Freemasonry in Maine 1762 - 1945

Author:  Ralph J. Pollard

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CHAPTER XIII.

The Depression Years.

Administrations of Cyrus N. Blanchard (1930-1931); Ernest C. Butler (1932-1933); Clark D. Chapman (1934-1935); Henry R. Gillis (1936-1937); and George F. Giddings (1938-1939).

The years between 1930 and 1940 were among the most trying and difficult in the history of the Craft. A loss in membership was first reported in 1931. Thereafter, such annual losses continued throughout the period under consideration. A membership of 44,002 in 1930 shrank to a membership of only 35,132 in 1940. This condition was, of course, a direct consequence of the terrible industrial depression which gripped the country and which paralyzed well-nigh every phase of American life. The number of candidates declined sharply. In normal times, about 1,500 were initiated each year. In 1934, the low point in initiations was reached with only 417 reported in the entire State. At the same time, many brethren took dimits and dropped out of the Fraternity. Many more failed to pay their dues and were, after due trial, suspended from membership in their Lodges. In 1935, no less than 1,541 such suspensions were reported. Non-affiliation became as much of a problem as it had been during the 70's of the last century.

Undoubtedly, some of those suspended for non-payment of dues were worthy brethren who were really too poor to pay but who were too proud to let their brethren know that this was so. This was a mistake, for no Masonic Lodge ever knowingly suspended a brother who was honestly unable to pay his dues. But by far the greater number of those who allowed themselves to be suspended were men who had, for one reason or another, lost interest in the Fraternity, and who, when retrenchment became necessary, regarded Masonry as something non-essential to their lives. For this condition, the Fraternity itself must be held partly to blame. During the boom years, we had made Masons so fast that we had failed to make them Masons in anything but name. We had failed to teach them what Masonry really meant, what she stood for, and what her purpose was. As most of these men had attended Lodge only at rare intervals, they had not given the gentle spirit of Masonry a chance to work its way into their hearts, and bind them to the Craft forever. In the hour of stress, it is not surprising that thousands of such nominal Masons deserted the Fraternity without regret, and almost without thought.

The decline in degree work had, at first, a bad effect on Lodge attendance, which had, even before the depression, been rather unsatisfactory for several years. The Lodge no longer enjoyed a monopoly as the outstanding male social center in the community. It found itself in competition with moving picture theatres, luncheon clubs, dance halls, and athletic events. The automobile made it easier to come to Lodge, but it also made it easier to go to town. At the same time, the radio invited Lodge members to stay in their warm homes on cold and stormy nights. Only degree work or a big feed brought out a crowd. With the scarcity of candidates, even officers sometimes felt that there was not much use in going to Lodge. However, these conditions were soon rectified, as we will see below.

The effect of the depression on Lodge finances was disastrous. Every Lodge had large amounts of uncollected dues on its books. At the same time, many Lodges, as well as the Grand Lodge itself, had part or all of their funds impounded in closed banks after the bank holiday in 1933.

At the very moment when financial conditions were steadily getting worse, the demand for Masonic charity was steadily increasing. It was indeed fortunate that the Grand Lodge had taken steps to expand its charitable program. Throughout the depression years, the Trustees of the Charity Fund annually distributed between $25,000 and $30,000 to worthy recipients. Subordinate Lodges and other Masonic bodies were also active in charitable work, the total of Masonic Charity in Maine approximating $1,000 a week. Throughout this period, R. W. Frank J. Cole served as chairman of the Committee on Distribution. It was he who handled the necessary investigations and supervised the actual relief granted by the Grand Lodge. His faithful work, in this office of responsibility, deserves the gratitude of every Mason in Maine. There is no doubt that Masonic charity performed a service of Fraternal love and care that could not have been duplicated by any other agency. That he has had his tiny part in this holy work should be a source of satisfaction to every member of the Craft.

The conditions existing during the depression presented a challenge to the Craft, which was fairly met. At no period in the history of Maine Masonry was there more enthusiastic interest shown or more devoted service performed than during these same depression years. Substitutes for degree work were found; meetings were made attractive; attendance was built up; and Masonic interest stimulated. The social phase of Masonry, which had been such a feature in Colonial times, and which had, in recent years, been somewhat neglected, was cultivated anew. In the olden days of small Lodges, degree work had been rather rare. The brethren got their principal enjoyment at Lodge meetings out of each other's society. In this way, they really got to know each other and to know Masonry from " passing the lectures " and from mutual discussions of Masonic topics. In the days of excessive degree work, such contacts had become unknown. Now they were revived. Lodge " get together meetings " were held, at which the brethren enjoyed a period of sociability and at which interesting programs were presented. These included musical numbers, group singing, question and answer periods, and similar activities in which the brethren on the sidelines could participate. There was always a feed, usually a hot oyster stew, clam chowder, or Mexican egg prepared by the Stewards. The days of free suppers were over. Depleted Lodge funds could not stand the strain and, anyway, the Grand Master had ruled that Masonic funds could not properly be used for this purpose. Consequently, return was made to the good old custom of Colonial days, whereby each brother paid for what he ate. Sometimes tickets were sold, sometimes a collection was taken up, and sometimes the food itself was brought in by the brethren from their own kitchens. In any case, the Lodge funds were untouched.

Some of the Lodges, with dramatic talent among their members, presented some of the excellent Masonic plays written by Brother Carl H. Claudy. Soon, these Lodges were busy visiting their neighbors and putting on their plays. On two occasions, plays were presented before the Grand Lodge itself. Among the Lodges engaging in this activity were Ancient Landmark of Portland, Abner Wade of Sangerville, Blazing Star of Rumford, and the Past Masters of Solar Lodge at Bath.

In the administration of Grand Master Clark D. Chapman, Symbolic Lodge Week was observed throughout the State. This was a sort of Masonic " protracted meeting " extending for four consecutive days. On the first three evenings, the work of the three degrees was exemplified; on the fourth, an educational program was presented. Re-Obligation and Re-Consecration Meetings were also held, at which the brethren present solemnly renewed their vows. The Bi-Centennial of George Washington's birth in 1932, and the 150th Anniversary of the Constitution of the United States in 1937 were generally observed by Lodges throughout the jurisdiction.

In 1933, a Committee on Masonic Education was appointed in Grand Lodge. Bro. Henry R. Gillis was the most active member of this committee and, during most of its existence, served as its chairman. This committee furnished material for special Lodge programs, distributed speeches by leading Masons, published instructional pamphlets on the three degrees and leaflets containing questions and answers on matters of Masonic interest. Under the auspices of this Committee, the Grand Lodge Speakers' Bureau was re-activated. A list was furnished to the Lodges containing the names of twenty-one speakers, who were prepared to address the brethren on a wide variety of Masonic subjects. Among the most active of these speakers were M. W. David L. Wilson, M. W. Harold E. Cooke, Wor. Ralph J. Pollard, Wor. Donald S. Higgins, and Bro. Arnold Sanborn.

At this time, there was a general revival of the ancient observance of St. John's Day. For several years, the brethren of St. George Lodge, No. 16, at Warren, breakfasted together on St. John's Sunday and then marched to the church for Services. An outstanding St. John's Day Service was that conducted by King Solomon's Lodge, No. 61, in 1938. Some 300 brethren, representing twenty-four Lodges, marched to the old German Church in Waldoboro, where Past Grand Master David L. Wilson preached a sermon on " The Light of Freemasonry." R. W. Ralph P. Stahl, D. D. G. M., was largely responsible for the success of this meeting.

All Grand Officers were active. This was particularly true of the District Deputy Grand Masters. To these faithful brethren is due most of the credit for the great Masonic activity displayed at this time. District Conventions were held in every district, many of them outstanding Masonic events. R. W. William A. Levensalor, D. D. G. M. of the Fifth District, inaugurated a system of inter-Lodge visitations which really gave a District Convention to every Lodge in the District. On June 24, 1937, the Annual Convention of the Lodges in the Second District met at Lubec with about 200 present. The work of the degrees was presented by two of the Lodges in the District. An outdoor shore dinner, consisting of beanhole beans, lobsters and clams cooked in seaweed, fish chowder, and other necessaries that go to make a perfect Down-East meal, was supplied by the members of Washington Lodge.

In 1938, Paris Lodge, No. 94, of South Paris, was host to the District Convention of the Sixteenth District, at which 586 members were registered, eighty-seven Lodges being represented. The Master Mason Degree was exemplified by Golden Rule Lodge, No. 5, of Stanstead, Quebec. Bro. Charles H. George, 104 years of age, was present at this meeting. R. W. Clarence J. Perham, D. D. G. M., was largely responsible for the success of this event.

Another very successful meeting was that conducted by Euclid Lodge, No. 194, at Madison, on the occasion of its 50th Anniversary. After partaking of banquets served in several of the local churches, more than 500 brethren marched in procession to the High School Auditorium, where the anniversary exercises took place. The Guest of Honor was R. W. Harold H. Murchie, Deputy Grand Master. D. D. G. M. Leon H. Steward was the moving spirit in this event.

On Washington's birthday in 1940, the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad ran a Masonic special from Bangor to Greenville, where more than 500 brethren were guests of Columbia Lodge, No. 200. Work in the third degree was presented and an address on " Washington and the Constitution " was delivered by one of the Grand Officers. This successful excursion was under the sponsorship of Mystic Lodge, No. 65, of Hampden, and D. D. G. M. Amos A. Carter of the Sixth District.

Charles B. Davis, the beloved Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge, died in 1931. Funeral services in the Portland Masonic Temple were conducted by the Grand Lodge. Bro. Davis was succeeded by R. W. Convers E. Leach, who had, for many years, officiated as Corresponding Grand Secretary. In 1935, the Grand Lodge Library was completely re-arranged, many new shelves being installed. The Grand Lodge Museum was established in 1936, and cases for the display of its treasures were installed. R. W. Earle D. Webster rendered efficient service as Grand Lodge Librarian.

Despite the scarcity of degree work ritualistic instruction was not neglected. There was an increase in attendance at the Schools of Instruction, conducted by Grand Lecturer Samuel B. Furbish. In 1936, by the votes of his brethren, he was elevated to the great office of Deputy Grand Master. Only a few months later, he was called to the Grand Lodge above, where the Supreme Architect of the Universe presides. His funeral was conducted by the officers of the Grand Lodge. His extensive Masonic Library was presented to the Grand Lodge and was incorporated in the Grand Lodge Library under the name of the " Samuel B. Furbish Memorial Library." Wor. Charles B. Crossland was named to succeed Bro. Furbish as Grand Lecturer.

The Grand Lodge was indeed fortunate in the brethren who were called to preside over it during this difficult period in its history. All of them rendered distinguished service and gave to the Craft the aggressive leadership that was so needed at this time.

Grand Master Cyrus N. Blanchard inaugurated the custom of holding meetings for the District Deputy Grand Masters, at which these important officers were carefully instructed in their duties by the Grand Master, the Grand Secretary, and the Grand Lecturer.

In 1931, the Grand Lodge voted the sum of $1,500 with which to install one of the six great Memorial Windows in the George Washington Memorial.

A bequest of $1,000 was received from the widow of Wor. Frederick C. Thayer, to be held by the Trustees as the Frederick C. Thayer Fund.

Bro. William R. Pattangall, Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Court, delivered an outstanding address before the Grand Lodge, 15,000 copies of which were printed and distributed to the Lodges throughout the state.

Grand Master Blanchard declined to participate in the Emergency Council of Fraternal Organizations, rightly holding that Masonry must avoid entanglement with any non-Masonic activity.

Probably the most important event in Grand Master Blanchard's administration was the adoption of Trial by Commission by the Grand Lodge of Maine. For years, the administration of Masonic justice had constituted a major problem in the life of the Fraternity. Masonic trials were often necessary, but, all too frequently, they resulted in heartache and bitterness which disrupted the harmony of the Lodge concerned. Moreover, many Lodge trials were conducted entirely by brethren without legal knowledge As a result, irregularities frequently occurred, which made it necessary for the Grand Lodge to remand the case back to the trial Lodge for a new trial. Sometimes, too, verdicts were rendered manifestly based upon favoritism or prejudice rather than upon the evidence. In such cases, it was necessary for the Grand Lodge to reverse the verdict and pronounce its own judgment according to law and evidence. Other jurisdictions, notably Massachusetts, had been employing the Trial by Commission system for many years, Maine watched this experiment with interest. Now, convinced of its success, she adopted it for herself. Hereafter, the actual trial of Masonic charges was before a Board of Commissioners of Trials appointed by the Grand Master. On this Board could always be found brethren learned in the law, whose membership insured the observance of all proper legal methods. The first Chairman of the Commission was Judge Harold E. Cooke, Past Grand Master.

It was the fortune of Grand Master Ernest C. Butler to represent the Grand Lodge of Maine at several highly important Masonic ceremonials outside the state. On May 12, 1932, he participated in the dedication of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial at Alexandria, Va. Accompanying him were Deputy Grand Master Clark D. Chapman, Senior Grand Warden Augustus E. Campbell, Junior Grand Warden George F. Giddings, Grand Treasurer Herbert N. Maxfield, Grand Secretary Convers E. Leach, and Past Grand Masters Ashley A. Smith, Thomas H. Bodge, David L. Wilson, and Harold E. Cooke.

In 1933, Grand Master Butler represented our Grand Lodge at the Bi-Centennial of our Mother Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

In July of 1933, Grand Master Butler and Grand Secretary Leach were present at the dedication of the great Peace Memorial Temple in London, England.

M. W. Clark D. Chapman was an extremely active Grand Master. He corresponded with the Masters of all Lodges and visited every Masonic District in the state. In his administration, the Act of Incorporation of the Grand Lodge was amended to allow the holding of larger amounts of real and personal property; the beautiful new Masonic Temple at Ellsworth dedicated; the " Masters Book," by Bro. Carl H. Claudy, furnished to all subordinate Lodges; an additional $500 contributed to the George Washington Memorial; and legislation adopted requiring the lapse of at least fourteen days between the acceptance of a candidate and the conferring of the first degree. Grand Master Chapman had the pleasure of raising his own son during his tenure of office.

Maine had long been a Prohibition State. Therefore, no especial Masonic legislation on the liquor question had been necessary. With the repeal of Prohibition, this question had to be met. Grand Master Chapman did not temporize, but met the issue squarely. His decision stated, " Masonic law not only requires us to conform to the law of the State but also the moral law. We must at all times avoid all irregularity and intemperance and be particularly careful to preserve unsullied, the reputation of our Fraternity. All Lodges must, therefore, exclude all such liquors from Masonic Temples and Lodge rooms and from Masonic banquets.

No premises controlled directly or indirectly by a Masonic Lodge shall be occupied for the sale of such liquors."

In 1935, the Grand Lodge, on recommendation of Grand Master Chapman, adopted the Maine Veterans' Medal to be presented to each Master Mason in Maine who shall have been a Master Mason in this jurisdiction in good standing continuously for fifty years. During the next year, approximately 600 of these treasured tokens were presented to qualified brethren.

Grand Lodge Medals

During the administration of Grand Master Henry R. Gillis, a beautiful engrossed Memorial was dispatched to the Grand Lodge of Scotland on the occasion of its Bi-Centennial Observance. New Masonic Halls at Sabattus, Pittsfield, and Calais were dedicated. An additional $500 was voted to the George Washington Memorial and a campaign conducted to secure the sum of $1.00 from each new member joining the Fraternity since 1932. The Sesqui-Centennial of the United States Constitution was fittingly observed.

Grand Master George F. Giddings was extremely active in the work of visitation. He made seventy-four visitations during his first year in office and eighty-six during his second year. The cornerstones of the United States Post Office at Dover-Foxcroft, and the United States Post Office at Dexter were laid in ample form. The address at Dexter was delivered by Bro. Ralph Owen Brewster, Member of Congress. New halls were dedicated at Fryeburg, Monmouth, Wayne and Bucksport. Plymouth Lodge, No. 75, and Archon Lodge, No. 139, were consolidated. A contribution was made for the relief of Austrian brethren persecuted by the Nazis after the invasion of their country. A special Committee on Grand Honors, after a study of this subject, made recommendations which were adopted by the Grand Lodge.

At a largely attended meeting of Augusta Lodge, No. 141, at which all chairs were filled by the Grand Officers, M. W. Bro. Giddings had the pleasure of raising his youngest son to the sublime degree of a Master Mason. Another memorable communication of Augusta Lodge was that at which " Legislative Night " was observed, all chairs being filled by members of the State Legislature, then in session.

Grand Master Giddings was prompt to terminate the activities of a gift enterprise scheme known as " The Winners Blanket Club," which was seeking to do business with the Lodges in this state.

In 1939, the Grand Lodge affirmed the Declaration of Principles, discussed at the Grand Masters' Conference of the United States In the same year, the Grand Lodge established a decoration of honor for Distinguished Service to Freemasonry, known as the Josiah Hayden Drummond Medal. Rigidly guarded, and strictly limited in numbers, this decoration has become one of the most, coveted and exclusive honors in the Masonic world. Since its establishment, this great honor has been conferred upon the following brethren:

M. W. Joseph Earl Perry Massachusetts
M. W. Melvin M. Johnson Massachusetts
M. W. Frederick W. Hamilton Massachusetts
M. W. Ashley A. Smith Maine
M. W. Thomas H. Bodge Maine
M. W. Cyrus N. Blanchard Maine
M. W. Ernest C. Butler Maine
M. W. Clark D. Chapman Maine
M. W. Henry R. Gillis Maine
R. W. Convers E. Leach Maine
R. W. Frank J. Cole Maine
M. W. George F. Giddings Maine
M. W. Charles H. Johnson New York
M. W. Albert A. Schaefer Massachusetts
R. W. Ralph J. Pollard Maine
M. W. Harold H. Murchie Maine
M. W. Walter W. Williamson Quebec
M. W. Charles E. Crossland Maine
M. W. Benjamin L. Hadley Maine

 

In 1939, Grand Master Giddings and Grand Secretary Leach attended the ceremonies incident to the installation of H. R. H. the Duke of Kent as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England. The installation ceremony was performed by M. W. Bro. His Majesty the King. The Maine delegation also visited Scotland with its many ancient Lodges and rich Masonic associations.

Our Grand Masters have been regular attendants on the Grand Masters' Conferences held at Washington, D. C. Since 1931, our Grand Secretaries have participated in the Grand Secretaries' Conferences held annually at the same time and place. In 1940, great honor came to Maine when M. W. George F. Giddings was elected Chairman of the Grand Masters' Conference of the United States.

Despite the depression, the condition of the Craft in 1940 was extremely healthy. The effect of the depression had been salutary. We had lost members and money, but we had been obliged to think, to work, and to live our Masonry. Enthusiasm was high. The Grand Lodge counted 206 Lodges on its rolls, with a membership of 35,132. The largest Lodge was now St. Andrews, No. 83, of Bangor, with 785 members. The smallest Lodge was still Excelsior, No. 151, of Northport, with twenty-four members. The average Lodge membership was 170. The invested Charity Fund amounted to $225,787.

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