This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Grand Parade of the Knights Templar

24 November 2017

Spontaneity. Whimsy. Humor.
People photographed before 1900
didn't typically exhibit such playfulness.
But this animated cornet player
with a bottle balanced on his head
shows that sometimes early cameras
could capture a moment of fun.

The bandsman's friends get the joke,
sharing a smile over his antics.
They are not musicians
but they are dressed
in elaborate uniforms
with plumed bicorne hats
and gleaming swords.

In the 20th century we would call
such a lighthearted image a common snapshot.
But in 1895 it was a new art form.

{click the images for larger detail}

The cabinet card photo has a handwritten caption:

Boston Aug 27. 95   Compliments of Bearce & Wilson

The four men are resting after participating in a grand parade
They are members of the Masonic Order
called the Knights Templar
which gathered together in Boston
for a great conclave in August 1895.
Over 25,000 marched in the parade.

Boston Post
27 August 1895

The Sir Knights as they were called, had been arriving during the previous weekend from all across the country. Boston's train stations and docks were filled with thousands of men dressed in splendid regalia who took up temporary residence in the city's many hotels. On Tuesday morning the 25,000 masons assembled for a parade through Boston. It was scheduled to start at 10:00 AM and take over 2 hours to finish the roughly 5 mile route. Not surprisingly it took a bit longer than that.

Boston Post
28 August 1895

The Knights Templar, formally known as the United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta, were a Christian order of Freemasonry. Masonic lodges of Knights Templar were first established in Ireland and Scotland in the 1780s and then in England in the 1830s. In America the Knights Templar first organized in 1816 as the highest degree within the York Rite masonic society, and this event in Boston was their 26th triennial conclave.

A local lodge of the Knights Templar was called a Commandery and part of the Grand Encampment of the United States. In 1895 the number of commanderies had increased from 30 to 36, and each one sent large groups of men to the Boston conclave. The national membership of the Knights Templar was reported as 106,770.  Though some of the Sir Knights brought wives, women were excluded from membership in Freemasonry, as they were in most fraternal societies at the time.

The cornet player came from the No. 6 KT Commandery of Lewiston, Maine, identified by the badge pinned to his jacket. In August 1895 Maine sent over 1200 knights, nearly the full ranks from the 11 commanderies in the Pine Tree State. The Lewiston KT commander was Charles E. Libby, a baker who lived in Auburn, ME, Lewiston's twin city on the western side of the Androscoggin River. The lodge's membership was then 154.  Four years later in 1899 it expanded to 225.

* * *

Boston Post
28 August 1895

The newspapers of 1895 did not yet have the technology to print photographs. Instead wood and metal engravers duplicated the work of artists. The Boston Post illustrated the activities of the Knights Templar that week with dozens of splendid images. Some like this one of the Grand Marshal and KT Commander leading the procession on his black charger, were printed on a full page.

- - -

Boston Post
28 August 1895

The Knights Templar based their origins on the knights of the Christian Crusades to the Holy Land. Their elaborate uniforms, hats, and swords  were part of a quasi-military tradition that included practicing precision drills and marching, both on foot and on horseback. To see a parade of  25,000 was a sight not to be missed in Boston that summer.

- - -

Boston Post
28 August 1895

Boston's Masonic Temple was decorated for the conclave with symbols of the Knights Templar. Every hotel in the city was occupied by the Sir Knights and numerous restaurants and halls were booked for KT banquets. Boston's numerous theaters and summer amusement parks also did a good business entertaining the visiting masons.

- - -

Boston Post
28 August 1895

The newspapers played up the fellowship and conviviality of the Knight's conclave. The Boston papers printed lists of honors, transcripts of speeches,  and detailed schedules of events. The membership of the Knights Templar were men largely from America's business class, along with farmers and land owners. The mission of the Knights Templar was a continuation of Freemasonry with an emphasis on non-denominational Christian spirituality. Secular politics were considered to be outside the order.

- - -

The Boston Post enlivened the columns and columns of reports by interposing charming woodcut views of the grand parade. According to this image, young women tossed fruit to the knights from the windows of the Post building.  The official bleachers set up along the parade route held over 4,000 people. Enterprising wagon owners sold standing room on their vehicles to anyone who wanted a better view.

- - -

It was a grand day.
Even old Sol was blinded by the display.

Boston Post
28 August 1895

* * *

Now let's return to the bottle.

It's a clear glass bottle with a flip-top. It's also empty, which reveals lettering in the glass. Despite my best efforts I can't quite identify the name but I am certain it is a typical circa 1890s beer bottle from Boston. Notice that that the cornet player's pointing finger is actually offering someone a corkscrew. It looks to me like he has just won a wager to play his cornet while balancing a bottle on his hat. You'd have to be pretty good to pull that off.

The lines on his face put the  man's age at around 60+. His hat is not the KT bicorne style but a military kepi with two badges, LB - initials for Lewiston Band, and Second Regt. In the 1890s Lewsiton-Auburn, Maine had a combined population of 33,000 citizens which supported six bands and orchestras.

1904 New England Business Directory and Gazetteer

One was the Lewiston Brigade Band and another was Payne's Second Regiment Band which belonged to the National Guard of the State of Maine. The Brigade Band was also called the "best military band in Maine" but it was not a regular US Army band. More likely it was "attached" to a  volunteer infantry unit in Lewiston. All the Lewiston bands and orchestras shared musicians and performed for various civic functions. It's likely that the cornet player was one of the leaders who worked in both bands and was also a mason. His band may have been hired to accompany the Lewiston Commandery of Knights Templar on their parade through Boston. Given the length of the Boston parade, there was at least one band if not several accompanying every KT State Commandery marching.  You can not march with precision without a good drum beat and catchy tune. The Boston Post printed music composed for the occasion by Wiliam Bradford Fairchild called the Freemason's March. The paper claimed that 300 bands would play it in the procession.

The photo was marked Compliments of Bearce & Wilson. This was not the name of a photography studio in either Boston or Lewiston. Actually Bearce & Wilson were dealers in coal and wood, essentially a fuel supplier for Auburn-Lewiston.

1898 Lewiston-Auburn, ME city directory

Perhaps the clever cornetist indulged in bottle of
Van Nostrand's
Bunker Hill Lager
Quality the best.
Taste agreeable.
Effect beneficial.
Order a case of your grocer.

Boston Post
27 August 1895

Boston Post
28 August 1895

Or perhaps it was a bottle of
King's Bohemian Beer
"Now could I drink hot blood!"
quoth Hamlet.
Poor Fellow who had never known
the charms of...
- - -

Boston Post
29 August 1895

Perhaps it was a bottle of
Old Sterling Ale
from the
Highland Spring Brewery
of Boston

The Knights Templars
Right noble they performed their part
Dealt many a valiant blow,
When Richard of the lion heart
Went forth to meeth the foe.
Before them Saracens went down
As falls the winter hail,
And here today in Boston town
They drink Old Sterling Ale.

- - -

Or maybe it was just a bottle of
Moxie  Nerve Food
New Englan's Leading Health Drink.

Recommended to every the tired and thirsty Knight Templar.

Boston Post
29 August 1895

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to buy another round!


Mollys Canopy said...

Quite an impressive set of photos and news clips. Amazed you found so many beer ads :-) That bottle could definitely be from one of those companies.

Barbara Rogers said...

I think the lettering on the bottle says "beer" but it's on a curve both vertical and horizontal. It wouldn't match any of the titles that you've pulled from the ads if that's what it says, however. Can't imagine that large and long a parade! Simply awesome to think about. I have Masons in my family tree, but don't know which symbol they used. Will have to look into it.

La Nightingail said...

It was obviously a very exciting event and time. The casual photo of the fellows having a little fun after what had to have been a rather strenuous march was 'cool' - especially for the times. As you say, photographers didn't often take less than perfectly set photographs. Fun and interesting post - as usual. :)

Little Nell said...

Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that people did indeed have fun back then, and were quite capable of joking around. We tend to forget when so many old photographs are formal with unsmiling subjects.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

A million people watching the event! What a feat of organization with few telephones.
It must have been incredibly exciting for everyone. The beer ads with their literary aspirations are humorous!


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