Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 42

Part 42: Well-behaved Women Seldom Make History

The CEO was insistent that my shipping inventory for the St. Paul Masonic Library should have been flawless; any mistakes made during the two-week span allotted to record 10,000 items was unacceptable. This was part of his continued argument to shelve unprocessed and unidentifiable books in the Nelson Library. This current course of action did not bode well for the future Fort Scott scenery collection. Furthermore, the CEO ‘s statements repeatedly devalued the significance of our acquisition, explaining that it contained nothing unique; many of the texts were already available as scans.

“But we have many first edition and signed copies, as well as books with important inscriptions,” I explained. “Many of these signatures include famous individuals, such as Ulysses S. Grant, Albert Mackey, Albert Pike, A. E. Ames, A.T.C. Pierson, and Manly P. Hall.”

Unmoved by my logic, he was adamant that we should not have to open up every single book in order to process the entire collection, especially if there were duplicates. “For example,” he continued “We don’t need more than one set Mackey Encyclopedias do we? We only need to keep the one that is in the best condition, so why waste time on examining the others?”

“We might want to keep MORE than that one set if there is a signed set by the author who gifted it to a Grand Master of Minnesota,” I persisted. “That is just one of many reasons why we need to actually open every book and to determine which ones we keep!” I further explained that many old books contained hidden artifacts like Masonic petitions, personal letters, or even money. This was the main reason to actually open up and LOOK in each book. Unfortunately, my arguments fell on deaf ears.

Stafford King (1893-1970) was born in Fair Haven, MN to Cyrus Murdock King and Minnie King (née Cooper). His parents were the descendants of early settlers of the state and had been involved in local causes and politics in and around Itasca County, Minnesota. He was raised on the family homestead in Itasca County and attended school in Deer River, MN, later attending the University of Minnesota and the St. Paul College of Law. During WWI, he served in the army, achieving the rank of first lieutenant. After the war he worked in a variety of state and local government positions and also became active with the American Legion and the Scottish Rite. In 1930 he won election as Minnesota State Auditor, a position he held for ten terms. During WWII, he left his position to serve as a first lieutenant in the United States Air Force. He left his personal library to the Valley of St. Paul upon his death in 1970, including Ridpath’s “History of the World,” inscribed by his parents in 1906 to their only child at the age of 13. Each volume had lovely inscription for Stafford.
Title page from Ridpath’s “History of the World,” owned by Stafford King (1893-1970) with wonderful inscriptions about the human struggle.
Transcription: “To Our Only Child Stafford King on Christmas Day 1906, We give you these volumes as a little expression of our great love for him, Cyrus M. and Minnie King.” “Read well and thoughtfully for in these volumes you can come to know the good, the wise, the great of every time and clime – know them, think from their lines, act as they would in your time, and become your God’s child, your country’s son, a protector of home, a defender of your fellow man, a guardian of Human Rights.” Great advise from a family well ensconced in the Fraternity and civic duties. You can see why Freemasonry would later appeal to him and his political involvement.

This was my first ethical struggle with what was happening to incoming acquisitions at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. As I sought the advice of fraternal scholars and librarians nationwide, they all expressed disbelief that anyone would request to NOT process an acquisition prior to placing it on display. Then many scholars suggested another cause for his mandate: If you don’t know really know what you have, you’ll never know what goes missing. My colleagues bluntly explained that as I held all of the institutional memory associated with this acquisition, my job was in peril. I would be systematically discredited and then dismissed, effectively silencing me.

Regardless of their warnings, I focused on the final endgame – safeguarding this collection and other acquisitions for future scholars. Using a new strategy, I explained that the boxes holding the St. Paul library acquisition had been hastily piled in the basement of the processing center when they were removed from record storage three months prior. I had not been able to put the boxes on the main floor due to their sheer weight and my back injury, expressing concern about the current storage environment and potential for damage. A leak in spring could destroy the entire collection. This approach worked, and the CEO approved a temporary hire for four weeks to solely get the books off of the floor. I then immediately requested that we hire the main librarian at the Minneapolis Scottish Rite, Peter Tomlinson, as he was familiar with historic publications and available immediately.

This picture is after Peter had unpacked dozens of boxes and organized the remaining ones into specific sections. This organization had been impossible at first due to the sheer volume of boxes in the space. When the boxes from the record storage were unloaded from the original pallets on the delivery truck, they were randomly placed in the basement and stacked over five boxes high – causing the bottom boxes to collapse from the excessive weight.
View into the second book room in the basement – the bomb shelter. Peter and I decided that the oldest and rarest books went here, including the personal collections of Past Grand Masters and notable Masons, such as A.T.C. Pierson and A.E. Ames.
View from second book room into main room of basement. This smaller second room held the most significant books in the collection, such as signed copies and the personal libraries of Past Grand Masters in Minnesota.

My ethics required me to do everything possible to honor my word with the Valley of St. Paul, even if this was not the case of my employer. I was determined to process the library prior to placing the books on the Nelson Library shelves. Therefore, I would seek highly skilled volunteers after Peter’s four-week employment ended, specifically assistance of experienced archivists, specifically retired university professors. This would cost the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center NOTHING and I would still feel that I kept my word.

On January 29, 2015, I emailed an update to the CEO and general director, detailing our progress on the library collection. The document noted that in just four weeks, Peter had successfully assembled 24 metal shelving units and updated information in the original shipping excel spreadsheet as boxes were unpacked. This spreadsheet could then be inputted into a future software system. Peter also took digital images of each item that he handled, entering the necessary information pertaining to the publisher, previous ownership, and signature editions. They would also have photographic documentation of the collection to pair with the information in the excel spreadsheet.

By February 1, 2016, there only remained 450 religious books in 21 boxes, 40 classical books in 2 boxes, 75 philosophical works in 3 boxes, and the dozens of boxes containing Masonic periodicals, as well as various Proceedings from a variety of fraternal organizations. Realistically, only the bound periodicals would ever be placed on library shelves due to the fragility of unbound periodicals. Although we couldn’t assign local identifiers without appropriate software, we initially processed enough books to place on the Nelson Library shelves for opening day. There remained ample time to complete the collection prior to June 24, 2016.

This is the state of the library when Jean Montgomery took over the project during spring 2016.

Among the many individuals to help during the spring of 2016, professors emeritus Jean Montgomery and Dr. Larry Hill spent months unpacking the remaining boxes and organizing the contents. Jean is an individual with many attributes, including leading the archival documentation for the U of MN Theatre Department and Centennial Showboat, as well serving multiple roles at USITT. She was also the editor for my dissertation! Dr. Hill is a theatre historian, past Scottish Rite theatre research colleague of Lance Brockman, contributor to “Heredom,” contributor to the “Theatre of the Fraternity” exhibit catalogue, and also served in multiple roles for USITT. There are many more qualifications for each, much to numerous to mention. They each understood my plight and wanted to ensure this collection to remain intact for future scholars. Furthermore, Dr. Hill’s brother, Dave M. Hill, was Right Worshipful Senior Grand Warden in Michigan. All of my volunteers had had decades of experience creating archival databases and cataloguing publications; they were also familiar with the Fraternity.

I continued to work on the lodge room mural and restoration preparation upstairs while my volunteer crew processed the books downstairs.

To be continued…

Once Jean was done, she started to weed out duplicates and do some preliminary packing for transport.
The rarest books were in the smaller room, located off of the main room. The signed memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant and books sent to A.T.C. Pierson by Albert Pike were some of the amazing publications found in the St. Paul Masonic library collection.
The St. Paul Valley librarian and historian, Joe Ryder, also donated his entire collection, including an anti-Masonic pamphlet from WWII, printed by the Nazi party. It was pulled to go on display in the Ladd museum exhibit.

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