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

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Masons, Masons Everywhere

Masonic Temple, Scranton, PA

Bernie Karmolinski, leading a tour of the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple.  Thanks, Karmol!!

This past weekend, I toured the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple, under the knowledgeable guidance of Bernie Karmolinski.  “Karmol,” as we call him, is the husband of my cousin Leona, who is my grandfather’s first cousin.  Karmol knows all about the Masonic Temple, completed in 1930 in a Neo-Gothic and Romanesque style, and designed by Raymond Hood (the noted Rockefeller Center architect).  According to Karmol, 4,000 Masons in Scranton raised over 1 million dollars in less than a month in 1927 for the construction of the building.  Today the Temple still houses several Mason lodges, plus provides Scranton with a venue for theater, concerts and weddings. 
I discovered Freemasonry when I was in college, long before Dan Brown published The DaVinci Code.  In my studies of European history, I learned of the Crusades to the Holy Land and the birth of the Knights Templar, and the rumors of their murky connection to the free and associated masons of medieval Europe.  I love the concept of Freemasonry, with its more-democratic system of government, its embrace of free thinking and free worship of some sort of Deity, and its recognition of men for their abilities and accomplishments, as opposed to their heredity.  Of course, that’s a generalization of Freemasonry; there’s good and bad apples in every barrel, and there have been Freemasons not worthy of admiration (Benedict Arnold was a Freemason).  But overall, I am a Masonophile, if that is a word. 
Masonic symbols abound in 19th century cemeteries, and that continued through the 20th century and continues today.  The Freemasons are one of the oldest and largest secret fraternal organizations in the world, and have been in the United States since the 1730s.  In the “Golden Age of Fraternalism” in the early 20th century, when 1 in 6 Americans belonged to at least one secret fraternity, the Freemasons were one of the three society “lions,” which also included the Knights of Pythias and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.  It is estimated that in 1929, 3.5 million Americans were Freemasons.  But one hundred years earlier, Freemasonry was in danger of collapse, caught in the crosshairs of public opinion, accused of murder.  And the antipathy to the organization gave rise to the first viable “third party” in American politics.
In 1826, in Batavia, New York, a man named William Morgan lit the fire that started a country-wide anti-Masonic hysteria.  Morgan was a person of dubious character and integrity, a drifter who was frequently in debt.  While it’s not proven that he was a Mason, he seems to have lied his way into at least one lodge in upstate New York, and he was a beneficent of Masonic charity more than once.   Somehow, though, he became angry with the Masons, and he entered into a contract with another disgruntled Mason printer to write and publish a book exposing Masonic rituals.  Morgan bragged about his plans in local taverns, and area Masons became concerned that this expose would be the downfall of the fraternity.  Morgan was arrested on a supposed theft, and jailed.  Three men paid his bail, and took him forcibly from the jail in a carriage to Fort Niagra.  He was never seen alive again.
The three men were Masons, and they later pleaded guilty to conspiracy of kidnapping, along with the sheriff who worked with them, and all served short prison terms.  They insisted they had paid Morgan to leave the country, and he removed to Canada.  But the non-Masonic public was not satisfied, and local politicians (especially Thurlow Weed, who was also a newspaper editor, and used his ink liberally to tar the Freemasons and further his own political ambitions) insisted that the Freemasons had not only kidnapped Morgan, but murdered him to stop him from revealing fraternity secrets.  Public fervor increased when a body washed up on shore below Fort Niagra, and Morgan’s widow identified it as her husband.  However, Morgan was clean-shaven and bald, and the body had a full head of hair and beard.  The body was later identified (after three inquests) as Timothy Munro, but the damage had been done to the Freemasons. 
Political opponents of Andrew Jackson (a very proud Mason) seized this national wave of indignation and used it to create a political party, the anti-Masonic party.  That was their only platform, being diametrically opposed to Freemasonry, and claiming that too many judges, municipal officials and successful businessmen were involved in the secret business of the Order.  (The Have-Not’s are rarely supportive of the Have’s.)  They quickly grew powerful and joined with religious groups who had long been anti-Masonic because of the oath-bound secrecy of the fraternity, and they ostracized once proud Masons in communities up and down the eastern seaboard.  Masonic lodges closed by the dozens; in New York alone, Masonic lodges decreased from 227 in 1827 to 41 in 1835.  The Anti-Masonic party created the first political convention, as members came together to nominate local and state political candidates, pledge their support and organize efforts to win elections.  The Whigs and Democrats watched this and created their own conventions to mobilize political machines, and that still continues today.  The Anti-Masonic party did nominate a presidential candidate, William Wirt, in 1832, but Wirt received less than 10% of the popular vote and only 7 electoral votes.  (Interestingly, Wirt was a former Mason and actually spoke in defense of the Order at the convention!)  But both Vermont and Pennsylvania elected an Anti-Masonic governor (William A. Palmer and Joseph Ritner, respectively). 
The party lost steam, as its platform was so limited in scope, and was absorbed by the Whig party by 1836.  But for ten years, the disgruntlement over political and social systems in the country, sparked by the Morgan affair, led to the creation, ascension and partial success of the first viable “third party” in America.  The Freemasons did eventually recover from the Morgan affair, and by the end of the Civil War, their numbers had increased from 22,000 to 600,000.  And many subsequent fraternal societies created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries copied much of their rituals and governing systems from the Freemasons (many of the men who created new societies were themselves Masons). 
Personally, I don’t think the Masons murdered Morgan.  I think the $500 they supposedly offered him was too tempting, and he got out of an unsuccessful life and a marriage as well as out of the country.  But I admit to a bias.  Enjoy these Masonic symbols, and contact me at
Grand Lodge of West Australia, Welsh Hill Church Cemetery, Clifford, PA

International Supreme Council of World Masons, St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

32nd Degree, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Ancient Grand Master, Lawnview Cemetery, Rockledge, PA

"Bundle of Sticks" is an old Roman symbol meaning basically, United We Stand, Divided We Fall.  Ever try to break a bunch of sticks?  The Masons and possibly the Odd Fellows used this symbol to demonstrate their strength in solidarity.  Unfortunately, Mussolini also adopted this symbol for his Fascist regime in Italy.  Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

32nd Degree, Greenwood Cemetery, Howertown, PA

The most well-know Masonic symbol, the square and the compass and the "G" that stands for possibly God and possibly geometry or both.  Salem Cemetery, Hamlin, PA

Love this, hand-carved sand stone grave marker in early 1800's with the square and compass carved on an urn, which is under a weeping willow.  Marcy Pioneer Cemetery, Tunkhannock, PA

A Masonic keystone with the initials of the Ancient Grand Master, HLB.  The letters on the outer circle stand for Hiram The Widow's Son Sent To King Solomon, part of the Masonic ritual of Hiram the mason who helped to build King Solomon's Temple.  Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Ah, another hand-carved sand stone marker from the early 1800s.  Note how the G hangs from the keystone, an important building innovation used by the Romans.  I love the sun symbols at the top.  Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA

The square and compass on top of an open Bible, with the all-seeing eye above all, symbolizing the Great Architect of the Universe, Overfield Cemetery, Meshoppen, PA

Royal Arch Mason symbol, one of the many subsidiary orders within Freemasonry, Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, Lafayette Hill, PA

Many fraternal organizations gave their members burial benefits in return for their dues, and many organizations had plots in cemeteries (or sometimes they established an entire cemetery) for burial of their members.  Milford Cemetery, Milford, PA

32nd Degree, Delaware Water Gap Cemetery, Delaware Water Gap, PA

Harvey was a 32nd Degree Mason and Ethel was a member of their female auxiliary, Order of the Eastern Star, Morrisville Cemetery, Morrisville, PA

32nd Degree, I believe, Hillcrest Cemetery, Roslyn, PA

Mauch Chunk Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

Knights Templar Order, Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, DC

Knights Templar, "In Hoc Signo Vinces" is Latin for "In this sign, you will conquer."  This is a supposed part of the vision seen by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine before a battle in Gaul.  He changed the pagan symbols on his standards to the Christian Chi Rho symbol (the first two Greek letters in the Greek spelling of Christ) and won the battle.  Constantine then converted to Christianity and forced the entire Roman empire to do the same.  Before this, Christianity was just a small religious cult.  Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA

Knights of Malta, yet another order within Freemasonry, New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA

Knights of Malta, Union Cemetery, Blakely, PA

Knights Templar, and this man was also a member of the Odd Fellows (the 3 chain links at bottom with F,L and T), Union Cemetery, Blakely, PA

Knights Templar, Union Cemetery, Blakely, PA

The Shriners, yet another Masonic order, open only to 32nd Degree Masons or Knights Templar.  Their official name is Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, and when you rearrange those initials, they spell "A MASON."  Gilbert Cemetery, Gilbert, PA

Shriners, Lawnview Cemetery, Rockledge, PA

Shriners, with "Mecca" inscribed.  The Shriners adopted many symbols of Islam, but in a parody form, which has not made them popular with Muslims.  The Shriners were mostly a party group, but they have given vast funding to special hospitals for children.  Stroudsburg Cemetery, Stroudsburg, PA

Order of the Eastern Star, the female auxiliary of the Freemasons.  The symbols in the points of the star represent the Order's heroines:  Ada, Ruth, Esther, Martha and Electa.  These are Biblical women, representing (in order) the Daughter, the Widow, the Wife, the Sister and the Mother.  The symbols inside the star are attached to the letters F-A-T-A-L, which stands for "Fairest Among Ten-Thousand Altogether Lovely."  (This order was written by a man, this would explain the silliness, I feel!) Scott Cemetery, Scott, PA

Order of the Eastern Star, Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA


Anonymous said...

I'm so happy to be on your mailing list! (Though I confess I do look most closely at the New Jersey examples.) The "bundle of sticks" you mention is called a "fasces." There's a great example in sculpture at this URL:

Anonymous said...

I learn more from reading your blog about history each issue. Thank you! The first photo of Holy Ghost Cemetery is prize worthy in capturing the irony of the living tree amidst the family trees of gravestones.