BOSTON POST OFFICE CORNERSTONE LAYING, OCTOBER 1871
From Moore's Freemason's Monthly, Vol. XXXI, No. 1, November 1871, Page 18:
A GREAT DAY FOR MASONRY IN MASSACHUSETTS.
October the Sixteenth, 1871, will henceforth, we venture confidently to predict, be regarded, and most deservedly, as a "Red-Letter Day" in the almanac of Masonry, — a day to be recalled with feelings of just pride by the people, no less than by the Masons, of Massachusetts.
On this day the Grand Lodge of this Commonwealth, " on the invitation of the President of United States," laid the Corner-Stone of the handsome and solid edifice soon to be opened for the reception of the important Departments of the Post-Office and Sub-Treasury of the Government. The invitation itself, was the highest compliment that the public authorities of the country could pay to our Institution. It is without a precedent in the history of Masonry on this continent, and may be justly regarded, not only as an official recognition, but a public endorsement of its respectability and loyalty.
How efficiently and creditably this honorable duty was performed by the Grand Lodge and the Brethren associated with it, as well as by all the municipal and public Bodies, Civil and Military, co-operating with them, has been fully and ably set forth in the various journals of the day. But before entering on any more particular details of the interesting occasion, we feel impelled to give some expression to the feelings awakened by it, in our own hearts as Masons. We have but to look back over a comparatively few years in our own history, to recall a painful time, when the Masonic Order, so far from being
"Courted and caressed,
High placed in Hall, a welcome guest,"
by those invested, for the time, with dignity and power, was maligned, assailed and persecuted, and to such a degree that, to be known as a Mason, was equivalent to becoming a target for the shafts of private malice and of public obloquy.
Masonry, firmly entrenched in the stronghold of its pure and lofty principles, animated and sustained by an unwavering belief in the great watch word, Magna est Veritas et praevalebit, held calmly and steadily on her path of Duty, content to bear the "Cross" set up by the ignorance and fanaticism of the Present, in the assured hope of eventually winning the "Crown" which is ever, even in this world, the ultimate reward of perseverance in Truth and Right and Duty!
Nor, severely tried as was her faith, did it prove futile or false. The lapse of a very few years sufficed to disperse the obscuring clouds that had gathered over her pure horizon, from the corrupt miasma and exhalations of popular ignorance and prejudice, impelled and floated forward by the breath of political partisanship and priestly bigotry ! Tear by year has seen her atmosphere becoming clearer and brighter, until at last her Sun shines forth with all its wonted power and brilliancy, to diffuse light and heat and joy over the late depressed and darkened cycle of her operations.
Of all the good effected, and the honor won by our noble Order, since this grand reaction took place, it would require, not these few lines, but many ponderous volumes, to give even a partial detail. Portions thereof have been, from time to time, described in the pages of this Magazine. To ourselves, no part is more fraught with grateful associations than the memory of the powerful and beneficent influence exerted by Masonry in healing the terrible wounds inflicted by the unhappy Civil War.
That noble work of healing and reconciliation was prosecuted and persevered in, lovingly, faithfully, earnestly, both throughout the war and for seven years after, until the culminating point of cure was virtually reached in the great and memorable meeting which took place at Baltimore in the month of September last, when upwards of five thousand Knights Templars, with vast numbers of other Brethren, met to celebrate, in Brotherly Union, the triennial meetings of the Order in that City. Well was it on that occasion, said by the Grand Master of Maryland, in his address of welcome:
"If not by special appointment for other than Masonic purposes, yon still, in fact, represent our whole, and our Common Country I The manufactories of New England—the furnaces of Pennsylvania — the cotton fields of the South—the industry of the West—the mines of California, are here in conclave. With no political purpose to advance, these thousands on thousands—though they meddle not with tariffs or imports, nor deal with other duties than those that man owes to his God, to his fellow-beings, and to himself—will exert an influence for good, extending far beyond the limits of Lodges and Encampments, and co-extensive with the Union!"
And well and aptly in reply did our own talented Grand Master Gardner say, in the course of his eloquent address — "Although we are taught not to vex the harmony of our Masonic assemblies by the discussion of religious or political questions, we are also taught to be true to the government of the Country in which we reside. Thus we recognize the government under which we live, and we take pride and pleasure in supporting the Flag, and keeping step to the music of the Union!"
The sentiment — or rather fact — thus enunciated by Grand Master Gardner, has received its public and official endorsement, in the most complete and pointed manner, from the action of the government in-inviting ours, the Parent Grand Lodge of America, to perform, in its presence and under its auspices, the solemn and appropriate duty of laying the Corner-stone of this new and important National Building in Boston.
The mens sibi conscia recti — "the mind conscious of its own integrity" — which so long sustained the heart of Masonry against all the assaults of malice, misrepresentation, contumely and persecution — rests upon too firm a base to need the external support of respect and honour from the great and powerful: but, in a country like ours, where the Ruling Powers are but Representatives of the collective sentiment of the People, we all, as Masons, may reasonably rejoice in his emphatic — if somewhat late — acknowledgement of our Order, as the ever loyal supporter of the. Government, the Flag, and the Union of our Common Country!
The limited space left us in our pages precludes the possibility of entering so largely into the details of the ceremonies of the day, as we could desire, and as the importance of the event would seem to demand. Extensive preparations had been made by the city and by the Grand Lodge to make the occasion an imposing one, and the weather being propitious, this purpose was fully accomplished. The principal streets through which the procession was to pass (many of which were beautifully and appropriately decorated), were filled by people of all ages and of both sexes, at an early hour. The public schools were closed and the children allowed a holiday. Banks and other public offices and most of the store's suspended business, and their employes gladly and heartily united in giving to the occasion the prominence which the presence of the chief magistrate of the country, the members of his cabinet, and other distinguished guests entitled it to.
The procession was formed under the marshalship of Bro. Col. George O. Carpenter, aided by Gen. Wm, H. Lawrence, as chief of his staff, and the requisite number of assistants, and consisted of a fine display of the military, including the first Battalion of Cavalry with full ranks; nine Posts of the Grand Army of the Republic, and sixteen companies of the Boston school regiment, composed of scholars of the English High School, under the command of their military teacher Col. Carl I. Zerrahn; the Governor and Council, the Mayor and City Council; the Officers of the Swedish Frigate Josephine, and a long list of distinguished guests, for whose names we have not the room to spare. We noticed among them however, Hon. E. R. Hoar; Hon. Charles Francis Adams ; Collector Russell; Hon. Josiah Quincy; Ex-Governor Stearns of N. H.; Judges Shepley and Lowell of United States Court; Senators Sawyer and Cattrell, and others of like distinction.
The Masonic part of the procession consisted of the Officers of the Grand Encampment mounted, with their eminent Grand Commander Sir Knight Benj. Dean, at their head, and the following subordinate Commanderies — St. John's, Providence; Newburyport; Washington; Newport, R. I.; Worcester; Springfield; De Molay, Boston; Holy Sepulchre, Pawtucket; Pilgrim, Lowell; Palestine, Chelsea; Milford Cavalry, Providence, R. I.; Narragansett, Westerly, R. I.; Connecticut Valley, Greenfield; Joseph Warren, Boston; Haverhill; North Bridgewater; Old Colony, Abington; Sutton, New Bedford; Bethany, Lawrence; Jerusalem,'Fitchburg ; Hugh de Payens, Melrose; St. Omer, So. Boston; William Parkman, East Boston; Bristol, Mansfield; Trinity, Hudson; Woonsocket, R. I.; a detachment of Red Cross Knights — making in all twenty-eight commanderies, numbering over two thousand members, with twenty-three full bands of music, with four hundred and eighty-six members — making the aggregate of this part of the procession about twenty-five hundred, to which is to be added the Grand Lodge with its Officers, Permanent Members and Masters and Wardens of the Lodges under its jurisdiction, numbering about five hundred. The Grand Lodge was escorted by the Grand Commandery of Massachusetts; the Boston Commandery, two hundred and fifty strong, acting as a body guard. The display, though not the most numerous, was one of the most beautiful and attractive that has ever taken place in our city, and the procession as it moved along the route marked out for it, was everywhere received with tokens of cordiality and delight. The appearance of the Templars in their brilliant and showy regalia, strict uniformity in dress, fine behavior, and gentlemanly bearing, was a subject of general and flattering remark.
On arriving at the site of the new building, the Grand Lodge with its Officers, President Grant and Vice-President Colfax ; Secretary of War Belknap; Secretary of the Navy Robeson ; Post Master General Cresswell; Governor Claflin ; Mayor Gaston; Speaker Blaine; Lieut. Governor Tucker; Hon. Ginery Twichell, M. C.; Hon. Henry L. Dawes, M. C.; Mr. Alderman Little, Chairman of the Committee of arrangements; Hon. Marshall P. Wilder; and other distinguished gentlemen, took their places on the platform provided for them around the corner-stone.
The ceremonies of placing the stone were then commenced with prayer by Rev. S. K. Lothrop, D. D.; which was followed by an address by the Hon. J. A. J. Cresswell, Post Master General, and an historical sketch of the location and its surroundings by Bro. N. B. Shurtleff, M. D.
This closed the civic part of the ceremony. The M. W. Grand Master followed with an appropriate introduction, in which he said that, " From time immemorial it has been the custom of the Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, when requested so to do, to lay, with ancient forms, the corner Stone of buildings erected for the worship of God, for charitable objects, and for the purpose of the administration of justice and free government," and introduced the Rev. W. H. Cudworth, acting Grand Chaplain; at the conclusion of whose prayer the box containing a great variety of documents, was deposited in the stone by the Grand Treasurer, Bro. John McClellan. The cement was then spread, in which ceremony the President united with the Grand Master, and as the former came forward to receive the Trowel from the hands of the latter, the band in attendance struck up the inspiring air of
"Hail to the chief we honor, who planted
The olive of peace in the soil that he saved.
The effect of this was electrical, even to the President, whose emotions are not easily excited.
The ceremonies were then continued in accordance with the revised and improved ritual in use in this Commonwealth, and at their conclusion, and before the proclamation, Grand Master Gardner delivered the following eloquent and appropriate address : —
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Committee representing the National Government:
I have the honor to report that, in compliance with the request of the President of the United States, the corner stone of the Sub-Treasury and new Post Office building to be erected on this spot has been laid successfully, with the ancient ceremonies of the craft. This is the second time in the history of our Grand Lodge, that it has been called upon to lay the corner stone of structures erected by the Federal Government — the foundation stone of Minot's Ledge Light House having been laid by Colonel John T. Heard, Grand Master, in 1858. We have a most notable precedent for serving the National Government in this peculiar manner. The first President, the immortal Washington, in 1793, in his masonic capacity, arrayed in the paraphernalia of the Craft, laid the corner stone of the Capitol at Washington. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts reverences the name and cherishes the most grateful remembrance of Washington. Its archives contain his letters, and annually since 1799 a lock of Washington's hair, carefully preserved in a golden urn. (The golden urn has this Inscription: "This urn incloses a lock of hair of the immortal Washington, presented to the Massachusetts Grand Lodge by his amiable widow. Born February 11 (O. S.), 1732. Obt. December 14, O.S. 1799). The cunning workmanship of the Mason and patriot, Paul Revere, is intrusted to the safe custody of its Grand Master at his installation. This precious relic we treasure with pious solicitude. Through vicissitudes of fortune hard to endure, through conflagrations which have devoured our temples, this has been spared. We bear it in our processions. It accompanies us to-day. Permit us, Mr. President, to place this sacred relic in your hands.
It rarely happens that our ancient society participates in matters of public concern, or that by its customs and rules it is permitted to take part in transactions of a political character. We felicitate ourselves, therefore, that when called from our seclusion to discharge this public and proper duty, the opportunity is presented by the personal presence of the distinguished official successor of the great Washington, of testifying our sentiments of respect and veneration for the President of the United States of America, and of expressing the hope that he may long live in the fond admiration of the American people. May his future march be in the van of civilization, and his victories those of peace. The fraternity of Freemasons, the world over, the members of which are interested in honorable peace, takes pride in recognizing the pacific services of the Marquis of Ripon, Grand Master of England, who led her Majesty's High Commission in the recent conference at Washington. The Society which I have the honor to represent congratulates the President and his Administration upon the re-establishment of harmony, at one time disturbed, and apparently imperiled, between the two great branches of the Anglo Saxon race. While we pay our homage to the Nation's head, we do not forget our honored Commonwealth, nor the duties and obligations which the State imposes upon us. His Excellency the Governor graces this occasion by his presence, and adds to the brilliant array of this pageant the escutcheon of the Commonwealth. We rejoice, also, to render our tribute to the city of Boston, so adequately represented by the Mayor and City Council. We congratulate them upon the prospects and flourishing state pf this ancient metropolis; upon its commercial prosperity; and upon the generous contribution which this capacious and elegant edifice will make to the convenience of the citizens and the grandeur of the city. The institution which we represent deals abundantly in symbols. Among the working tools of our craftsmen used to-day was the Trowel, employed to spread the cement which unites the building into one common mass. Let it be a symbol of the more noble and glorious purpose of spreading the cement of love and affection, which shall unite the people and the States of this nation in an unbroken union. As the costly and imposing structure, whose erection has been " so auspiciously commenced hag been founded, and will be carried on beneath the auspices of the Government of the Union, let it prove a symbol of that Union's duration and solidity." And as the different parts of this building are to be firmly tied together with iron girders, so " may the sister States of this Union be forever bound together by the stronger ties of common language, kindred blood and mutual affection."
The usual proclamation was then made by the Grand Marshal, Col. Wm. T. Grammer, an original hymn by Bro. Wm. T. Adams was sung, and the ceremonies were closed with the benediction by the Grand Chaplain.
There were many interesting points in the ceremonies and incidents of the day which we should be pleased to notice, but our pages are too much crowded for the purpose. We cannot close however without bearing1 our testimony to the admirable and impressive manner in which the ceremonies were performed by the Grand Master and his assistants, and we believe this to be the judgment of all who had the pleasure of witnessing them.
In the evening the Grand Lodge, by his special invitation, called on the President at his hotel (St. James), and the members were personally introduced and paid their respects to him, there.