Vol. XLII No. 4 — April 1964

Freemasonry at the New York World’s Fair

Conrad Hahn

“The Masons” are being represented at the New York World’s Fair, 1964-65. Freemasonry is on display at this international exhibition, which in two years is expected to draw more than 70 million visitors from at home and abroad. In fact, Freemasonry is the only fraternal organization that is represented by its own building at the Fair!

Thanks to the Masons of New York state, an impressive Masonic Brotherhood Center has been built in the international area of the Fair, at the corner of the Avenue of the Americas and the Avenue of Europe. Architecturally, it is very attractive and impressive.

It is a project of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, which unanimously endorsed the enterprise under the leadership of its grand master, Harry Ostrov. The general chairman of the Masonic Brotherhood Center is retired Judge Charles W. Froessel, a past grand master of Masons in that jurisdiction.

The center is more than a building — handsome as that unit truly is. Before the exhibition hall lies an oval reflecting pool, across which the visitors arrive by means of a foot bridge. May this not be a symbol of the world and the path its people must traverse to achieve the peace they want, through brotherhood?

Even before they make that crossing, visitors pass a graceful pylon in the form of a square and compasses,[1] the universal symbol of the Fraternity. It stretches five stories high; it is visible throughout the Fair grounds. It points upward to the All Highest; it beckons the curious as well as the initiated.

The non-Mason who comes there instinctively feels the powerful symbolism of the Builders, who “square their work by the square of virtue” and who “circumscribe their actions” by means of the compasses, “to keep within due bounds with all mankind.” The universality of the Fraternity is symbolized by the spherical canopy between the four legs of the pylon, which further signify the four cardinal points of the universe.

Masonic Pavilion

The building, also referred to as the Masonic Pavilion, contains an exhibition hall to tell Freemasonry’s story and to display Masonic treasures. In addition there are a comfortable lounge room, rest rooms, an office, and an outdoor patio. The Center was designed by the architectural firm of Chapman, Evans and Delehanty. The William L. Crew Construction Company was the builder.

Every Mason who visits the New York World's Fair will feel a thrill of pride as he catches his first glimpse of this impressive Masonic Brotherhood Center. It “does something” for his devotion to the Craft as he views the ensemble, and again when he sees the Masonic ideal on either end of the pavilion, where the square and compasses are linked to the symbolized theme of the Masonic Center: “Brotherhood, the Foundation for World Peace.”

To their brethren in New York state, craftsmen everywhere are sending their congratulations and appreciation. The Masonic Center is really a “fantastic” achievement for one grand lodge’s public relations program.

It is hoped that the entire cost of the center will be financed by the sale of World’s Fair tickets to members and others. Purchased at a discount by the Grand Lodge of New York, these admissions to the fair are being sold at the regular $2.00 price to lodges and individuals all over the state and even beyond its borders. Under the energetic leadership of Past Grand Master Raymond C. Ellis, one of the vice-chairmen of the Masonic Center, the number of tickets sold before the opening day, April 22, was approaching half a million.

These tickets are for admission to the Fair, not to the Masonic Brotherhood Center. There is no charge to visit the pavilion. Everyone is welcome, non-Masons as well as Masons and their families. Each visitor is given the opportunity to sign a permanent visitors’ registry.

The purpose of the Masonic Center is primarily “good public relations.” Many people want to know something about the Fraternity. Impressions gathered at a World’s Fair are usually lasting ones. The estimated number of visitors suggests that the World’s Fair is an unusual opportunity to acquaint people with the part that Freemasonry has played in the past and what it is doing for the present world community. The Masonic Pavilion, therefore, is also an educational agency to inform the non-Masonic world what the Fraternity stands for and what it is striving to achieve, brotherhood, the foundation for world peace.

Visitors to the exhibition hall learn specific facts about Masonic benevolence: how New York Masons care for their elderly brethren, their widows and orphans; the extent of their aid to war and victory chests for those in military service, for non-Masons as well as members of the Craft; the tremendous sums collected for research in rheumatic fever; the research hospital at Utica to study the diseases of old age; the summer camps for boys and girls that are supported by various lodges and Masonic Districts in New York; the story of the Shriners’ Hospitals for Crippled Children; the Scottish Rite's support for research in the field of schizophrenia; and the broad sweep of Masonic "help, aid, and assistance” by grand lodges all over the world.

The Masonic Pavilion also tells something of the story of civilization that Freemasonry has helped to write because of the memorable acts of many of its members. At the entrance to the exhibition hall stands Donald DeLue’s imposing 11 foot 3 inch bronze statue of Brother George Washington as master of his lodge. A replica of that sculpture was first unveiled in 1962 at the Civic Center in New Orleans by the Masons of Louisiana, when they celebrated the sesqui-centennial of the founding of their grand lodge. It is an impressive first fact for visitors to learn that the “Father of our Country” was a sincere and active Mason.

To the rear of this impressive statue are two colorful dioramas. One depicts Brother General Washington and Brother General Lafayette at Valley Forge, a critical low point in the history of the Revolution. The other pictures Brother Washington taking his oath of office in Federal Hall, New York City, as first President of the United States. April 30, 1964 (about a week after the opening of the World’s Fair) marks the 175th anniversary of that historic event, when the Chancellor of New York, Robert R. Livingston, who was also grand master of Masons, administered the oath while Brother Washington placed his right hand on a Bible borrowed from a Masonic lodge, old St. John’s No. 1 of New York.

That famous Bible is also on exhibition at the Center, together with the apron that Washington wore as master of Alexandria Lodge in Virginia. Other Washington memorabilia to be seen are his letter of thanks to the donors of the apron, his inauguration sword, and the actual square and compasses that the Father of our Country used in laying out lands in Fairfax County.

Other famous American Masons are memorialized in the exhibition hall by the famous busts and statues by Brother Bryant Baker — of Admiral Richard E. Byrd. General John Pershing, Will Rogers, and others. An accurate scale model of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia, is also on display.

Having viewed these impressive reminders of Freemasonry’s intimate connections with the establishment of this great nation, visitors next trace the history of the Fraternity through documents dating back more than six centuries, to the time of the builders of Europe’s great cathedrals, and to the pre-Revolutionary Masons in England and America who completed the transition from operative to speculative Freemasonry.

Famous Masons of the world are also emphasized, with an explanation of the impact they made on their generations, as well as exhibits from England, Scotland, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere to demonstrate the worldwide labors of the Craft. A large map showing the far-flung locations of the Fraternity strengthens that impression.

One section is devoted to illustrating famous American and New York Masons, such as Brother DeWitt Clinton, the father of the public school system, and a past grand master of the Empire state. Among these are Masonic vice-presidents, justices of the Supreme Court, governors, and members of Congress.

Another display features pictures of the fourteen Presidents of the United States — from George Washington to Lyndon B. Johnson who knocked at the west gate in search of Masonic Light. Masons will be proud of the story told in the exhibition hall — the story of a society of dedicated men who move quietly but persistently to establish the foundation for world peace — brotherhood.

Admittedly, the Masonic Brotherhood Center is neither the largest nor the most spectacular exhibition at the New York World’s Fair. The Federal Government has erected an impressive pavilion of striking design to interpret its theme, “Challenge to Greatness.” In the transportation area, General Motors again presents a gigantic Futurama, with its unforgettable “ride into tomorrow.”

Freemasonry’s pavilion, however, is in keeping with its spirit and its purposes. It is simple; it is dignified. The Masons of New York deserve sincere congratulations for this operative and speculative achievement.

Even the non-Mason who visits the center will inevitably be drawn into contemplation, as he witnesses the ennobling story of Freemasonry through the ages. And as he leaves the exhibition hall in a speculative reverie, he steps into the quiet calm of the outdoor patio. This too is a symbol — of the peace that may be built on the great foundation stone of brotherhood.

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  1. As of 2015 the square and compasses for the Masonic Broterhood Center is on the grounds of the Masonic Care Commnity of New York in Utica.

The Masonic Service Association of North America