COLUMBIA — A small hickory chair sits against the back wall in the “Everyman” gallery at the new Masonic Museum and Library in north Columbia.
The chair is seemingly unspectacular, but like all of the objects on display at the museum, it has a story to tell. It comes from a Masonic lodge in northwest Missouri that hosted a famous guest.
HOURS:9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
COST:None. It’s free.
WHERE:6033 Masonic Drive in northeast Columbia, off U.S. 63.
RULES:The public will not be allowed to have any sort of cameras, backpacks, large bags or strollers.
“Wild Bill Hickok visited that lodge,” said Ron Miller, grand secretary of the Missouri Mason Grand Lodge. Although no one knows whether Hickok, a famed gunfighter and abolitionist of the 1800s, actually sat in the chair, it’s exciting to think he could have, Miller said.
The museum, which celebrated its grand opening Saturday afternoon, features memorabilia from famous Masons such as William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, former President Harry S. Truman and Laura Ingalls Wilder, who had connections to the Masons.
In addition to these displays, the galleries have a vast collection of objects donated by local Masons, many of which have been in their respective families for several generations.
Saturday’s grand opening ceremony was open only to members, the press and invited guests, but the museum will be open to the public beginning Monday.
The idea of the museum originated a few years ago when the Masonic Home and Grand Lodge were built. A committee was formed three years ago to create a place to house all the archives and artifacts that have been handed down over the years.
“We need to preserve our history,” Miller said.
The museum features five special galleries, each highlighting an important Masonic theme. Many of the items on display have been in the Grand Lodge’s possession for years, but a lot of pieces were donated by families. There are artifacts on display that date back two centuries, including a sword from the American Civil War.
“We’ve been in existence since 1821, the same year Missouri became a state,” Miller said of Masonry in Missouri. “This is to highlight Masonic fraternity in Missouri.”
A simple white apron in a glass display case is the first thing visitors to the museum will see.
“Each guy that goes through the fraternity gets an apron,” Miller said. There are several aprons on display throughout the museum, including one that belonged to William Clark.
At the museum’s center is a rotunda which leads to each of these galleries and has a Masonic symbol above its entrance. The Grand Lodge of Missouri’s seal, which must always appear in blue, is printed on the rotunda floor.
The galleries are titled “Pathmakers and Patriots,” “Living Well,” “Generosity,” “Leadership” and “Everyman.” Each has pictures, displays and readings about how Masonry ties into the theme, as well as a display about a famous Mason who encompasses that theme.
While the other four galleries each exhibit famous Masons, the “Everyman” gallery is for just that — personal exhibits featuring items from local Masons. Already on the walls are old pictures taken of members of the Grand Lodge and displays of archived records dating to the 1800s.
Miller talked extensively about the Masonic Home, which housed many orphans during the Great Depression. Many displays in “Generosity” are devoted to recognizing the lives of these children. Several of the young men raised in the Masonic Home fought in World War II, and their medals are on display.
“Leadership” shows off Truman, perhaps the most famous Missouri Mason. Truman was once a grand master, a title denoting the leader of the organization. Grand masters are given a jeweled collar, and a medallion from Truman’s collar is on display with items on loan from Truman’s presidential library: his trademark hat, glasses and cane.
Laura Ingalls Wilder is honored in the “Living Well” gallery. Ingalls Wilder was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, an organization for women with Masonic relatives.
Outdated technologies are also on display throughout the galleries. An old slide projector, which relied on a kerosene lamp to illuminate pictures, can be found in the “Living Well” exhibit. Also on display is a small wooden box with a slot to drop in white or black marbles.
“It’s a voting box,” Miller said. “Black balls are a vote no.”