September 29, 2008
Marathon Masons celebrate 150th anniversary
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
New York Masons Grand Master Edward Gilbert rededicates the Marathon Mason’s Lodge #438 Saturday during the local organization’s 150-year celebration.
In 1858, Marathon Masons drove oxen and mules to monthly meetings and paid $1 a year in membership dues.
Now, 150 years later, about 50 members still meet at the Free Masons Lodge on the first and third Monday of the month. The lodge celebrated its anniversary Saturday with a ceremony led by the organization’s state officers.
“It’s unusual for a lodge to be this old,” said Edward Gilbert, the state’s grand master of masons. “Most either don’t make it or let the opportunity to celebrate it slip past them.”
The organization started as a medieval union of stone workers who traveled Europe to build cathedrals and castles. The lodges allowed workers to negotiate with clergy and aristocracy, who were often reluctant to pay fair wages.
Today, the Free Masons is a fraternal organization committed to helping the community and building a sense of brotherhood. At meetings, the masons remember the organization’s roots by wearing aprons and laying a drafting compass and a ruler shaped like a right angle on a page of the Bible.
The anniversary also included other Masonic traditions such as Biblical readings, synchronized hand clapping and members only turning in right angles when walking across the room.
Marathon Lodge treasurer Bob Elwyn said many lodges became secret in the 1860s because of violent actions against Mason members. Today, the Masons only keep secret their meeting rituals that include a lot of medieval language.
“For example, most people don’t know what ‘cowan’ means before they come here,” said Elwyn, who explained that the word describes a bricklayer.
In 1948, the Masons purchased the building on Main Street that they still use to serve pancake dinners during the Maple Festival. After fires in 1957 and 1967, the lodge met in Grange Hall, now Marathon Town Hall, while repairs were being made.
At meetings, the lodge still uses a Bible donated in the early 1860s that survived both fires and a leaky roof that ruined another antique Bible given to the organization.
Today, the Masons discreetly give money to organizations without a lot of showmanship, Elwyn said. As part of the anniversary celebration, the Marathon Lodge presented $150 checks to eight local organizations, including the Marathon Boy Scout Troop, the Marathon Cemetery Association and the Marathon Area Historical Society.
Males over the age of 21 can petition the lodge for membership, and Elwyn said the organization is open to upstanding community members who believe in God or a higher power.
“We’re not looking to make average men look good,” Elwyn said. “We’re looking to make good men great.”
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