The story of the Prodigal came to mind today as I drove to the downtown Temple in Indianapolis.
After more than a decade, the Indiana Grand Lodge Library and Museum is at last returning to Indiana Freemasons' Hall in Indianapolis. The majority of Indiana's Grand Lodge officers, along with family and friends, were on hand today as Grand Master of Indiana Jeffrey P. Zaring, Past Grand Master and Masonic Society president Roger S. Van Gorden, and Indianapolis Masonic Temple Association president James Dillman cut the ceremonial ribbon to the new Grand Lodge Library and Museum room.
When the Indianapolis Masonic Temple opened in 1909, it featured a large ground-floor social room and library, along with a coat-check area. By the 1920s, so many men arrived at the Temple with coats and hats that a new check area was literally dug out into a new basement area under the entry hall. This allowed the library to expand into the old coat room.
When Dwight L. Smith became Grand Secretary, he expanded the Library. The Grand Lodge also accumulated much memorabilia over the years, and a small museum area was set aside for displays. When Smith passed away, his family donated his personal library collection, which was of considerable size, to the Grand Lodge of Indiana. By the mid-1980s, the space was clearly outgrown, so it was packed up and moved to Franklin, on the campus of the Indiana Masonic Home, and housed in the former DeMolay dormitory.
While the location at the Home was large, it was also hard to visit and access. A steam pipe leak resulted in much damage to the museum artifacts, and while the library was catalogued, the museum suffered from neglect and lack of regular supervision.
Thanks to the continued financial support by Indiana's grand masters over the years, the Library and Museum's budget was added to, with the plan of moving it to a new, safer, permanent site. That opportunity came this year with the renewed commitment of the Indianapolis Masonic Temple Board to preserving and improving Indiana Freemasons' Hall. With the 100th anniversary of the building's construction coming this June 13th, along with festivities connected to that event, 2009 seemed to be the perfect year for the move to take place. Grand Master Jeff Zaring charged the Library and Museum board with getting the job underway before the rededication.
The north social room located on the 5th floor seemed like the perfect location, since the south social room had undergone a beautiful transformation by Ancient Landmarks Lodge four years ago. Nearly $30,000 has been spent to refurbish the plaster, repaint and install modern wiring to accommodate the Library and Museum's needs. The move will be done in stages, beginning with artifacts and display cases. The Library will be installed later in the year, once the Museum's pieces are unpacked and in their new locations. Security and climate control are top priorities to protect the collection, and a separate area is being set aside for the most valuable and fragile items.
In the long term, plans are being considered to photograph or scan the Museum's collection to a digital archive that will be accessible over the Internet. Likewise, Masonic books that are rarely seen outside of Indiana will be digitized so researchers from around the world may access them. And its catalog will also be Internet friendly, so researchers can know what is available in the Library.
But what is most important is that this tremendous resource will again be available to the Freemasons of Indiana, back again in the home of its Grand Lodge. The Board of the Library and Museum, the Temple Board, and the Grand Lodge of Indiana are all pulling together to make this dream a reality. The prodigal has returned, and it is good.
Somebody find a fatted calf.
(BTW, a very big thanks to Lisa and all the Van Gorden girls for their help with the food and reception!)