The Matthews Monument at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Sunday, January 1, 2012

And To All, A Good Knight

Fraternal Charm, Sears Catalog, early 20th century

Fraternal Charm, Sears Catalog, early 20th century

Fraternal Charm (Knights Templar), Sears Catalog, early 20th century

The concept of knighthood usually brings to mind the lofty ideals of chivalry and honor, and the denial of self in order to pledge allegiance to one’s king or one’s country, and especially to the precepts of Christianity.  Perhaps it was the romantic writings of authors like Sir Walter Scott in the early 19th century and the rise of Romanticism in the late 19th century that fueled the creation of so many fraternal organizations of quasi-knights in America during that time.  Scott wrote about knights in Ivanhoe and The Lady in the Lake in the early 1800’s and popularized the romantic image of a devoted and devout knight, chastely pledged to an unattainable lady.  

I also think the growth of fraternal organizations in the late 1800’s was influenced by the dramatic resurgence of membership in the Free and Accepted Masons after the Civil War.   Perhaps because both sides lost so many men, the Masons and other fraternal organizations grew and spread across the country because people needed to bond together and rebuild the networks of friendship and unity.  If the Masons did not accept you as a member, never fear, there were other groups forming that would welcome you.  Or you could start your own, with tenets, symbols and rituals based on some ancient myths or legends.  

Fraternal organizations also developed to fill an important need in society…insurance in the form of death benefits to survivors.  Almost all of the “secret societies” that formed in the 19th century offered some form of benevolence to their poor and destitute members, plus provided a means for members to “insure” financial stability for their dependents upon their deaths.  

And while there are virtually thousands of very different fraternal organizations that either once existed or still continue here in the United States,  (see IOOF or WOW), the concept of joining King Arthur’s Round Table and striving to uphold the lofty ideals of knighthood must have appealed to many a man.  

Below are some of the Knight emblems I have found in cemeteries this past year, complete with a little history of their beginnings, their aims and their current status.


The Knights of Columbus is one of the youngest knightly fraternal organizations, created in 1881 in New Haven, CT, by a group of Catholic men.  They named it in honor of Christopher Columbus, who they credited with briinging Christianity to the New World.  Catholics were usually not members of other fraternal organizations, such as the Masons, because the Vatican forbid Catholics from making oaths of allegiance and secrecy to other organizations.  And anti-Catholicism was very pronounced in the United States in the mid-1800’s, as the dominant Protestant majority rejected the “popery” of Catholics.  Many people also resented the mass immigration of the Irish during this time, many who were Catholic, because the “nativist” Americans who were already here believed that the Irish immigrants were taking jobs away from Americans.  The “Nativist” viewpoint of this time always strikes me as ironic, since those “nativists” of the 1850’s might have been born in the United States, but their ancestors were not…they had been immigrants, too.  

Ah, it’s really all perspective, isn’t it?  Even our goodly knight from the Middle Ages wanted to kill the “infidel” Muslims in the Middle East because of religious and cultural differences.  Not many perfect humans, are there?

The 1911 Brookyln Daily Eagle Almanac lists the Knights of Columbus membership as 250,000.  Currently, they boast a membership numbering 1.8 million around the world; my father-in-law was one.

Lansdale Cemetery, Lansdale, PA

Olde Church of St. Andrew, Newtown, PA


One of my favorites, since the first time I mentioned the organization to my dad, he didn’t quite hear me and exclaimed, “The Knights of Pissy Ass??!!”  Sorry, Knights, but it was funny.  

The Knights of Pythias was founded in 1864 in Washington, D.C., for the aims of friendship and charity.  Pythias was an ancient Greek, and he and his friend Damon were members of the Pythagorean Brotherhood, founded by Pythagoras, the father of Greek philosophy.  Damon had outspokenly condemned the king of Syracuse (who has gained his throne by fraudulent means) and was subsequently arrested and sentenced to death.  His devoted friend Pythias willingly substituted himself as a hostage so Damon could return to his family to bid them goodbye.  This story of sacrifice for friendship inspired Justus Rathbone to create the Knights of Pythias to foster a spirit of friendship as the Civil War neared its end.  Abraham Lincoln encouraged Rathbone to gain a national charter for the fraternity from Congress, which he did, and the Knights of Pythias became the first American order chartered by an act of Congress.   I am guessing John Wilkes Booth was not a member.

In the 1911 Brookyln Daily Eagle Almanac, the Knights of Pythias were listed as having a membership of 706,501.  They still exist today with an international membership of about 50,000.

Bristol Cemetery, Bristol, PA (he was also a Mason and an Odd Fellow)

Bristol Cemetery, Bristol, PA (He was probably a higher Encampment Member.  And he was an Odd Fellow)

Bristol Cemetery, Bristol, PA

Bristol Cemetery, Bristol, PA

Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA (he was also a member of the Order of United American Mechanics...another Nativist organization)

Franklin Cemetery, Waverly, PA

Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA

Newtown Cemetery, Newtown, PA

Prospect Hill Cemetery, Peckville, PA

Sunnyside Cemetery, Tunnhannock, PA

The Knights Templar is part of Free Masonry, under “The United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta.”    And even though Dan Brown put forth one hell of an argument, there is no definitive proof that the current Masons derive their origins from the Knights Templar of the Middle Ages.  But the positive attributes of those ancient Knights are still emulated by today’s Masons who are Knights Templar members.   

The Knights Templar have been profiled on the History Channel, thanks to Dan Brown’s books, so I will only relate a brief history.  The Knights Templar trace their roots back to the Middle Ages and were important participants in the Crusades ordered by the Pope to liberate the Holy Land from the infidels.  The Templars are famously known as the first bankers of Europe, giving European pilgrims an opportunity to deposit their hard currency into Templar coffers in Europe, and then getting letters of credit to carry into the Holy Land, to be redeemed at Templar coffers there.  Nowadays, we call those letters of credit “travelers’ checks.”  Unfortunately, the king of France, Philip the Fair (Unfair??) was in debt to the Templars and jealous of their wealth, so he had most of them arrested on October 13, 1307.  The leaders were tortured for years and in 1314, their Grand Master Jacques DeMolay was burned at the stake.  The Templars that remained went underground.  (And remained there until Dan Brown decided to write a book???  I don’t know.)

Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA ("in hoc signo vinces" means "in this sign you will conquer."  It was the motto of Constantine I.  Before a battle, he had a vision of the Christian cross.  He was pagan, but took the sign seriously, putting it on his flag.  He won the battle and converted to Christianity.  He forced anyone under his rule to convert also and is credited with establishing Christianity as a religion to be reckoned with.  What is he had seen another symbol, like a jelly bean??)

Union Cemetery, Blakely, PA

Union Cemetery, Blakely, PA (he was also an Odd Fellow)


This order also traces its roots back to the Middle Ages in the 11th century, and was formed to provide hospital care and protection to pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. They were based in Jerusalem until they were ousted by Saladin (a most famous infidel), and after some brief stays in the Grecian islands, they were given the island of Malta in 1530 by the Holy Roman Emperor.  Later, Napoleon threatened to invade Malta, so the Knights capitulated and relocated to St. Petersburg under the protection of the Russian Tsar.  Other branches of the order started then, spreading through Europe, and the Knights of Malta are included in Free Masonry under “The United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta.” 

I also came across information about a fraudulent branch of the order being started in the 1950’s in Shickshinny, Pennsylvania, of all places.  A con-man named Charles Pichel claimed to be a legitimate member of the Knights of Malta through a charter from a New Jersey lodge.  It seems there were other branches of the Malta Knights started in the United States in the early 20th century which were also not completely legitimate.  But in the 1911 Brookyln Daily Eagle Almanac, the Knights of Malta were listed as having U.S. headquarters in the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia and listed their membership at 30,000 in the country.  I would love to know more about the fake lodges; it seems Pichel had served in prison for narcotics possession and used his “membership and high standing” in the Knights of Malta to restore his character.  Not very knightly of him.  The Knights of Malta continue today under the auspices of Free Masonry.

Union Cemetery, Blakely, PA


The KGE was founded in 1873 in Baltimore as a fraternal organization to promote friendship and charity for its members.  In the 1911 Brookyln Daily Eagle Almanac, the Knights of the Golden Eagle listed their membership at 82,000 in the country, although today, it numbers less than 2,000.  Its headquarters are located in Doylestown, PA (where I now live…but I have never seen any meeting notices, etc).   

Part of KGE’s demise may have resulted from its narrow eligibility requirements:  white males of the Christian faith without any mental or physical infirmities, but with sufficient education to sign a name to the membership application, and a strict adherence to temperance.  So uptight and white guys who didn’t drink...pretty boring, eh?   Also, KGE was associated with President McKinley’s assassination:  the gunman Czolgosz had a KGE membership card in his possession when police searched him after he shot McKinley, even though KGE’s tenets were completely at odds with Czolgosz’ murderous actions.  It’s a shame KGE is practically extinct today, and so limited in its viewpoints of who could join, because I like their emblem.  Must be the skull.

Christ Covenant Cemetery, Harleyville, PA

Christ Covenant Cemetery, Harleysville, PA

Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Harlesyville, PA

North Wales Baptist Cemetery, North Wales, PA

St. Peter's Lutheran Cemetery, North Wales, PA

St. Peter's Lutheran Cemetery, North Wales, PA

Christ Covenant Cemetery, Harlesyville, PA


I would normally not include an organization such as the Klan in my writings, except to say things like “do unto others as you wish those to do unto you” and “small minds keep men small.”   Needless to say, I am not a fan of the KKK, and they are “knights” about as much as I am “petite.”  (And for those of you who don’t know, I am 5’10” and haven’t seen 150 pounds in a long, long time.)  

I include them only because in a cemetery in the middle of Wayne County, PA, I found this symbol displayed next to a grave stone.  When I plugged the Latin motto into my computer’s search engine, I was surprised when KKK websites popped up.  Their motto, “Non Silba Sed Anthar,” means “Not for one’s self, but for others.”  Yeah, right.  I still am amazed that someone put the symbol on a grave, almost proudly.

So I include them with the Knights of the Golden Eagle as organizations that think small, act small and will remain small.   And since I am big, I don’t like small.  Jus’ saying.

Wayne Co., PA (cemetery location withheld to prevent vandalism or pilgrimages)

And maybe none of these organizations should be hailed as noble or knightly, since they could exclude who they wanted from membership based on whatever they felt like using as criteria.  Maybe we all do that, every day, in our every day life.  All of them in the 19th century excluded women, instead creating auxiliary organizations for the ladies.  (Someone had to do the dishes after the meeting banquets, right???!!!!) 
This is an interesting glimpse into the lives of Americans who lived 100-150 years ago.  There were many other organizations that called themselves knights, such as the Knights of Sherwood Forest, the Knights of Honor, and the Knights of the Maccabees.  As I find their symbols adorning the graves of the residents of the cemeteries I visit, I will post the pictures and investigate them as well. Whether I agree with them or not.

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