Congressman and Brother John Lewis

Brethren, We have watched the final journey of Congressman and Brother John Lewis for the past few days. As he is taken to his final resting place, we know his journey is complete and is with the Grand Architect of the Universe. Farewell. MW William Sardone

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Huntington’s Masonic Lodge raises thousands for Sunrise Walks

Masonic lodge buildings were shut down in mid-March due to the COVID 19 pandemic, preventing any in-person meetings for the foreseeable future. The masonic primary function of charity could have been severely hindered due these unforeseen circumstances, but one lodge on Long Island rose to the challenge.

A long-planned charity walk that Jephtha Lodge No. 494 F. & A. M.  has participated in the past was reprogrammed into a virtual event that helped raise several thousand dollars for an important charity. The Sunrise Association Day Camps have been operating in several locations, including Wyandanch, since 2006. The mission of the camps is to provide children ages 3 ½ to 16 struggling with cancer and the difficult treatments associated with it, activity filled summers at outdoor day camps free of charge. The struggling children’s months of isolation is broken with a few weeks of sunshine and fun at the day camp, without rescheduling any medical treatments because the kids can stay at their own homes at night. The program also includes siblings to help the children with cancer more comfortable and less lonely during their difficult treatments.

Over 40 members of Jephtha Lodge on the charity walk for Sunrise Day Camp in Heckscher Park in Huntington.

But the challenges of 2020 have forced the Sunrise Day Camp to close for the summer. The camp has now implemented a virtual camp complete with counselors, games, and recreation. This incredibly vital community continues to service the children and their families during, uncertain times.

The Brothers of Jephtha Lodge and their family members recognized these challenges and created a team to raise funds once again this year for Sunrise. Organized by brothers Jeremiah Campbell and Bill Fenty Jr., the “Masons for Sunrise” team held a few planning meetings via Zoom before holding their first online event on June 12. The invite-only virtual Happy Hour and Trivia evening was hosted by Brother Geoff Cohen was held with over 40 members calling in from as far as Hawaii to help this important charity. Three rounds of trivia (sports, masonic and Huntington history) and everyone sharing their favorite cocktail concoction, lasted over 90 minutes and was an exciting kickoff to this year’s fundraiser.

With the regular Sunrise Walks cancelled due to the pandemic, Jephtha Lodge had to be creative to keep to the spirit of the past outdoor fundraisers. On June 28, 45 brother masons and their families attended their own walk in Huntington Village, each donning face masks, and newly embroidered tee shirts supplied by brother Bill Friedman. Starting from behind the lodge building on New York Avenue, the group marched over to Heckscher Park and completed one round around the pond on a hot and humid Sunday morning. An exceedingly rare outing during these uncertain times proved to be an opportunity for the lodge to think outside the box for future charitable events.

Jephtha Lodge raised over $4400 during these two events, making “Sunrise for Masons” the top-25 fundraiser out of over 100 teams at this years Sunrise Walks events on Long Island. The goal will be higher for 2021, a challenge one of the fastest growing masonic lodges in New York is up for.

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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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