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Sharing the Light Through Fifty Years of The Pennsylvania Freemason

mccartyThe Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania maintains an immense collection of books, manuscripts, and museum objects that serve to inform the Brethren and public of the history, customs, and goals of Freemasonry. One of the ways in which this information is disseminated is through The Pennsylvania Freemason, a quarterly publication established in 1954. Available to all those who wish to learn about the Fraternity, every issue is an invaluable resource covering topics that range from current Blue Lodge happenings to one-of-a-kind artifacts in the museum collection.

On December 28, 1953, in his inaugural address, Grand Master Ralph M. Lehr (1954-1955) stated seven goals. Of them, the first was to "establish a committee to edit and publish a periodical on the 'State of the Craft' for our entire membership." The second was to appoint "an Editor of Publications who will also serve as a Director of the Library and Museum." Another was to "reorganize the Committee on Library and Museum." The other four goals concerned Masonic education. In the Grand Lodge Proceedings for 1954, the report of the Committee on Library and Museum said that the most important part of its report was very recently accomplished when Volume One, Number One of The Pennsylvania Freemason was published. "As the name implies, this publication belongs to the Freemasons of Pennsylvania..." The Committee wanted the Brethren to bear "a certain measure of responsibility" for the success of The Pennsylvania Freemason and to know their wishes "with respect to the contents of their publication."

19At the end of the first full year (1955) of publication, the Committee on Masonic Culture, now responsible for The Pennsylvania Freemason, reported a circulation of 90,000. At that time, it was sent only to Brethren who had requested that their names be on the mailing list. In 1962, R.W. Grand Master McKinley (1962-1963) ordered that every Pennsylvania Mason should receive a copy, in order to be informed about the activities of the Craft. Since that decree, every Pennsylvania Mason automatically receives a copy.

The Pennsylvania Freemason had been distributed from the Masonic Temple by Grand Lodge staff. However, in order to accommodate the now overwhelming task of mailing, Brother William A. Carpenter (Editor 1954-1969, 1980-81; Librarian and Curator 1961-1969; Grand Master 1984-1985) established a distribution office at the Masonic Homes in Elizabethtown. The article written for the 30th anniversary of The Pennsylvania Freemason in November 1984 reflects on the move, stating that the Masonic Homes had several advantages for mailing more than 256,000 copies each quarter: there was more space, members of the Lancaster Post Office Square Club volunteered hundreds of off-duty hours to set up the mailing system, and residents of the Masonic Homes helped by updating the membership files and preparing each mailing for the addressing machine. Residents continued to help, as part of the occupational therapy program, until 1982. With new computerized membership files and high-speed labeling machines, it seemed best to return the distribution operation to the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia, where it was installed on the fourth floor.

Enter now-retired Distribution Manager Hannah Erdman, who shared her memories. Mrs. Erdman said that The Pennsylvania Freemason and the mailing labels were shipped to Grand Lodge, where 14-16 people under her direction operated a huge, clanking Cheshire labeling machine, which affixed a label to each copy. With the aid of tying machines, the crew then tied and bagged about 210,000 copies according to zip code, and delivered the bags to the bulk mail department of the post office, which would promptly send back a whole bag if there was any small mistake. The shipping back and forth, often in the back seats of employees' cars was cumbersome. Fears for the safety of the employees and the structure of the Masonic Temple, because of the stress of the heavy machinery on the fourth floor, made the whole process rather nerve-wracking. Streamlining became absolutely necessary. By the late 1980's, the whole post-editorial operation was given over to a jobber-facilitator, who coordinated all of the necessary paper suppliers, designers, and printers, as well as warehousing and shipping facilities.

For the seasoned veteran of Masonic research, or the casually interested student, the fifty-years of The Pennsylvania Freemason shed light on the history, customs, and goals of Freemasonry in Pennsylvania, making it a vital part of the collection of The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania.

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