Antique George Washington Masonic Medals in Robert R Livingston Library collection

The Grand Lodge of New York Library and Museum has many rare Masonic medals featuring George Washington, the first President of the United States, and one of the most well-known Masons.  His strong connection with Freemasonry is well recognized, and resulted in numerous Masonic memorabilia celebrating his Masonic connection.

This article selects and showcases a sample of rare and memorable Masonic medals from various origins in the collection.

 

 

 

Washington’s Masonic Timeline

This medal is by George H. Lovett and published by Isaac F. Wood.  The bust on the obverse is believed to be based on John de Mare’s engraving “Washington at the age of 25”.  The reverse displays the timeline of his Masonic milestone, from his Entered Apprentice Degree, Fellowcraft Degree, and Master Mason Degree at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 in Virginia.

 

 

Washington as a citizen and Master of the lodge

Part of the four medal set issued by Congress to commemorate the centennial of Washington’s death.  The set of four medals celebrated his life as a citizen of Alexandria, Virginia.  One of them is a Masonic variant, displaying a Masonic apron and commemorated his duty as Master of Alexandria lodge No. 22 of Virginia.  This is possibly the only Masonic medal issued by the U.S. Congress.

 

 

 

150th Anniversary of Washington’s initiation as a Mason by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania

This medal was issued in 1902 by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania to commemorate the 150th of Washington’s initiation as a Mason.  The die was made by Joseph K. Davison.  The obverse depicts Washington’s bust with his Masonic milestone.  The reverse depicts the seal of Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.

 

 

 

Magna Est Veritas Medal 

This is the Magna Est Veritas or “I cannot tell a lie” medal, by Robert P. Laubenheimer.  The obverse displays a bust of Washington and the phrase: First in war, First in peace, and First in the heart of his countrymen.  The small Masonic square and compasses is at the bottom.  The reverse depicts the scene of young Washington and his father’s cherry tree, now a debunked story.  Inscribed is the phrase Magna Est Veritas et Prævalebit (Truth is great and shall prevail), which is the motto of the Order of the Red Cross of Constantine.

 

 

Initiation of George Washington into Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4

This medal commemorates Washington’s initiation into Freemasonry at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 of Virginia.  It is an extremely rare medal as only 10 were struck in silver and 25 in brass and copper before the die was broken.

 

Centennial of Washington’s death medal by Alexandria Lodge No. 22

This is the centennial commemorative medal of Washington’s death issued in 1889 by Alexandria Lodge No. 22 of Virginia, the lodge where Washington served as master.

 

Reference:

Marvin, William T. R. Medals of the Masonic Fraternity Described and Illustrated. Privately Printed, 1880.

Baker, William Spohn. Medallic Portraits of Washington, with Historical and Critical Notes and a Descriptive Catalogue of the Coins, Medals, Tokens and Cards. R.M. Lindsay, 1885.

Committee on Antiquities of the Grand Lodge of New York. Collection Made by Committee on Antiquities of the Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons, of the State of New York. The Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, 1905.

“Medallions Are Used to Commemorate Important Masonic Dates and Events.” The Pennsylvania Freemason, Nov. 1974.

Grand Lodge of New York’s Gothic Hall

The Freemasons’ Hall that once stood at Broadway between Duane and Pearl Street was also known as Gothic Hall.  In 1824, the New York brethren purpose the idea of a Masonic Hall in New York City to the Grand Lodge to accommodate the members.  Then, the project and fundraising began, and Hugh Renagle was the architect in charge.  The cornerstone was laid by the Grand Master MW Elisha W. King, on June 24th, 1826.

The Masonic Hall was completed and dedicated in 1827.  It had three stories and had served New York Masons for 30 years.  During the rise of Anti-Masonic movement, the hall’s name was changed Gothic Hall, given its Gothic architecture.

The items deposited in the cornerstone were not discovered until 1857, after the demolition of the building.  Various items recovered from the cornerstone consisted of a copy of the Grand Lodge of New York’s Constitution, several Masonic newsletters from 1826, business cards, coins, blank certificates, and a wax seal.

The cornerstone plate
Share ticket belonged to Joseph Bouchaud, issued by Masonic Hall Association in 1827.

 

Engraving of Masonic Hall.

 

References:

The Grand Lodge of New York Proceedings of 1893.

Tracking the Cornerstone Plate’s History

While working with the collection, I have come across a square copper plate among the artifacts, which is engraved “laid by the Brother Lodge no.147”, the date September 6th 1826, and has a list of important names:

Worshipful Brother Salem Town

A. Fay, Master of the Lodge

Stephen van Rensselaer, MW Grand Master (spelled Rensalaer on the plate)

De Witt Clinton, Governor

John Quincy Adams, President of the United States

J. Goodell, Principal Architect

 

To learn more about the context behind the plate, I searched the library’s archive and found a letter in the Brothers Lodge’s folder written by Salem Town, the person mentioned on the plate, to MW Stephen van Rensselaer, the Grand Master.  The letter was written on August 9th 1826, about a month before the date on the plate, mentioning the villagers of Fort Ann erecting their new church in the village and requested the cornerstone to be laid by the members of Brother Lodge.  It is safe to assume that the church in Fort Ann mentioned in the letter is the building where this plate came from.  Is it possible to find out more about this?

Unfortunately, the Grand Lodge Proceedings didn’t mention anything about this event.  On the other hand, the plate was listed in the report of Committee of Antiquities as “Copper-plate from foundation of the Baptist Church at Fort Ann, N.Y., 1826. From Bro D. N. Empey, Fort Ann, N.Y.”1

Now that the donor is identified, I discovered that D. N. Empey was a member and the Junior Warden of Mount Hope Lodge no. 2602 (now Mount Hope-Phoenix Lodge no. 96) which is also located in Fort Ann.  The Brothers Lodge no. 147 itself surrendered in 18333, presumably suffered from the anti-Masonic movement during that time.  Later in 1852, Mount Hope Lodge no. 260 was chartered in Fort Ann.  It is reported that the last Master of Brothers Lodge no. 147, John T. Cox; was also one of the charter members and the first Master of Mount Hope Lodge no. 2604, and the bible used in Mount Hope Lodge no. 260 is also the same bible used in Brothers Lodge no. 147.5

According to the town’s history, the most likely church would be the Union Church built in 1827 to served the Baptist and Methodist Congregation6 (the other source said Baptist and Universalist). 7  In 1836, the church was incorporated as the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Fort Ann, and interestingly, James T. Cox of Brothers Lodge was elected as its trustee.7

Presumably, the copper plate was taken out of the foundation, possibly when it was incorporated, and later was presented to the Grand Lodge of New York at one point by D. N. Empey, a member of Mount Hope Lodge no. 260.  It is also possible that James T. Cox’s relationship with the church had a part in the plate’s journey to the collection.

 

 

The cornerstone plate

 

 

Reference:

  1. “Report of the Committee on Antiquities.” Transaction of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Mason of the State of New York, 1887.
  2. “The Jubilee: Celebration in the Lodges Under the Jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, to Commemorate the Freedom of the Craft from Debt.” Mount Hope Lodge no. 260, Fort Ann, 1889, p. 297.
  3. Abstract of the Proceedings of the Worshipful Grand Lodge of the State of New York and the Grand Stewards Lodge: from September 5 5832 to June 9 5833. 1833.
  4. “Report of the Grand Historian.” Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, 1911, pp. 335–336.
  5. Heinmiller, Gary L., and William G. Peacher. “Craft Masonry in Washington County, New York.” Onondaga & Oswego Masonic Districts Historical Societies (OMDHS), Mar. 2011.
  6. “Fort Ann Through History.” Fort Ann Historical Society, 2013. http://fortannhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Fort-Ann-Timeline-Panels-5.pdf

 

  1. Johnson, Crisfield. History of Washington Co., New York: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Everts & Ensign, 1878, Google Books, books.google.com/books?id=rt9EAQAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

 

The Copperplate Collection: How Masonic Certificate was Made

The use of copperplate printing technique can be dated back to the middle ages. A plated copper is engraved in fine detail by a skilled engraver, creating a mirrored illustration. By pressing the inked copperplate on parchment, it can create prints in large volume. Prior to modern printing technology, Masonic certificate was largely produced with this technique.

The copperplate is a much rarer artifact compare to the certificate and lithograph. Nonetheless, the four copperplates in the collection came from different origins and they were the significant parts of Masonic history. They are available on exhibit display and online museum.

 

Copperplate of Master Mason’s certificate of St. Simon and St. Jude Lodge No. 12 of Fishkill, New York. Engraver, P. R. Maverick. MW Edward M. L. Ehlers, Donor.

Copperplate of Knight Templar certificate from Ireland. A. P. Moriarity, Donor.

A copperplate for Masonic apron. Found in collection. Engraver unknown.

 

Copperplate of Grand Lodge of New York’s Master Mason Certificate. Found in collection. Engraver unknown.
A certificate in the Grand Lodge collection made of the copperplate above.

The Collection of Harry P. Knowles: the Great Masonic Architect

Harry Percy Knowles was the renowned Masonic architect who was recognized for his works of various Masonic buildings, including our current Grand Lodge of New York building and the Masonic Home campus buildings at Utica.  The generous donations from his grandson, John Knowles Copelin, help us learn his Masonic legacy with his architectural renderings.

 

Masonic Temple at Colon, Panama

Sojourners’ Lodge No. 874 was chartered in 1898, in the city of Colon, Panama, under the Grand Lodge of Scotland.  Consisting of mostly American Masons, the Sojourners’ Lodge later chose Knowles as the architect of their first building in 1910.  The cornerstone was laid on May 30, 1911, in the northeast corner of the Canal Zone.  The building was completed in June of 1914.  It is a three-story building with stores on the first floor, offices on the second floor, and lodge rooms on the third and mezzanine floors.

 

Render of Masonic Temple in Colon, Panama. Louis H. Dreyer, Photographer.

 

 

Grand Lodge of New York Building

The Grand Lodge of New York Building is one of the most recognizable architectural works of Knowles.  The building was erected in 1911 on 24th Street and 6th Avenue to replace the previous Grand Lodge building and later extended to 23rd Street to have office space for tenants.  This building is also known for its sophisticatedly decorated lodge rooms.

Photograph of an architectural rendering of Grand Lodge of New York building. The address was written 71 West 29th Street instead of 23rd Street. Louis H. Dreyer, photographer.

 

Toronto Masonic Temple

Being from Ontario himself, Knowles submitted his design for the planned Toronto Masonic Temple in 1914 and it was chosen by the committee.  The project was later canceled due to funding issues.

Architectural rendering of the Toronto Masonic Temple. The Rosevear Portrait Studio, photographer.

 

Masonic Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital

The Masonic Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital in Utica, New York, was built to care for soldiers and Masonic members as a hospital on the Masonic Care Community campus.  The Grand Master MW William S. Farmer laid the cornerstone in 1919 and the hospital building was dedicated in 1922.  The in-depth article on the hospital building can be found here.

Architectural rendering of the Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Memorial Hospital at the Masonic Care Community. Louis H. Dreyer, photographer

 

Daniel D. Tompkins Memorial Chapel

The Daniel D. Tompkins Memorial Fund was started in 1904 by Grand Master MW Frank H. Robinson to raise money to build a chapel in honor of Daniel D. Tompkins on the campus of the Masonic Care Community.  The chapel was dedicated in 1911, and it is known for its impressive set of Tiffany’s stained glass windows.

Architectural Rendering of the Chapel. Louis H. Dreyer, photographer.

 

Schenectady Masonic Temple

Very little is known about Knowles’ Schenectady Masonic Temple rendering.  The design of the Schenectady Masonic Temple, which had its cornerstone laid in 1919 and was erected on the corner between Erie Boulevard and State Street in Schenectady, suggests that his design was not chosen.

Architectural Rendering of the Masonic Temple in Schenectady. Photographer Louis H. Dreyer.

 

Prince Hall Masonic Temple

According to The American Contractor and Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide in May of 1921, Knowles was reported to be working on the Prince Hall Masonic Temple on the corner of 144th street and 7th Avenue in New York City.  The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York, however, had not laid the cornerstone of the building on this corner until 1926, three years after Knowles’ death.  The enlisted architect was changed to Vertner W. Tandy.  Presumably, Knowles’ design of the temple was never used.

Architectural rendering of the Prince Hall Masonic Temple. Louis H. Dreyer, Photographer.

 

Mecca Temple

The beautifully decorated Moorish revival building was once the home to the Shriners known as Mecca Temple.  In 1921, the Shriners organized the Mecca Temple Holding Company and then purchased the plots between 55th and 56th Street.  They chose Harry Percy Knowles, who was a member of Mecca Temple, to design the building.  The cornerstone was laid on October 13th, 1923 by MW Arthur S. Tompkins, the Grand Master of New York.  Unfortunately, Knowles died in 1923 before the completion of the building. This Mecca Temple rendering is presumably the early design where the second building on the left was included in the draft.

After the Great Depression, the building became the City’s property in 1940 and it was changed into a performing arts center, an idea of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.  The building is now known as the New York City Center.

Render of Mecca Temple. Photographer unknown.

 

Knowles was a member of Pyramid Lodge No. 490, Union Chapter R.A.M., and York Commandery No. 55 Knights Templar, and served a term as the Past Grand Sword Bearer of the Grand Lodge of New York.  In addition, he once worked for Napoleon Le Brun, the well-known architect who designed the previous New York Masonic Temple in 1870.

 

 

 

Reference:

Onondaga and Oswego Masonic District. “Harry P. Knowles.” 2015.

Moore, William D. Masonic Temples: Freemasonry, Ritual Architecture, and Masculine Archetypes. The University of Tennessee Press, 2014.

Skazin, Paul R. A. E. A Tale of Two Temples. https://web.archive.org/web/20110927085432/http://webhome.idirect.com/~skazin/new_page_2.htm.

“The American Contractor.” 28 May 1921.

“Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide.” 28 May 1921.

Prince Hall Masonic Temple – New York City. New York City Chapter of The American Guild of Organists, http://www.nycago.org/Organs/NYC/html/PrinceHallTemple.html.

“The Masonic Standard.” 6 Jan. 1923.

Beam, Walter Irvin, and John Layard Caldwell. Masons and Masonry on the Panama Canal, 1910 – 1914. Masonic Club of Empire, 1914.

Highlight Artifact: 18th Century Masonic Marble Tablet

 

 

A curious Masonic artifact in our collection was listed in the old collection catalog index made by the Grand Lodge’s Committee of Antiquities in 1905.  It was described as a marble tablet, 20 inches long and 12 inches wide, etched and colored with various Masonic symbols.  It also has an ornate monogram “G. B.”, the name Robert Chambers, and Hebrew letters at the bottom.  Many symbols on the tablet belong to the Royal Arch degree, such as: a small triple tau at the bottom right, the double triangle or the Seal of Solomon, and the Greek word EYPHKAMEN (usually part of the phrase Eyphkamen Cultor Dei Civis Mundi on the Seal of Solomon).

How it became part of the Grand Lodge’s collection was also mentioned, as follows:

This Tablet was in the attic of the house adjoining the Old Sugar House, on Liberty Street, New York City.  It came into the possession of Bro. Isaac H. Gibbs, about the year 1840, and was presented by him to Grand Lodge, about the year 1868.

The Old Sugar House, also known as the Livingston Sugar House, was a five-story tall greystone building erected in 1689, located next to the Middle Dutch Church on Liberty Street.  It was built by the Livingston family and used as a sugar refinery before the Revolutionary War. After the British captured New York City in 1776, it was seized and converted into a prison for detaining American prisoners.

Lithograph print of the Old Sugar House and Middle Dutch Church, courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Collection.

 

The building was demolished in 1840, the same year Bro. Isaac H. Gibbs had obtained the tablet.  It is possible that it might have been recovered from the attic before the demolition.  The 28 Liberty Street Building (formerly One Chase Manhattan Plaza) now occupies the site where the Old Sugar House once stood.

Regarding the name signed at the bottom of the tablet, it is possible that the marble tablet might be engraved, stained, and signed by Robert Chambers, a recognized operative mason and marble stainer from Gloucestershire, England, who was active from 1750 to 1780.  He was well-known among researchers for leaving Hebrew letters in his crafts.  In this case, the letter he left was “Giblim”, the word equivalent to master masons mentioned in the building of the Temple of Solomon.

However, the origin story of who was the original owner of this tablet, and how it ended up in the attic of the Livingston Sugar House and later in possession of Bro. Isaac H. Gibbs, is still unclear.

 

 

Side note: Brother Isaac H. Gibbs was the first Senior Deacon of Manitou Lodge No. 106 in 1845.

 

 

 

References:

 

Wilson, James Grant, editor. “Return of Peace and Completion of Erie Canal.” The Memorial History of the City of New-York: From Its First Settlement to the Year 1892, vol. 3, New York History Company, New York City, NY, 1893, p. 301.

McDowall, Katharine Ada Esdaile. English Monumental Sculpture Since the Renaissance. Hyperion Press, 1927, pp. 98-100.

Committee on Antiquities of the Grand Lodge of New York. Collection Made by Committee on Antiquities of the Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons, of the State of New York. The Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, 1905.

Bowlder, Roger. “Rococo in Lee: Fludyer Tomb by Robert Chambers.” The Georgian Group Journal, vol. 3, 1993, pp. 91–93.

Gunnis, Rupert. “Signed Monument In Kentish Church.” Archaeologia Cantiana, vol. 62, 1949, p. 64.

Letters From The White House: Our Presidential Letter Collection

From our archive, we compiled the correspondence letters sent from the White House, written by various Presidents of the United States, many of which were Masons.

 

 

 

President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)

Albion Lodge (originally no. 31) of New York was warranted in 1804 and MW John Stewart, Past Master of the lodge and Past Grand Master, invited President Theodore Roosevelt to their centennial celebration banquet in 1904.  Regrettably, President Roosevelt wrote back that he appreciated the invitation, but he could not attend the banquet.  President Roosevelt was raised in Matinecock Lodge No. 806, Oyster Bay, New York.

Albion Lodge merged with Naval Lodge No. 69 in 1973 and later merged with St. John’s Lodge No. 1 in 1995.

 

 

President Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)

President Warren G. Harding was raised one year before his presidency in Marion Lodge No. 70, Ohio. He wrote back to Yonkers Commandery No. 47 regarding the invitation to the Annual Reception which he could not attend, but nonetheless sent his fraternal greetings.  He was also invited by the Grand Commandery of New York to the 108th Annual Conclave at Syracuse in 1921, which he declined as well.

 

 

President Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)

President Calvin Coolidge was never initiated into Freemasonry but he retained a great friendship with the Masons during his presidency.  He was present at the cornerstone laying ceremony of the George Washington Memorial.  MW Charles H. Johnson, the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of New York, was also the Secretary of State of the Board of Charities of New York.  In this correspondence, President Coolidge complimented their charity projects and declined MW Johnson’s invitation to the exhibition presumably to display the handicraft of the patients under the care of the State Board of Charities.

 

 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)

The Masonic Stamp Club of New York was established in 1934 by a group of Masons with a philatelic interest, sponsored by The Grand Lodge of New York Library and Museum.  The club presented President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was also an avid stamp collector, their Honorary Membership card.  He wrote back a thank you letter to MW Charles H. Johnson, the Grand Secretary, and said he looked forward to meeting him again.

Two weeks before Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote this letter, at an evening meeting of Architect Lodge on November 7, 1934, his two sons, James Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. were raised as Master Masons.

 

 

President Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)

President Harry S. Truman had already been a prominent member of the Freemasons prior to his presidency.  During the famous renovation of the White House under his supervision from 1948 to 1952, he and his assistant, General Vaungh, recognized the mason’s mark on the stones among the rubble.  He later presented the marked stones to each of the Grand Lodges across the United States.  They were accompanied by this letter.

President Truman was raised in Belton Lodge No. 450 of Missouri and he was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri in 1940, five years before he became President of the United States.

 

 

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 23rd, 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 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 for 1962, a program of the cornerstone laying ceremony, a letter from the Grand Master, Empire State Mason magazines, an annual report, an issue of the 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 a noteworthy accomplishment that three of the four crew aboard 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 flown Kane Lodge’s flag from the 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 on 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 on 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 is presented in frame

 

 

Program of Homecoming Dinner to celebrate 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.