in “The Masonic Treasures of New York” booklet by Wendell K. Walker. Photographer unknown.

 

South side of the 17th floor Library. Published in “The Masonic Treasures of New York” booklet by Wendell K. Walker. Photographer unknown.

 

In 1996, the library and museum relocated to 14th floor, the artifacts were moved and the exhibits were completely rearranged. These display trays were part of the original museum exhibits through the years. The jewelry trays were removed from the original display drawer, but they were yet to be rehoused and stored properly.

 

 

The jewelry trays from the early 1900s.

 

The medals being rehoused after they were removed.

 

The artifacts were tightly pinned to the felt board with nails. Over time, the storage material could damage the artifacts, possibly from rust, insects, or acidity. To preserve them, I spent a week carefully removing them from the trays and matching them to the old catalog number assigned by the library staff at the time, an inconsistent cataloging system. Then, I assigned them the new catalog number, photographed them and properly stored them.

 

 

 

A Knights Templar badge before being removed.

 

The Knight Templar badge was previous pinned to the tray. It was removed and given the new ID number (J6inv-2806), previously B475 as shown in the old index card. The badge is now available in online museum.

The index card contains the information and the previous location of the badge.
The Knights Templar badge ID J6inv-2806, one of the artifacts removed from the tray.

 

 

Although we can physically display very few the artifacts compared to the past, the technology now allows us to display our collection online. We are working hard to steadily process our collection to be accessible to the public again. These jewelries and many in our jewelries collection are now available on display in our online museum.

 

Photo credit:

Unknown photographer, “The Masonic Treasure of New York” by Wendell K. Walker, The Masonic Service Association, 1956

Ratirat Osiri

1875 Masonic Hall Exhibit

To celebrate the 151st Anniversary of laying the cornerstone of the original New York Masonic Temple at the 23rd Street, our artifacts of the 1875 Masonic Hall are now on display.

In 1842, the brethren proposed the project of the new Masonic Hall in place of the former Masonic Hall (also known as Gothic Hall) at Broadway between Pearl and Duane Street. After several fundraising events, it was pushed back by the Grand Lodge schism, the Civil War and by insufficient funding. In 1869, the trustees of the Hall and Asylum Fund finally purchased the land at the corner of 23rd street and 6th avenue for the cost of $340,000.

The trowel used at the laying the cornerstone of the building.

The cornerstone was laid on June 8th, 1870 by the Grand Master MW James Gibson. More than 50 items, consisting of coins, newspapers, badges and other souvenirs contributed by several lodges and officers were deposited inside the cornerstone by the Grand Treasurer during the ceremony. Designed by Napoleon LeBrun, the famous architect at the time, the building was completed and dedicated in June 1875.

 

The bond issued to raise the fund for Masonic Hall construction.

 

 

Image published in Harper’s Weekly newspaper on June 25th 1870, from a sketch by Stanley Fox.

 

Later in 1911, the Grand Lodge of New York made a decision to replace the building with the current Masonic Temple, or the Grand Lodge of New York building that we know today. The original building was torn down, and thus the cornerstone artifacts were recovered only 36 years after they were sealed. They are now on exhibit in a display at the Robert R Livingston Library and they are available to view in our online museum.

 

Samples of the coins deposited inside the cornerstone.

 

 

 

 

Reference:

Lang, Ossian Herbert. “The Masonic Hall.” History of Freemasonry in the State of New York, Grand Lodge of New York, 1922.

 

Photo credit:

Sketched by Stanley Fox, Harper’s Weekly newspaper, June 25th 1870.

 

 

Robert R Livingston Library’s Knights Templar Triennial Conclave Souvenir Ribbon Collection

The Knights Templar’s special communication held every three years is called the Triennial Conclave. The Knights Templar commanderies across the country often commission regalia manufacturers to produce souvenirs to commemorate such special occasions, commonly badges, medals, pins or ribbons.

 

Ribbons were one of the popular souvenirs, made with silk with a unique decorative print, and often with metal pin and fringes attached.

 

Commemorative ribbons of the 22nd Triennial Conclave at San Francisco, California in 1883.

 

 

 

Commemorative ribbons of the 24th Triennial Conclave at Washington D. C. in 1889.

 

 

Commemorative ribbons of the 25th Triennial Conclave at Denver, Colorado in 1892.

 

 

More Knights Templar artifact, the Triennial Conclave Commemorative Ribbon Collection and many fascinating Knights Templar items are now available on view in our online museum.

 

 

 

 

The Fascinating Journey of The Traveling Silver Trowel of Justice Lodge no. 753

The story of the historic Traveling Silver Trowel of Justice Lodge no. 753 began with RW C. Fred Crosby, the Senior Master of Ceremony of Justice Lodge no. 753, New York. In 1905, He suggested the idea of sending the trowel on a journey from lodge to lodge across the North America, carrying the message of brotherly love and bringing the brethren closer. Read More …

The Grand Lodge of New York and 1918 Influenza Pandemic

The COVID-19 epidemic is not the first epidemic the New York brethren have faced.

In 1918, the first World War and the influenza worldwide pandemic were happening at the same time. The Grand Lodge of New York’s War and Relief Administration Committee aimed to aid the brothers and/or their sons who were sick from influenza or wounded from the war. The Grand Lodge of New York organized the Visiting Representatives, consisting of volunteering brothers assigned to the hospitals across New York State. The volunteers frequently visited the hospitals to search and aid the brothers and/or their sons in need.

The influenza was mentioned several times in the Grand Lodge Proceedings during the years of 1918-1920. In 1919, RW William J. Wiley, the superintendent of the Masonic Home in Utica, reported that 124 children had gotten sick with influenza, and all had recovered under the care of the Masonic Home. RW Horace W. Smith, the Grand Lecturer at the time, reported that the influenza had interfered with his itineraries, causing postponement and cancellation of many events.

Also, in 1920, several foreign correspondence reports mentioned other Grand Lodges that lost their members to the influenza epidemic and their efforts to help with the cause. For example, the report from the Grand Lodge of Alberta stated that, “The several lodges there at once co-operated with the result that an office was provided for them in the nursing headquarters, telephones were installed and a voluntary office staff of six or eight brothers from different lodges took charge of day and night work, and as the result hundreds of volunteers were placed on duty, helping the nurse or working alone. This was continued until the pressure relaxed so that schools, churches, and theatres were re-opened.”

MW William S. Farmer, the Grand Master of New York at the time, addressed the influenza pandemic as follows:

“For our brethren who have been and are confined to their homes on account of illness, either of themselves or families, we bespeak a goodly measure of sympathy, fraternal greetings and good cheer, and assure them of the kindliest thoughts of the brethren of this Grand Lodge. May they and theirs speedily recover.”

MW Daniel M Semel’s 60th Anniversary Special Exhibit

To celebrate 60 years of Masonic service of MW Daniel M. Semel, Past Judge Advocate, the Library and Museum organized a special display consisting of documents from Lodge Historical File of Shakespeare Lodge no.750, books from the library collection, and artifacts from the museum related to MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York.

Temporary exhibit from Library and Museum celebrating MW Daniel M Semel’s 60 years of Masonic service.

MW Daniel M. Semel is an Honorary Past Grand Master and he also serves as its Grand representative of MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York, near the Grand Lodge of New York, so we put a book he had donated. We also put on display medals from MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York, and reprinted Charter from African Lodge no. 459.

In 1988, MW Semel was appointed as the Chairman of Unity Committee, which was featured in the article and report we included. The Unity Committee was founded with the aim of bringing the Grand Lodge of New York and the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York into unity.


MW Daniel M. Semel was initiated, passed and raised in Shakespeare Lodge no.750 in 1959. We found two trestleboards of Shakespeare Lodge no. 750 from the same year. One listed him as “Awaiting First Degree” and one from three months later, which mentioned him as a newly raised Master Mason.

Shakespeare Lodge no.750’s Trestle Board of March 1959, listing MW Daniel M. Semel as Awaiting First Degree
Shakespeare Lodge no.750’s From the East article by RW Max Cohen, 1959, mentioned MW Daniel M. Semel as one of the newly raised Master Mason

Ten years later, in 1969, he became Master of the Lodge as we show the picture from Shakespeare Lodge no.750 Centennial Anniversary book. He became Judge Advocate in 1979 and the program of the ceremony was also on display.

Shakespeare Lodge no.750’s Presentation Ceremony Program from 1979

We were honored to be part of the celebration and it is our pleasure to honor one of the most significant members in the history of the Grand Lodge of New York.

Ratirat Osiri

Museum Technician