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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Writing Your Own Lodge's History



Over the weekend I flew back to Indianapolis to preside over the winter meeting of the Dwight L. Smith Lodge of Research. We had an outstanding meeting, and I presented my recent research about the Army/Navy Masonic Service Centers during World War II that were set up in some 90 large Masonic temples around the country. Encouraged by then-Senator and PGM of Missouri, Harry S Truman and organized as a national movement by Carl Claudy and the Masonic Service Association, these were similar to USO centers. It's truly a fascinating bit of history that most Masons have never heard of today.

However, I took advantage of having John Bridegroom as our Secretary and had him pass out an article from the latest Journal of the Masonic Society to our members. (John is the art director for this outstanding quarterly magazine.) Issue No. 47 hit mailboxes at the beginning of the month, and it includes a piece that every Mason should read: 'Thoughts About Writing a History of Your Lodge' by Brother Samuel S. Laucks, II from Pennsylvania.

A few years ago, one of our research lodge members lamented that he felt that he should be contributing to our meetings by writing original "research," but he was concerned that he wasn't much of a writer. Moreover, he felt that after three grand lodge history books since the 1890s (mine being most recent), that all of the "important" stories had been told already, and there wasn't much else interesting to write about. Yet not five minutes later, after I asked about his own Mother lodge, he told me a story about how their old building had burned down in the 1990s and that the Worshipful Master at the time had run into the burning building to save the lodge charter and Bible from destruction!


Every one of us is living through history right this very moment, and it gets made every day when we're not paying attention.

Brother Lauck's article describes how he pored over his own lodge's minute books, treasurer and trustee reports, financial documents, trustees reports, old letters, photos and other obvious sources. If you are a diligent detective, you'll find treasures and tales inside of forgotten lockers, filing cabinets, desk drawers, tucked into books on paper scraps, and in dusty old boxes under the back stairs. Turn everything over and look carefully. In my own case, I've found fascinating clues written on the backs of pictures hanging in our lodge building. And always hunt down grand lodge history books to see if your lodge is mentioned anywhere in your state's Masonic past. Hopefully, there is a decent grand lodge library/museum in your jurisdiction. They generally have local lodge histories that were assembled in earlier days on file. And if you're lucky, your grand lodge may have put your older magazines online in a searchable format, as we have done in Indiana in conjunction with our state library.

Once you've exhausted the Masonic sources, move to the newspapers and magazines both online and in libraries. Check the state, county and local historical societies. And be armed with the list of names of your Past Masters since the beginning, as you may uncover piles of information about the men who started and perpetuated your lodge, yet without reference to their Masonic membership. And always, always, always take the time to scan through local newspapers of various time periods to help comprehend the culture and context that surrounded and shaped your lodge members at different times in history. WHY was your lodge formed WHEN it was formed? What compelled those early brethren to plant their cornerstone where they did?

If you haven't done it before, it's long past time to record the oral histories of all of your living Past Masters and the oldest and most influential (or most colorful) members of your lodge. We've all got audio recorders and cameras in our pockets these days, and we carry them everywhere. Don't wait until these men pass away before realizing the invaluable information from the past they take to the grave. Be sure to also ask these men why they joined, what they loved and hated about the fraternity and the lodge, what their lodge activities were, their successes and dreams, and their disappointments.   

Brother Laucks makes the important point that a lodge history should not be locked in time, especially now that technology makes it so convenient to keep adding to the tapestry of these chronicles. “I believe that a lodge history should not be a purely static document but should provide a sense of optimism and anticipation for that which is to come. The audience should not only be proud of their lodge’s history, but should also be inspired and energized by it as they plan for the future.”


Issue 47 of the Journal of the Masonic Society includes the following:

* "Change 2019" by David J. Cameron, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario

* "Alchemy in Masonry" by Raul Sarmiento

* "Conceptual Metaphors in Masonry" by Alan Schwartz, Ph.D.

* "The Kaleida Code" by Joseph Hatcher

* "Thoughts About Writing A History of Your Lodge" by Samuel S. Laucks, II, M.D.

* "Major John Melville Allen – Soldier, Politician, and Mason" by Billy Hamilton

* "That Good Men Do Something: A Defense of Freemasonry" by Brendan Hickey


Plus the regular book reviews, Editor's Corner, WBro. Greg Knots "Camera's Lens" feature, "Masonic Treasures" by John Bridegroom and more. If you are not a member or subscriber, you should be! At a paltry $45 a year, you're  missing a lot!


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