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The Mysterious Painting

By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA

Walking around the antiquated rooms of Jephtha Lodge, I am constantly searching for clues that uncover forgotten memories, broaden the history of our lodge and its place in Huntington for over 160 years. Patience, determination, enthusiasm and, above all, curiosity are the main attributes of a lodge historian. Short of donning a dusty fedora and cracking a leather whip, the “fortune and glory” that many may envision is usually tempered by long hours of internet research. We need to “forget any ideas about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and “X” never, ever marks the spot.”

But the “X” may be right in front of our faces everyday we walk into our lodge room.

Masonic lodge historical records sometimes suffer from the lack of detailed provenance of an artifact’s origins. It is exceedingly rare a lodge historian or trustee is trained in the skill of database management or basic record keeping. Many times, the historian will be required to pore over the thousands of pages of lodge-meeting-minute-books to uncover a brief detail from where a piece of the lodge history originated. Illegible handwritten notes aside, digital scanning documents does not alleviate the challenges in research, and an archivist would still need to implement optical character recognition (OCR) to enable the search function in a converted PDF document for more manageability.

But one recent discovery started a long path based on just one word, or in this specific case, one name. 

On display in our lodge room for several years without any details of its origins is a 3’ x 2’painting that depicts the builders of King Solomon’s Temple. Simply signed on the bottom right corner “Gerard Tempest,” my interest in this unknown and overlooked piece got the best of me.

My first instinct was to look up the list of all Jephtha Lodge members dating to 1860 to see if we ever had a member with the name “Tempest.” When that option was exhausted, the next step was to photograph the painting with a closeup of the signature and resume the research on my home computer during my spare time.

My google search turned up an intriguing discovery, but it was so extraordinary, my skepticism restrained any premature enthusiasm. Gerard Francis Tempest (1918-2009) was a painter, sculptor and architect and is considered the father of Abstract Spiritualism. The painting the lodge has on display is far from any form of abstract art. Additional research led me to Gerard Tempest III’s widow, Connie, wife of the artist’s eldest son.

His widow referred me to her brother-in-law, John Tempest, an accomplished artist in his own right and a renowned expert of his father’s work. I doubted this painting was a Tempest original as it did not fall into his usual style of surrealism which kept my enthusiasm restrained, but I noticed some early portraits on his official website to which this piece may be similar.

Gerard Francis Tempest

John Tempest’s reply to my email and attached photos stunned me.

“Yes, it’s original. I can tell by his handwork and colorization. I assisted him in his last 20 years of painting. He painted it during the period we lived at the Villa Tempesta from 1959-66 in Chapel Hill NC. Next door to the Villa was a Masonic Temple that must have commissioned him.”

The Italian born Tempest, the protégé of Giorgio de Chirico, the forerunner of Surrealism, received the Gold Medal at the Cannes Art Festival in 1987 and was honored by the Holy See during the reign of Pope John Paul II. His work became a part of the permanent collection of the Vatican Museum in 1982 and 1990.

Tempest’s impressive resume also includes his time as an allied officer during World War II, serving under General Omar Bradley in the 82nd Airborne Division. Tempest fought in campaigns all over Europe, including Normandy on D-Day, the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge, and with the French Underground in the Liberation of Paris. One of the main characters in the film Is Paris Burning? (1966) is said to have been based on him. Tempest received the Bronze Star Medal in 1944 and designed the 101st Airborne Division’s insignia, the “Screaming Eagle”.

There are no records that Gerard Tempest was a Freemason. I reached out to University Lodge No. 408 A.F. & A. M. in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the lodge located next to Tempest’s home, Villa Tempesta, between 1959-1966.  Brothers of University No. 408 and I have started a correspondence but unfortunately has been delayed due to the current pandemic crisis which has prevented them from further research.

One Masonic brother shared an interesting hypothesis that this piece may not be a commissioned work. While most present members of University No. 408 may not remember when the lodge was originally built in 1960, it is known that it required major excavation for the building to be constructed at the same elevation next to the Villa Tempesta. The area also witnessed major road relocation during the early years of Tempest’s residency.

The Villa Tempest today is Whitehall Antiques.

The brother continued, “Considering Mr. Tempest’s abilities as an artist, is it not possible, with all this going on around the Villa, he transposed the real into the surreal qualities of the painted temple’s construction?” The brother continued, “I remember the road project, but the Villa was under construction. I can see the connection between our lodge and the amazing painting. The realignment of Franklin Street was the end of the Village of Chapel Hill and the beginning of the Town of Chapel Hill as we know it today. I choose to believe that while the painting gives the appearance of surrealism it is Mr. Tempest’s view of his surroundings during that time. “

The mysterious painting has partly revealed itself to the members of Jephtha Lodge, but there are several unanswered questions. Was the painting commissioned by University Lodge No. 408? When was it painted? Was Tempest inspired by the construction around his villa when he was in North Carolina? How did the painting end up over 500 miles away at Jephtha Lodge in Huntington, New York?  And was Gerard Tempest a freemason?

The mystery continues…

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34 Masons, a Mason’s Son and a Goat Capture Block Island

By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA

Over the course of the history of Freemasonry, brothers had the ability to travel to Masonic lodges other than their home lodge to share in fellowship with other recognized lodges. It is possible for several brothers from one lodge to travel as a group to other lodges for degrees, table lodges or special communications. Several brothers of Jephtha Lodge No. 494 not only travelled to another Masonic lodge, but to another Masonic district in a different state.

Block Island, Rhode Island
Jephtha and Atlantic Lodge members, 1922

 
On June 2, 1922 Right Worshipful Ambrose W. Rose, District Deputy Grand Master of the Suffolk Masonic District and Past Master of Jephtha (1919), led a delegation of 12 Past Masters, 22 Brothers, a son of a Past Master who was waiting to be of age to join the lodge, and a goat on a trip by sea to Block Island, Rhode Island.  The occasion was to meet with Worshipful Lester Littlefield, Master of Atlantic Lodge No. 31 and nephew to Brother Rose for a special travelling lodge.

It was through the kindness of Worshipful Emmett B. Hawkins (1895-98; 1909-10) that a delegation of over 35 Huntingtonians had the opportunity of going on this trip. It was Hawkins, also affectionately known as “Cappy” to his brothers, said, according to contemporary accounts, “Well boys, I will take the old Isaac Sherwood and the whole lodge can travel on her.”

So, with “Cappy” at the wheel and Brother Henry A. Murphy in charge of the commissary, with some assistance from Worshipful Russel Young (1917), the sendoff party started off at Archer’s Dock in Huntington Harbor at 8AM on a Friday morning, with Jack Cushing blowing the fire whistle to start the long trip. 

By the time the ship of Masons reached the Huntington lighthouse, a small rowboat was coming up behind the Isaac Sherwood with a man in the bow giving a distress sign that only fellow Masons would recognize. The twin engines in the Isaac Sherwood were stopped and silence crept aboard the ship, a silence so deafening one could hear a pin drop. A line was shot across the little rowboat which carried dedicated Brother “Uncle” Sam Horn, late for the early morning departure strictly called by “Cappy.” Big Ernest Carlsson and Elbert Fleet assisted the unpunctual Uncle Sam aboard the Isaac Sherwood and the party continued its long-distance trip. While travelling on Long Island Sound, Worshipful Murphy called out, “Dinner is now being served!”  Cappy later stated he “never saw such a well-trained gang of men in all the years he had travelled the water.” The crew and brothers were fed a hearty feast, including fruit, pies, cake, sardines, and anything else that might have been in ship’s cupboards. After dinner and coffee, the card tables were rearranged for a night of gambling. It was at this moment it was realized the unnamed committee forgot to bring any prizes, leading the brothers to play for actual peanuts.

The strong headwind and tide the Isaac Sherwood faced on this cool Friday evening, Cappy decided to anchor in Gardiner’s Bay for the night and expected to weigh anchor at sunrise on Saturday. The sun failed to be seen through the thick fog the following morning and Brother Clarence Cutting remarked “It had not been seen since yesterday.” Because of the thick fog, the party did not set sail for Plum Island until 7:30AM and were unable to find the eastern island for over five hours.

Eureka Hotel, Block Island

The Isaac Sherwood finally reached the Block Island dock by 1:45 PM, with Worshipful Lester Littlefield and his landing crew patiently awaiting the arrival of the visiting brothers from Jephtha Lodge. Littlefield yelled out at the approaching ship that he just received a telegram from Right Worshipful Douglass Conklin, Past Master of Jephtha (1886-87; 1899), that the new District Deputy was on board. The excited brothers from Atlantic Lodge gathered on the dock to shake hands with the new District Deputy affectionately nicknamed “Rosie.”

A list of several brothers with a case of “sea sickness blues” was recorded in the archives of Jephtha, with the caveat that “nothing is against a man being seasick.” As the brothers from Huntington disembarked the Isaac Sherwood, some of the early settlers of Block Island were gathering outside to witness the visiting Masonic brothers.

The Master Mason Degree was conferred in full form at Atlantic Lodge No. 31, Block Island, Rhode Island by Jephtha Lodge No. 494, Huntington, New York. After the degree work was completed, both lodges retired to the banquet room of the Eureka Hotel, where proprietor Ollie Rose prepared an elaborate feast.

At the conclusion of the banquet, “Cappy” Hawkins initiated all the members of Atlantic Lodge into the Order of the Turtles and gave the Block Island lodge the power to confer the order at any time during his absence. The drinking fraternity traces its origins to an English pub in 1943, loosely organized by a group of fighter pilots complete with an initiation ceremony, grip and passwords. The discovery of the Order of the Turtles in 1922 predates the “official” start of the fraternity by 21 years, an interesting revelation that will need further research.

The Jephtha brothers departed from Block Island at 9AM on Sunday morning and arrived at Huntington Harbor at 6AM on Monday morning. Everyone was happy and ready for the next trip to Block Island, which there would be many, except for Brother Tang, who said he would rather “fill up the holes here on dry land than to fill up in Long Island Sound.” Senior Warden Kurt J. Galow and Junior Master of Ceremonies Louis Sammis were the men before the mast and nightwatchmen, ensuring that everyone was made comfortable during their watch.

The infamous, yet unnamed goat, of which Jephtha was so proud as their travelling mascot, was presented to the brothers of Atlantic Lodge, which received the high honor as the only goat on Block Island in 1922. The lack of DNA evidence cannot confirm if this goat were a direct descendent to one of the many goats Brother George W. Dowling rode, as reported in an 1886 edition of the Long Islander.

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Bully! In Search of the lost origins of the Mysterious Water Buffalo Head

By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA

No current furnishing, artifact, or memorabilia has been discussed in Jephtha Lodge more than the mysterious African water buffalo head mounted on a second-floor wall. Some of the wild conspiracy theories include the long-held legacy than the mighty beast was hunted and killed by nearby resident and Brother Theodore Roosevelt and personally delivered to the Huntington lodge by the former President.

As our late Brother coined over one hundred years ago, “Bully!”

The Expeditions of Theodore Roosevelt

Our mystery commences in February 1915, when Theodore Roosevelt delivered a lecture entitled “My Masonic Experiences in South America and Africa” to his local masonic brothers residing near his home in Cove Neck. An invitation went out to the members of his own Matinecock No. 806 and their parent lodge, Jephtha No. 494 in Huntington. It is estimated over 30 Jephtha brothers from Huntington trekked over to Roosevelt’s home in Sagamore Hill, including one of his second degree examiners, R:.W:. Douglass Conklin for this exclusive gathering. While in Africa, Roosevelt did find time to visit a masonic lodge in Nairobi, in the British colony of Kenya, but the focus was clearly on his hunting exploits.

Roosevelt’s first expedition started just 19 days after the conclusion of his final term as President. Organized by the Smithsonian Institute to collect specimens for their new Natural History Museum, the small group was led by legendary hunter-tracker R. J. Cunninghame and set sail for East Africa on March 23, 1909. By the end of the trip over 10 months later, the team killed or trapped approximately 11,397 specimens, including 512 by Roosevelt and his son Kermit. Roosevelt kept a detailed diary of his adventures and later published the exact list of his kills in the book “African Game Trails.”  The variety of big game personally hunted by the former president was extraordinary, including lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, elephant, white rhino, the now exceedingly rare black rhino and ten buffalos-six by the former president and four by his son Kermit.

Roosevelt stated in his book, “Kermit and I kept about a dozen trophies for ourselves; otherwise, we shot nothing that was not used either as a museum specimen or for meat…the mere size of the bag indicates little as to a man’s prowess as a hunter, and almost nothing as to the interest or value of his achievement.” If Roosevelt’s claim that the family only kept one dozen for themselves is accurate, a tour through the Sagamore Hill home would count for most if not all these specimens.

Roosevelt later led a scientific survey expedition in South America between December 1913 to April 1914 to follow the path of the Rio da Dúvida in the Amazon basin. The problematic tour including many members coming down with malaria, poorly supplied food leading to starvation diets, one person drowning, one person murdered, and his accused killer left behind in the jungle to perish. Roosevelt himself was near death after having received a gash in his leg that later became infected. Roosevelt returned to New York greatly weakened and never fully recovering, dying at his Cove Neck home less than five years later. There is no record of Roosevelt hunting for buffalo in South America.

Roosevelt started giving lectures in May 1914 in part to silence the critics doubting he discovered the river and made the exhibition. These series of lectures included his invitation-only event to Oyster Bay  and Huntington Freemasons in February 1915. Unfortunately, there are no known records of the lodge receiving a prized water buffalo head from Roosevelt.

A Forgotten Sale from a Coroner

But Roosevelt was not the only big game hunter to cross paths with Jephtha Lodge. On February 15, 1937, Jephtha Lodge took possession of nine taxidermied animal parts from Dr. William B. Gibson in exchange for one dollar of American currency. The list of stuffed animal parts included two large, mounted moose heads; two mounted deer heads; two mounted caribou heads; two mounted deer hoofs and one moose horn. The bill of sale was accepted by W:. Allison E. Lowndes, Past Master (1922) and longtime Trustee of Jephtha and filed in the archives by W:. Herman Chris Lorck, Secretary (1935-1944) and Past Master of Jephtha (1932).

There is no known connection between Dr. Gibson and Jephtha Lodge. He was not raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason, nor is there any record of a petition. There is also no recorded proof that Gibson hunted the mammals or if he acquired the pieces from an intermediary.

William B. Gibson (1855-1941) was born in Clarenceville, Quebec, Canada to Dr. John B. (b. Scotland) and Lucy S. Baker Gibson. In 1878, he obtained his medical degree from McGill Medical College (now McGill University) in Quebec. Gibson practiced medicine in London for one year, before returning to Dunham, Quebec. Between 1878-1885, he was an Assistant Surgeon of the 60th Canadian Regiment, obtaining the rank of Major in a commission signed by Queen Victoria. Appointed to the Medical Department at the University of Vermont in 1885, Gibson lectured on materia medica and obstetrics until 1889.

Gibson moved to Huntington, New York in 1891, living on 153 Main Street (1900 -1920) and 71 New Street (1930-41). Elected President of the Queens and Nassau Counties Medical Society and Associated Physicians of Long Island in 1901, Gibson was the Suffolk County Coroner for several decades. In 1880 he married Amelia Caroline Moore, and they had two sons, Gordon, and Frederick.

The big game trophies from the collection of Dr. Gibson have long vanished from the rooms of Jephtha Lodge. Although water buffalo is not listed as part of Gibson’s former collection, there is no evidence that his items were acquired in the African continent.

In Search of Additional Evidence

We can determine that the mounted head on the second floor is a water buffalo based on its horns growing slightly downward and backward, then curve upward in a spiral. More common in Asia, water or river buffalo, can be found in Egypt. But Roosevelt’s safari was in the sub-Saharan part of Africa, miles away from the northeast corner of Egypt and based on photographic evidence, Roosevelt only hunted cape buffalo.

The water buffalo was introduced in the Amazon river basin in 1895, which was part of Roosevelt’s 1913-14 exhibition. Because of the challenging South American survey trip, including almost facing death, it is not believed Roosevelt did any hunting in the continent during his three months stay.

The origin story of the old water buffalo staring out to curious onlookers with its glass eyes in the small second floor room will remain a mystery for the time being. It does not stop brothers from spinning tales to unsuspecting visitors that Jephtha Lodge’s connection to Long Island’s most famous freemason is more than a proficiency examiner and personal lecturer. The framed picture of the former president with one of his African prizes still hangs adjacent to the mounted head, with a black and blue masonic baseball cap on one of its horns. The evidence is not clear, but Jephtha lodge members can carry the infamous legacy forward as a distinct possibility if not a certainty, the TR Buffalo can retain its moniker.

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A Gift from the Honolulu Sandwich Islands

By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA

Masonic lodge historians do not realize the wealth of history is at their fingertips until they start digging through 100-year-old safes, dusty boxes, and stuffed closets. Add these discoveries to the endless amount of archived material on the web, and long buried lodge treasures can expand narratives that contribute to the history of their local lodge.

Officer gavels from handcrafted artisans in the Honolulu Sandwich Islands, 1886

One such discovery was uncovered while cataloging Jephtha’s archives dating to the mid-nineteenth century. On December 27, 1886, Brother Alfred M. Mellis donated three wooden gavels to Jephtha Lodge, hand carved by craftsmen from the Honolulu Sandwich Islands. The three officer gavels from were made of native woods, each adorned with the Master’s square, the Senior Warden’s level and Junior Warden’s plumb in metal, and engraved with inscriptions to “Jephtha 494, Huntington L.I. from Brother A.M. Mellis, December 27, 5886.” Although there is one piece missing from the Master’s gavel, each piece is unused and in perfect condition, the same quality when Jephtha’s brethren received this gift 134 years ago.

Advertisement for Alfred M. Mellis in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, April 23, 1881

 

Lodge Secretary W:. Hewlett J. Long recorded in part, “Brother Mellis by this remembrance, has practically demonstrated in his tenet of our profession of brotherly love which unites men of every country, sect and opinion and considers his friendship among those who might otherwise remained at perpetual distance. “ This gift was one of the memorable events during the first of three terms in the east for W:. Douglass Conklin.

Brother Alfred M. Mellis was born in Austria in 1849 and immigrated to the Kingdom of Hawaii from San Francisco in August 1877. The 5’4”, 160lbs married shirt maker had black hair and a mole on the left side of his nose with his “face full complexion dark,” according to a Hawaiian Register in 1896. Our generous brother was a member of an unnamed eastern lodge of Masons in Hawaii, Past Excelsior Lodge of Odd Fellows and a member of the Daughters of Rebekah’s, a branch of the Odd Fellows.  A longtime Rabbi, Mellis often officiated at funerals and on Jewish holidays. After dissolving a business partnership with Charles J. Fishel in 1880, Mellis started a retail establishment on 104 Fort Street, Brewer’s Block in Honolulu, part of a large shopping district in the 1800’s. Advertising “Dry and Fancy Goods!” the company sold clothing and house linens for several years. Brother Mellis died suddenly in 1906 at his home on 1187 Garden Lane in Hawaii, soon after attending an Oddfellows meeting.

There are no records available that can trace Brother Mellis’s personal connection to Jephtha Lodge, almost 5000 miles from his home in Hawaii. It can be assumed that his work in the linen trade enabled him to travel to New York for business on occasion. If Brother Mellis made more than one trip to New York, he may of added the engravings in Honolulu as part of his gift. If not, it’s possible that Jephtha Lodge added the inscribed metallic officers’ jewels later. At this time, we cannot be certain who or when the engravings were added, but we can be certain the native woods used for the gavel carvings are koa, lychee or mango, based on preliminary comparative research.

First draft of W:. Hewlett J. Long’s notes on Brother Mellis’s gift, 1886

 

This “excellent handiwork of the artisans” as Brother Long recorded, was pleasing to the members of Jephtha in 1886 and after carefully stored in the lodge safe for over one hundred years, can once again be appreciated by brothers in the 21st century in the Jephtha Masonic Museum.

The Birth of Hawaiian Freemasonry

Freemasonry was established in Hawaii in 1843 with the Lodge Le Progrès de l’Océanie No. 124 of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of the Supreme Council of France, the first lodge chartered in the Sandwich Islands and possibly the first founded in the Pacific and west of the Rocky Mountains. Many of the original members were American and European shopkeepers, farmers, and mariners. It is estimated that one-third of the merchants in the Honolulu Sandwich Islands were Masons by the late 1840’s, each facilitating business and social contacts.

In 1852, the Grand Lodge of California chartered the Hawaiian Lodge, and later became the authorized Masonic body in Hawaii from 1902 until 1989. Kamehameha IV was the first reigning Hawaiian monarch to become a Freemason in 1857, followed by his brother Prince Lot Kamehameha (later Kamehameha V) into the fraternity. These added members to local Masonry may have contributed to the growing interest in the fraternity with the locals. Many public buildings in Honolulu had their cornerstones laid with Masonic ceremonies, including Iolani Palace in 1882, the only authentic royal palace in the United States. In the late nineteenth century, two Hawaiian lodges were chartered from the Grand Lodge of France and the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The Grand Lodge of Hawaii was established in 1989.

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The Seven Founding Brothers of Jephtha Masonic Lodge

By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA

What do two shipbuilders, a ship’s captain, two farmers, a former Democratic U.S Congressman, a local active Republican and a disgraced freemason have in common? They are the seven charter members of Jephtha Masonic Lodge No. 494 in Huntington.

The First Meeting

Nineteenth century bearded man in suit
Francis Olmsted

The charter members William H. King, Jesse Carll, David Carll, John H. Jarvis, Phineas E. Sills and Charles A. Floyd laid the foundation of Jephtha Lodge at a meeting in the home of Francis Olmsted (1820-1901) in Northport on December 21, 1859, for the “purpose of taking into consideration the feasibility of establishing a Lodge in the Village of Huntington.”

It was unanimously agreed to submit an application to the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of New York to form a Lodge. The application and $40 fee were submitted to Grand Secretary of Masons in New York on December 23, 1859.

The name “Jephtha” is based on a character in the Old Testament who served as one of the Judges in Israel for a period of six years (Judges 12:7) between the conquest of Canaan and the first king. Jephtha lived in Gilead and was a member of the Tribe of Manasseh.

The Planning Stage

The charter members first met in the sloop Rebecca in Huntington Harbor throughout January 1860. The brothers prepared themselves with the many initial plans and ritual work required to operate a masonic lodge. Captain John Knight guarded the door for any trespassers that may disrupt the secret meetings. The future freemason kept a pot of coffee heated in the forecastle of the yacht for the busy members during these frigid winter nights.

Lithograph of American Yacht
The Yacht Rebecca, New York Autumn Regatta first place, 1858

The first official meeting was held in a room over S.T. Shadbolt’s Harness Shop in Huntington Village on January 28, 1860. The purpose of this initial meeting was to elect the seven charter members to their respective officer stations. Other items on the agenda included obtaining an extended lease for future meetings and forming a committee to obtain the necessary regalia.

The Charter Members

William H. King was the acting Worshipful Master of Joppa Lodge No. 201 in Brooklyn during the initial planning meetings. Born in Maine in 1825, the 35-year-old farmer raised three children in Centerport with his wife Jane. The first registered brother and Master in three out the first four years for Jephtha (1860-61, 1863), King and Jonas Pearsall were instrumental in purchasing the property the lodge is currently located. At the dedication of Alcyone Masonic Lodge No. 695 in Northport in 1869, King was the acting Grand Secretary. King officially demitted from Jephtha Lodge on April 26, 1875 after his move out of state.

Nineteenth century bearded man in suit
Jesse Carll

Shipbuilder Jesse Carll (1833-1902) was brother number 2 of Jephtha and the lodge’s first Senior Warden. Later elected as the second Master in 1862, Carll was originally raised in Charter Oak No 249 in New York City. Carll was also a charter member of Alcyone No. 659 in Northport in 1869, where he redirected his masonic responsibilities, forcing him to demit from Jephtha. The Carll Shipyard was the most successful shipbuilder in Northport for over 40 years in the late nineteenth century.

Jesse Carll’s brother David (1831-1917) of Charter Oak No 249 was elected the first Senior Deacon. David Carll was partners with his brother Jesse in the Carll Shipyard and later demitted from Jephtha for unknown reasons.

Phineas Bryan Sills (1813-1869) was a farmer originally raised a mason in Joppa Lodge No 201 and was the lodge’s first Treasurer. Sills has the distinction of being the first member to be suspended indefinitely from Jephtha Lodge for unmasonic conduct in 1861.

Nineteenth century bearded man in suit
Jonas Higbie

Jephtha’s first Junior Deacon was Jonas Smith Higbie (1821-1907). Raised a mason in Charter Oak No 249 in 1854, Higbie demitted from Jephtha Lodge on September 28, 1868 to become a charter member of Alcyone Lodge in Northport.

Born in Centerport, Higbie was a ship’s captain for decades, for a time running the Storm Cloud, a 195-ton vessel built by fellow charter member Jesse Carll. During the Civil War, Higbie served as an officer for the Union Navy and engaged in several successful conflicts. After the war he traded supplies in the West Indies, was active with the local Republican party and was a Commander for the local Grand Army of the Republic Post. The first Jephtha brother to file a U.S. Patent in 1865, his expertise on the water informed his design for an improved boat rudder. After his death, the Jonas S. Higbie Council No. 71, Junior Order of United Auto Mechanics of Northport was founded in his honor.

daguerreotype  of two young brothers during Civil War
John Jarvis and his brother Thomas, 1863

John Hewlett Jarvis (b. 1837) of Lexington No. 310 on Court and Montague Streets, New York City was elected as Jephtha’s first Junior Warden. Jarvis was a yeoman in Brooklyn, which duties delayed his first day as Junior Warden until the fourth stated communication. Jarvis later decided that his responsibilities in Brooklyn were preventing him to attend regular meetings, forcing he decision to demit from the lodge in 1871.

Charles Albert Floyd (1791-1873) was the only charter member of Jephtha to be raised a mason on Long Island (1813). Floyd was elected Worshipful Master of Suffolk No 60 in Port Jefferson five times (1818-20, 1824-25) and was the last master of Suffolk No 60 before the lodge ceased meetings due to the anti-masonic period in the 1820’s. Floyd was a founding member of the reorganized Suffolk No 401 in Port Jefferson in 1856 and was elected Jephtha’s first Secretary. The son of John Floyd, a member from Long Island’s first masonic lodge Huntington No. 26, and charter member of Suffolk No 60 in 1796, the younger Floyd was dropped from Jephtha’s membership on April 26, 1869 for unknown reasons.  

Pursing agriculture interests in Commack, Floyd served as Suffolk County Clerk (1820-21), District Attorney (1830), New York State Assembly (1836 and 1838), Huntington Board of Trustees (1837-1840), Suffolk County Judge and Town Supervisor of Huntington (1843-1865). Elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-seventh U.S. Congress (1841-43), Floyd was in session during the one-month administration of William Henry Harrison, the first President to die while in office.

The diverse backgrounds of these seven charter members gave the fledging lodge decades worth of education, cultural and personal traits that enabled freemasonry to prosper in the developing north shore village. Although these seven brothers’ time at Jephtha only lasted a few years, their determined groundwork in forming the lodge is a fitting chapter of the new fraternity in Huntington. Within twelve months, 46 new members were raised master masons in Jephtha Lodge, more than a 600% growth from the cold and uncertain planning days in January 1860. It is a testament to these founders that the lodge continues the tradition of accepting a wide variety of members over one hundred and sixty years after the first meeting.

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Nathan Hale: The Masonic Lodge That Never Was

By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA

Since 1866, Jephtha Lodge brothers were charter members of several other lodges, including Glen Cove No. 580, Alcyone No. 695 in Northport, and Matinecock No. 806 in Oyster Bay. To request a dispensation for a new Masonic Lodge, a group of local brothers are required to petition nearby lodges for permission to form, addressing issues such has regional boundary jurisdiction, qualified charter members, and ritual proficiency. In most cases, new lodges are granted dispensation and start the procedure to obtain a charter from Grand Lodge of Masons in New York.

Nathan Hale
The execution of American spy Nathan Hale, September 22, 1776.

Over the course of three years in the mid-1920’s, two separate proposals were presented to a Stated Communication to form a lodge in Huntington Station, five miles from Jephtha. In both cases, the matter was either withdrawn or rejected and involved two brothers: Eugene Theodore Geissinger (1896-1966) of Island City Lodge No. 586 and Albert S. Walling of Long Island No. 382. Little is known of these two non-Jephtha brothers residing in Huntington Station, their reasons to form a lodge near Jephtha and no records have been found that either were elected officers of any lodge in New York.

The first petition was received and read into the Stated Communication on September 28, 1925, but formerly withdrawn on October 12, 1925 from brothers Geissinger, Walling and Voorhees Allen Herbert (1887-1960). No reason was given for the withdrawal.

Between 1920 and 1927, 14 new lodges were formed in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Grand Lodge had to add districts for the fast expanding fraternity and in May 1927, the Long Island Masonic District was divided into two separate districts: Nassau and Suffolk. At the time, there were 14 masonic lodges in Suffolk county and 18 lodges in Nassau county, including the newly formed Garden City No. 1083. It was believed the time was ripe to form a new lodge on Long Island.

A few months after the formation of the new districts, on October 10, 1927, a group of eight brother’s once again petitioned Jephtha to form a lodge in Huntington Station and proposed to name it Nathan Hale Lodge.

Legend has it that when American soldier and spy Nathan Hale was asked if he had any last words after being led to the gallows in 1776, he supposedly replied with his infamous quote, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” The small hamlet of Halesite in Huntington Harbor was named after the Revolutionary War first lieutenant, near the location the spy was ferried across from Connecticut to gather intel on British occupied Long Island.

Nathan Hale Memorial, Huntington

Despite all these accomplishments, there is no recorded proof that Nathan Hale was a Freemason. The brothers probably chose the name for the patriotic spirit a fallen hero over the local poet Walt Whitman, whose birthplace was in nearby West Hills, and may have experienced more interaction with Freemasons when he tended wounded soldiers during the Civil War.

In the early twentieth century, Huntington Station was centered around the Long Island Railroad Station and the Fair Grounds, an area between present day Depot Road and Lenox Road. The Fair Grounds included a one-mile horse racing track with a 1500 seat grandstand and open fields. By 1911, the area was renamed Huntington Station and beginning in 1921, the Fair Grounds was subdivided into residential properties. Several of the proposers for the new lodge, resided in the area once known as the Fair Grounds.

The Nathan Hale Lodge proposal recommended the following members: Albert S. Walling from Long Island No. 382 for Worshipful Master; Eugene T. Geissinger from Island City No. 586 for Senior Warden; Herman Ehntholdt from Jephtha No. 494 for Junior Warden. The other petitioners were David Ehntholdt from Island City No. 586; Rasmus Rasmussen from Guiding Star No. 565; David MacLetchie from Howard No. 35; Karl Christiansen and George Pike from Jephtha.

Most of the petitioners were members of lodges as far away as Bronx and Manhattan but had homes in Huntington Station. Only two of the eight brothers were from Jephtha. No records can be found on the “third” Jephtha petitioner Herman Ehntholdt.

The only petitioner to be raised at Jephtha was the Swedish born Karl Christiansen (1872-1951). Later becoming a life member of Jephtha, Christiansen was a survivor of the U.S.S. Maine disaster in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. Serving 24 years (1895-1919) in the United States Navy, Christiansen was a veteran of the Philippine Insurrection and the Boxer Rebellion. After his retirement, Christiansen was a custodian in the Huntington Station School for 15 years.

George Chamberlain Pike (1874-1956) affiliated with Jephtha from Putnam Lodge No. 338 in 1923. Pike’s occupation was a stationary engineer. Both Christiansen and Pike were proposed by Voorhees Allen Herbert, one of the three brothers petitioning to form a Huntington Station Lodge in 1925.

Voorhees Allen Herbert truck from his Huntington Station service station

While in Huntington Station, Herbert owned a service station. After twice failing to form a lodge in Huntington Station, Herbert moved to California in 1937 with his wife and four daughters, studied medicine and became a practicing physician in Beaumont, California.  He later affiliated with Sunset Lodge No. 352 in Los Angeles and was active with the Shriners.

At the October 10, 1927 stated communication, a spirited discussion on the petition of Nathan Hale Lodge was held in Jephtha. W:. Charles E. Cragg, Past Master of Alcyone and Jephtha Chaplain and Historian, made a motion to grant the petition. Past Masters W:. Allison C. Lowndes (1922), Fredric W. Hunninghouse (1926) and several brothers gave their reasons why the petition should not be granted.

Past Master W:. Carroll E. Welch (1925) stood for the proposed lodge and listed several reasons why the petition should be granted. After a prolonged and lively discussion with over 90 brothers in attendance, W:. Lowndes made a motion that the matter be made on the table. W:. Welch submitted the prepared resolution and a vote was prepared. Past Masters W:. Cragg, W:. Hunninghouse, W:. Lowndes and W:. Lawrence Henry Newton (1915) were appointed tellers and R:.W:. Douglass Conklin and W:. Welch were appointed inspectors.

One can only imagine the heated discussion on the formation of a nearby lodge. Territorial boundaries were most likely on top of everyone’s mind that evening. Many Jephtha brothers lived a few miles south and a new lodge would surely have witnessed an exodos to a closer meeting place for many brothers, leading to reduced membership dues for Jephtha. This fateful discussion was only two years prior to the stock market crash of 1929, and if the new lodge was granted a dispensation, a third lodge in Huntington could have been disastrous.

Ninety-one votes were cast: 87 against and 4 in favor of the proposed lodge. A copy of the resolution was sent to the proposed master, Albert S. Walling informing him of the rejection. It is a testament to the brothers of Jephtha Lodge to reject this proposal and not giving into a false sense of security, a problem that would return in greater numbers with the masonic lodge boom of the post-World War II years.

Nathan Hale would finally get a masonic lodge named after him when Nathan Hale No. 350 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was charted in 1951.

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Huntington’s Masonic Lodge Volunteers at Old Burying Ground

Walking through a field of stone carved skulls and faces, transports visitors to a rare and unique collection of early Huntington folk art. The cracks widen during the passage of time, slowly eroding the hand carved markings created by forgotten artisans in remembrance for our local ancestors. Many passerby’s in the Old Town Hall Historic District may not know that resting beneath the stone tablets are the remains of early Huntington residents from a wide variety of backgrounds.

On a recent hot and humid Saturday morning, fourteen members, friends, and family of Jephtha Masonic Lodge No. 494 volunteered to help trim shrubs, pull overgrown weeds, rake leaves, and remove debris from Old Burying Ground Cemetery. In coordination with Huntington Town Historian Robert Hughes, the work crew assisted in a day of cleanup at the historic cemetery just short walking distance from the Jephtha Lodge building on New York Avenue. Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci took a short walk from the nearby Town Hall and spoke to the group about the importance of preserving our local historic sites and sharing his appreciation on all the hard work accomplished.

The Jephtha volunteers with Huntington Town Supervisor and Historian
Fourteen members, family and friends of Jephtha Lodge takes a break during the cleanup

Part of the lodge’s benevolence committee to help make our community a better place, this event is one of several projects the local Masons were involved in during the recent pandemic shutdown. Although the lodge is comprised of mostly Huntington residents, members from other lodges from as far as Port Jefferson volunteered in this important preservation project of our local historic sites. Armed with work gloves, pruning shears, weed trimmers, a cooler of cold bottled water and a bit of determination, the team went right to work after a brief historical lecture by the Town Historian.

Also known as the Old Burial Hill Cemetery, the site has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1981. The earliest surviving marker is over 300 years old, but many of the wooden markers and basic fieldstones were lost over the years and never replaced. Located on a hill that once had a clear view of Huntington Harbor, the site was originally chosen because of the difficulty to farm on the hilly terrain.

The cemetery took an ugly turn in 1782, the last year of the American Revolution, when occupying British troops, under the orders of Colonel Benjamin Thomson of the King’s American Dragoons, destroyed the nearby Presbyterian Church and constructed Fort Golgotha with timbers removed from the sacred building on the highest point of the hill. The fort was part a network of four British fortifications including Fort Slongo, now known as Fort Salonga, in the hamlet on the border of the Towns of Huntington and Smithtown, in British occupied Long Island during the Revolutionary War.

The British desecration of the church and cemetery is the first recorded act of vandalism in Huntington. Up to 100 tombstones were destroyed and some were used as bake ovens where according to local legend, the baked bread had reverse inscriptions of the tombstones readable on the lower crust.

Huntington Historian gives a brief lecture to the Jephtha Lodge volunteers
Huntington Town Historian Robert Hughes gives a brief history lesson to the volunteers before the clean-up begins

There are 1246 marked graves on the 4-acre site, but it is estimated that there may have been up to 5000 interments since the founding of the Town of Huntington in the mid-17th century. The first legible marker is dated 1712 and the final burial of Russell F. Sammis was in May 1957. Town Historian Robert Hughes explained to the group the variety of tombstones that can be seen in the cemetery, including local fieldstones, imported Connecticut sandstone, slate and how marble, iron, zinc and granite replaced the older varieties in the 19th and 20th century. Many of the markers included unmarked footstones, which sometimes can be confused as headstones to the unsuspecting eye.

With the opening of Huntington Rural Cemetery as the Town’s main cemetery on New York Avenue in the mid-19th century, Old Burying Ground started its long decline of neglect until the local chapters of the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution started their own cleanup efforts in 1911 giving way to the Town of Huntington’s regular maintenance in the mid-1920s. Suburban expansion in the 1950’s witnessed the return of vandalism to the cemetery, which finally led to a joint effort of between the Town of Huntington and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to the restoration, conservation and preservation of the grounds in a multi-year project that started in 2004.

This project between the Town Historian is the latest of several coordinated efforts with Jephtha Masonic Lodge which has called Huntington home since 1860. Other projects include the installation of an Historic Marker in front of the lodge building on New York Avenue; a stop on the Huntington Walking Tour and Pub Crawl; archive sharing between the lodge and the Huntington Historical Society; and invaluable assistance in the newly published book “Long Island Freemasons.”

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Like Father, Like Sons

By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA

Father and son Worshipful Masters is a rare occurrence in masonic lodges. In 2020, Jephtha’s own W:. Richard Harris is the son of W:. Rod Harris, Past Master of Jamaica No. 546. But to have a father and his two only sons all elected as Worshipful Masters has only happened with one family in the long history of Jephtha Lodge, and it began one hundred years ago in 1920.

Robert K. Toaz, first superintendent of the Huntington School District.
Robert Kennedy Toaz

Robert Kennedy Toaz was master of Jephtha Lodge No. 494 starting in January 1920. Born on August 23, 1869 in Rochester, New York, Toaz spent a lifetime in public education that eventually led him to become the first Superintendent of the Huntington Union School District in 1906.

At the University of Rochester, he was a member of the Delta Psi fraternity before graduating in 1893, earning a master’s degree at Columbia University and studying at the Albany’s College and Clark University.

Toaz‘s  professional career included heading the science department in Canandaigua for one year, assistant principal in Waterloo for four years, and an additional four years as a high school principal in Marion, New York. From 1899 until early 1906, he was principal of Oxford Academy and Union School, before moving to his next and final stop in Huntington and started as high school principal and superintendent of the Huntington School District in February 1906.

Robert K. Toaz Junior High School in 1938

From his earliest days in Huntington, Toaz took on several responsibilities, including teaching English and Math and coaching the high school football team. He helped expand Huntington from a one wooden school building to a district with a modern new junior high school at Huntington Station and five grammar schools. During his tenure, new schools were constructed including School Street School (aka Station School, 1906), Halesite (aka O’Hara Street School, 1908), Huntington High School (1908-09), Woodbury Avenue School (1923-24) and the Lowndes Avenue School expansion (1927), which was renamed Roosevelt School in honor of the late President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s widow Edith and youngest son Archibald attended the dedication ceremony.

Oxford No. 175 met on the third floor of Oxford National Bank, where Robert K. Toaz was raised a master mason in the early 20th century.

Toaz retired as principal of Huntington High School in 1930 and as superintendent in 1933, a few months after he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the New York State College of Teachers. After his “retirement,” he served as vice-president of the New York State School Master’s Association. Several months before his death in 1938, ground broke on a new Huntington Junior High School on 300 Nassau Road. The school was renamed Robert K. Toaz Junior High School in honor of the former superintendent, the first Junior High School in Suffolk County and a state and national leader of education of students in grades 7-9 in the decades that followed. The 11-acre campus officially closed in 1982 and was rented and later purchased by Touro Law School. In 2007, the law school sold the building and today is the home to the School of Mahanaim.

Toaz was raised a Master Mason in Oxford No. 175 in the town of Oxford near Binghamton, New York and affiliated with Jephtha No. 494 in 1907 shortly after his relocation to Huntington. Toaz’s one year as master was a very productive term in the east. In October 1920, the pipe organ was dedicated. Formal permission was granted by Jephtha for two other masonic lodges to be formed in neighboring towns: Amityville No. 977 and Bethpage No. 975 in Farmingdale (now Bethpage-Hicksville No. 975).

Over 110 men attended the second annual outing at the Albert G. Milbank Estate, the first mayor of Lloyd Harbor. The event included a baseball game, tug of war, 100-yard dash, 50-yard dash for “fat men,” potato race, blindfolded boxing match, swimming match and dinner.

His participation in the local community did not end with Freemasonry. Toaz was also a charter member and President of the Huntington Rotary Club; President of the Board of Trustees of the Old First Presbyterian Church; chairman of the Suffolk County Boy Scouts; member of the board of directors of the Huntington Hotel; trustee of the Heckscher trust which administered the Heckscher Park and art museum; and member of the Board of Directors of the Bank of Huntington and Trust Company with several other Jephtha past masters.

John C. Toaz

Robert K. Toaz was alive to see his oldest son, John Clark Toaz (1904-2000) ascend the east of Jephtha Lodge in 1937. A graduate of Harvard Law School, John C. Toaz was a member of the Berman & Toaz Law Firm and Justice of the Peace in Huntington and was President of the Suffolk County Bar Association for several years.

Robert T. Toaz

John’s younger brother Robert T. Toaz (1912-1984) was elected Worshipful Master of Jephtha in 1949. Robert was a long-time appointed musician at Jephtha, sitting behind the organ for over 20 out of 33 years from 1950 until 1983.

A member of the Toaz family has been a member of Jephtha Lodge for 93 years until the passing of John C. Toaz in 2000, far exceeding the period of another local Toaz legacy.              

“We at Toaz will be faithful, loyal, brave, and true;
We at Toaz will be faithful to the gold and blue.
Shoulder to shoulder, this we proudly cry;
Always onward for our school: Toaz Junior High.”
Robert K. Toaz Junior High School alma mater song (1938-1982)

The past masters apron of W:. John C. Toaz, presented January 10, 1938

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Tracing the Fraternal DNA

By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA

Over twenty-five years ago, I started researching my family tree. In the mid-1990’s, online databases filled with thousands of scanned documents were not available online. A genealogist had to travel to downtown Manhattan to the National Archives, scroll through reels of microfiche just to find the index number of a possible match to the actual Federal or State Census page. To obtain a birth, marriage or death certificate, a dedicated researcher would travel to the Municipal Archives and research again via indexed microfiche before possibly obtaining a certificate.

Depending on when it was recorded, a census page is filled with valuable information, including occupation, birthplace, language, home value, salary and parents’ birthplace, while a birth, marriage or death certificates include additional information, including birth and death date and place of burial.

The Evergreens Cemetery, Brooklyn. Among the missing headstones is the grave of Peter Sanger

While these valuable records retain a treasure trove of important information, they never include any data if an ancestor was a member of a fraternal organization. If you are lucky, maybe a masonic square and compass can be found on a long-forgotten headstone, or a worn relic was preserved by nostalgic minded older relatives. But chances are, most of these artifacts were discarded by descendants who did not appreciate who their ancestor really were.

My maternal grandfather was a Knight of Columbus for many years. I have his gloves and sash in my archives, but sadly, he was mugged in the early 1980’s and forever lost his beautiful ring. I never heard any tales of great grandfathers who were masons or any other fraternal society.  My fraternal heritage began and ends with him.

Or so I thought.

Peter Sanger’s death certificate, October 2, 1887

I recently signed up for an interesting online database that has a large collection of digitally scanned newspapers dating to the late 18th century. The website is searchable, and despite not being perfect, it led to me some new discoveries with my ever-expanding family tree.

One of my 2nd great grandfather’s was born in Whitechapel, Middlesex, England on July 21, 1845. Although both his parents were of German descent and only stayed in England for six years, Peter Sanger’s national pride was toward his birthplace of the United Kingdom. His devotion to Queen Victoria and his homeland was told to me by his granddaughter, my great-aunt, to the point that he would proudly argue with anyone who would listen, that England would one day regain control of the American colonies.

I was able to obtain Peter Sanger’s death certificate many years ago, which includes his premature death at the age of 42 on September 29, 1887 on the second floor of 297 Stagg Street, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. The location was a mystery to me, as the Sanger family lived on 41 Stagg Street, and his parents Cornelius and Mary were living on 41 Leonard Street. There were no other records of 297 Stagg Street that I could locate, so any leads on his death location went cold.

In the “Secret Society Matters” section, which reports on the “Doings of Brooklyn Lodges and Councils,” of the Saturday, October 8, 1887 edition of the Brooklyn Times Union, an interesting paragraph buried in the second column piqued my interest.

The regular meeting of Progressive Lodge No. 339, I.O.O.F. (International Order of Odd Fellows) was conferring the third degree on five candidates on Thursday, September 29, when Brother Peter Sanger, suddenly became sick and passed away one hour later. The funeral already occurred on Sunday, October 2 by the time the article was published, with many of his brothers in attendance.

Based on his death certificate, I knew Peter Sanger passed away of a cerebral apoplexy, also known as a stroke, which can lead to a sudden death. There was no other Peter Sanger’s living in Brooklyn with the same age, based on an extensive search of census and directories.

Was the lodge meeting held on the second floor of 297 Stagg Street and was my 2nd great grandfather a dedicated Odd Fellow who passed away on the night of a meeting? I have concluded that my long-forgotten ancestor was indeed a dedicated Odd Fellow, devoted to his lodge meetings until he took his last breath.

Brooklyn Times Union, October 8, 1887

In many ways, it is comforting to learn that this man was surrounded by his concerned and caring brothers almost 133 years ago, and not dying alone. His last thoughts were probably of concern for his wife and seven children, including my great grandfather Charles. Peter Sanger died too young, but he left behind a legacy that includes several generations of hundreds of descendants. I would like to think that the two of us share our common DNA that has brought us together in similar fraternities over a century apart.

Postscript

When I continued to read about the other fraternal meetings held in the autumn of 1887, yet another piece of information caught my eye. Joseph Irwin, Past Commander of Huntington Council No. 1176, was appointed District Deputy Grand Commander over the councils in Suffolk, Queens and Richmond counties. Could this be the same Joseph Irwin, raised as a Master Mason in 1871 in Jephtha No. 494 and was Master of the lodge in 1884-1885? That story is for another day…

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