Vol. XVII No. 5 — May 1939

The Unknown Mason

In 1932 the master of a large lodge in the East asked his brethren, through the monthly bulletin, to go to a certain photographer and have their pictures made.

Of those who responded — one hundred fifty-two in number — the photographer made the usual portrait, but, in addition, of each he made a full-face picture, all so focused that the distance apart of the eyes was uniform in the hundred fifty-two full-face portraits.

The photographer then printed these hundred fifty-two negatives, one on top of the other, on a single sheet of paper, thus making a composite picture.

The result is the incredible face which forms the center of this Bulletin; a face the character and unusual beauty of which have such far-reaching implications that one needs to go deeper than science, further than philosophy, to find an adequate explanation.

Benignity, thoughtfulness, education, gentleness, strength, refinement, honor, honesty and trustworthiness — in one word, high character — are unmistakable in the face of this Master Mason, who never lived as an individual upon this earth.

An unsuccessful attempt was made to provide him with a composite of all the names of those who form his face. In mentioning this difficulty at home, the wife of the master of this lodge made the brilliant suggestion that, in the absence of a name, and in face of mystery and eery charm, the picture be called “The Unknown Mason.” With poignant memories of that Unknown Soldier who lies at Arlington, representative of all soldiers who died for the flag in the Great War, it seemed highly appropriate that this brother, representative of all brethren who have lived their Freemasonry — who have lived for Freemasonry — be called “The Unknown Mason,” and The Unknown Mason he was named.

Composite photography had its beginnings in 1877 when Francis Galton, F.R.S., great British scientist, devised the process as an aid to the determination of certain human characteristics. He set forth this process and his conclusions in his book, Inquiries into Human Faculty, first published in 1883.

From this work the following paragraphs, germane to the making of the portrait of The Unknown Mason, are taken. (Italics are the Editors).

Having obtained drawings or photographs of several persons alike in most respects, but differing in minor details, what sure method is there of extracting the typical characteristics from them? My own idea was to throw faint images of the several photographs, in succession, upon the same sensitive plate. The photographic process enables us to obtain with mechanical precision a generalized picture; one that represents no man in particular, but portrays an imaginary figure possessing the average features of any given group of men. These ideal faces have a surprising air of reality. Nobody who glanced at one of them for the first time would doubt it being the likeness of a living person; yet, as I have said, it is no such thing; it is the portrait of a type and not of an individual.

A composite portrait represents the picture that would rise before the mind’s eye of a man who had the gift of pictorial imagination in an exalted degree. But the imaginative power even of the highest artists is far from precise, and is so apt to be biased by special cases that may have struck their fancies, that no two artists agree in any one of their typical forms. The merit of the photographic composite is its mechanical precision, being subject to no more errors beyond those incidental to all photographic productions.

The blended result will always have a curious air of individuality, and will be unexpectedly well defined; it will exactly resemble none of its components, but it will have a sort of family likeness to all of them, and it will be an ideal and an averaged portrait.

The effect of composite portraiture is to bring into evidence all the traits in which there is agreement, and to leave but a ghost of a trace of individual peculiarities. There are so many traits in common, to combine and to reinforce one another, that they prevail to the exclusion of the rest. All that is common remains, all that is individual tends to disappear.

In that statement will be found the reason for considering this portrait, of a man who never was, such an extraordinary exhibit. "All that is common remains. . . ." what was common about the hundred fifty-two? Not race; not religion; not profession; not age; not education — the only common factor was their mutual Freemasonry. What remains, then, in this face, is the Freemasonry in the faces of those who compose it.

It is a commonplace of everyday experience that to some extent character is written upon the face. We may discredit the pseudo-science of phrenology, and its near kin, character reading by physiognomy, as we will, but everyone unconsciously at first forms judgment of those he meets by what is to be read in the face.

The law of averages operates with inevitable sureness here as elsewhere. The greatest thinker, the most charitable philanthropist, the musician of highest attainments, may be an individual with a weak chin, pendulous lower lip, receding forehead, narrow eyes and a mean expression. In the condemned cell the arch-criminal of all time may be a perfect specimen of manly beauty, with a high forehead, beautiful mouth and honest eyes. Yet the fact remains that of ten thousand males, all with weak chins, narrow eyes and receding foreheads, a far greater number will be of the criminal type than can he found among ten thousand men with firm chins, widely set eyes and high foreheads.

Accident of birth; accidents in babyhood; improper nourishment; environment; climate; all may and often do largely affect physical appearance. But in the long run, manly beauty means a manly character, and shriveled and distorted features, not caused by age, in a large average denote shrunken souls.

Let him who can find human faults in the face of The Unknown Mason. You shall search with microscope and find within these features only that which is highest and best in the fleshly delineation of the soul behind.

Nor think the uncanny result is to be credited to the skilled retoucher’s pencil. Because twelve of the hundred fifty-two sitters were dressed in dinner clothes The Unknown Mason’s cross tie was more prominent than the hodgepodge of four-in-hands. It was easier to remove these, and leave the black tie, than to take out the black tie and leave a four-in-hand. The shoulder line has been sharpened. The Unknown Mason was given a slight haircut, the ears were made a little more distinct, the necessary catch light was put in each eye and that is all.

Thirty-four of the brethren wore glasses — hence, The Unknown Mason wears a shadowy, vague pair of spectacles. A very few had beards and mustaches. Careful inspection of the lighter side of the face will disclose a slight down, a vagueness, a nebulosity, which is beard.

The oldest man in the picture was ninety-one years of age; the youngest man in The Unknown Mason was twenty-five years of age. The average age of all the hundred fifty-two is forty-nine, although to most beholders The Unknown Mason appears younger.

Unknown Mason

No matter how any man may love his Mother lodge, common sense must agree that in all probability she is but one among the sisterhood of lodges — no more distinguished than a thousand others — just an average lodge. There are some sixteen thousand lodges in the United States. A few stand out for one reason or another above all others; St. Cecile of New York for the way professional actors put on her degrees; Palestine of Detroit for her size; Ivanhoe of Kansas City, Missouri, for her multitudinous interests and marvelous facilities; St. John’s of Boston for being “first”; Fredericksburg of Virginia for being Washington’s Mother lodge; Alexandria-Washington for being the lodge of which the First President was master; American Union, Marietta, Ohio, for its Revolutionary ancestry, and so on. Others have local fame and name, still others are entirely undistinguished as tar as the Masonic world is concerned, but are no less dear to their sons than are those with far-flung reputations.

From the standpoint of an impartial judge with no sentimental affection, the lodge from which came "The Unknown Mason” must be considered as but one among many. She has never been an exclusive, “silk stocking" lodge. She is very democratic, welcoming good men and true to her fellowship regardless of their walks in life. Banker and bricklayer, lawyer and laundry driver, merchant and mortician, professor and painter, scientist and storekeeper; the high and low, the rich and poor, the well-educated and those with but a common school background, there meet upon the level and part upon the square.

This is of importance, as far as this chronicle is concerned. Obviously, if this lodge could be shown to be made up entirely of superior citizens, men of unusual calibre and attainments, a cross-section should also show superior qualities. But if that lodge is just a lodge among lodges, as good as the average, better than the worst, not so successful as the best, not especially distinguished among her sisterhood of sixteen thousand, and still her cross-section shows that which is decidedly unusual — then, indeed, is there reason to hunt for the underlying cause of the character-building force of the Craft.

The majority of lodge members may be divided into the actives and the passives; (1) those who work, and (2) those who either come and go without effort for their lodge, or who seldom or never come.

The one hundred fifty-two brethren of this lodge who took the time and trouble to go to the photographer to be pictured at the request of the master, without the inspiration of knowing what was planned, are the active, hardworking, interested fifteen percent of their lodge. They are the officers, the Fellowcraft Team, the brethren who go on foot and out of their way to visit the sick and help the needy; the constant attendants, the brethren who serve on committees and turn out for funerals; in other words, the brethren of the Ancient Craft who work at it!

In examining the portrait which is the center of this Bulletin, remember that it is not the merging one into another of one hundred fifty-two superlative brethren of a lodge of great renown and world-famous accomplishments — The Unknown Masons hundred fifty-two blood brothers are average members of an average lodge.

And that fact is his glory. The Unknown Mason is the outward and visible evidence of the inward and spiritual work which Freemasonry accomplished in these hundred fifty-two hearts.

The men whose faces have made the face of the Unknown Mason are brethren whom the lodge and the Fraternity have taught to teach themselves of the Great Architect. Agreed that the majority of them do not know it; agreed that in all probability the majority of them have never mused upon the thought. The flower does not know of its beauty; the cat has no thought of its grace; the brave man saves a life at the risk of his own with no thought that his act may be an inspiration; we do not give charity with the idea of public applause. Yet the beauty, the grace, the inspiration, the pity exist.

So with these brethren. Consciously they may have thought little or nothing of the inner teachings which Freemasonry impressed upon their minds and hearts, but the impress is there. It shows in each face a little, and in The Unknown Mason’s face, in which good is piled on good while evil is cancelled out, it shines with a glow which is not of the earth, earthy, but of that land of the inner spirit where a man may not only tell himself unashamed of that God in Whom he believes, but may, perchance, in his quiet hours alone, even feel that with the Great Architect he is face to face.

Gutzon Borglum, the famous sculptor and ardent Freemason, asked how he carved stone into beautiful statues, once said: “It is very simple. I merely knock away with hammer and chisel the stone I do not need and the statue appears. It was there all the time!”

At the moment Brother Borglum is carving from the living rock of Mt. Rushmore, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the heads of four great Americans — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Two of them were Freemasons. Out of the stone of the mountain they come, these gigantic faces, little by little as the artist wears away the stone he does not need, bringing to light the statue which “Was there all the time” — aye, which was there when the titantic forces'of the prehistoric sea lifted the mountains above the ocean and aeon piled on aeon solidified the ooze and slime into rock.

From the beginning there has been a beautiful statue within every stone in all the world. Thousands have been brought to light; millions yet to be carved await the art of the sculptor.

From the beginning in every man is the perfect ashlar — the Great Light assures us that man is made “in the image of God” and; again, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.”

Within every rough ashlar is a perfect ashlar, needing only the skill of the workman to bring it to light; within every Brother is an “Unknown Mason,” his virtues concealed by his humanity, his perfections hidden by his faults; invisible to men, he is seen only by the Great Architect of the Universe. Yet, by the marvelous resources of science and art, we have his picture — The Unknown Mason.

There is a supposedly scientific explanation for the fact that composite portraits are of better appearance than that of any of their individual components. To the scientist this explanation is doubtless completely satisfactory.

But those who look and look again at this unearthly, face are seldom able to accept the scientific explanation as sufficient for all that is to be seen in this portrait.

The hundred fifty-two had but one factor in common — their Freemasonry. Each one of the hundred fifty-two was thinking of his Freemasonry when his component-part photograph was made.

The fact which seems so amazing at first sight — that the vices of the hundred fifty-two have cancelled each other, while the virtues have become cumulative — becomes less a wonder if it is considered that The Unknown Mason is far less a composite portrait of one lodge than of Masons in the large — than of the Masonic character which a living man might win and wear, did he in completeness follow all the Masonic teachings.

None of the hundred fifty-two is a perfect man or a perfect Mason. To the Christian, there was but one perfect man, and He was crucified nineteen hundred years ago. But there is so much more of perfect ashlar than of rough in these parts of the whole, that the whole is as nearly perfect as a human face may be and still be human.

The Unknown Mason is a portrait of the real perfect ashlar, to bring which to fight is the Masonic task laid upon all Freemasons. It is as if some fairy wand had been waved over these one hundred fifty-two members of the lodge, magically doing away with human faults, and permitting only the divine to shine forth.

Few brethren can look unmoved on this creation of art and science, observing that the beautiful lights of virtue which limn it were more powerful than the shadows of evil and wrong and hidden wickedness, which all of us poor, faulty humans try to conceal from ourselves, our fellow men, and even, witless though the attempts may be, from the All-Seeing Eye.

Freemasonry points out a road to travel and puts in the traveler’s hand a staff with which to support his footsteps. For a little space we go forward up the hill — then we turn down on the western side. In all reverence the spiritual face of The Unknown Mason seems a guarantee that the journey is not in vain, the road not an aimless path, the staff not a broken reed.

The Masonic Service Association of North America