CEDAR RAPIDS — T.S. Parvin, the first grand secretary of what would become the Iowa Masonic Library and Museums, died in 1901. However, the makers of his headstone carved an “18--” in anticipation of an earlier year of death. Those who view Parvin’s headstone can see that a tail was added to the eight to correct the mistake, forming a hybrid number on the stone.
Historical documents, photos and items are on display at the Iowa Masonic Library and Museums, 813 First Ave. SE, to celebrate 175 years of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, the organization of Freemasons in the state. Items like Parvin’s headstone and more can be perused in a temporary exhibit called “The Grand Lodge of Iowa, 1844-2019: 175 Years of Masonic Light,” which opened Monday at the start of Iowa Museums Week.
Bill Kreuger, librarian and curator at the Iowa Masonic Library and Museums, curated the exhibit. He gathered all of the information and pieces from the library and museum’s existing collection.
“It’s similar to the Library of Congress, but it’s Masonic in nature,” he said.
The museum is typically open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., but Kreuger said doors also will be open to the public this Saturday from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Iowa Museums Week. The new exhibit will be on display until Dec. 31.
Being a Freemason is about trying to better oneself and focuses on seeing everyone as equals, Kreuger said.
Currently there are about 20,000 Freemasons in Iowa, he said.
The Iowa fraternity began in the mid-1840s in Burlington. Kreuger said that some of the first Freemason meetings took place there in a space above a grocery store.
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One of the oldest pieces in the exhibit is the first charter that petitioned to form a lodge in Iowa. Robert Lucas, the first territorial governor of Iowa, was one of the men who signed the document.
A section of the exhibit focuses on Prince Hall, the African-American chapter of Freemasonry. Kreuger said Prince Hall is most frequently inquired about when people call the museum for information.
Pictures of famous Masons are hung on one wall, including former Gov. Terry Branstad, actor John Wayne, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and artist Grant Wood. Wood’s painting “The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry” is not displayed within the new exhibit but can be seen in a different part of the museum.
The library collection has been held in two buildings, Kreuger said, one built in 1884 and the other in 1955. A large part of the collection came from Robert Bower, who is featured in the exhibit. Bower had one of the largest collections of Masonic books and published a list of other items he was on the lookout for, which Kreuger likened to an old-fashioned version of eBay.
The books Bower accumulated began the library’s collection, which now takes up four floors and holds close to half a million books by Kreuger’s estimate.
“I just can’t believe we have this great resource here where you can just go to the stacks and find exactly what you’re looking for,” Kreuger said.
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