Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center-part 94

Part 94: The Quad Cities
Paul Sannerud picked our route as we meandered north to Moline, Illinois, after USITT. We enjoyed the sites along the winding river road and had lunch in Hannibal, Missouri, the boyhood home of Mark Twain. At Quincy, Illinois, we paused to see the Masonic building. Earlier that fall I was guest speaker for Scottish Rite day and evaluated their scenery collection. The drive was a time to enjoy the moment, anticipate the next day, and reflect on the Moline files.
Our stop in Hannibal, Missouri, for lunch.
The Masonic Temple in Quincy, Illinois.
Details from the Masonic Temple in Quincy, Illinois.
Paul read aloud all correspondence and contents in the Moline file so we could familiarized ourselves with the collection prior to seeing it. This would provide us with information pertaining to specific characteristics to look for once on the stage. The letters were entertaining and Paul provided a running commentary to this tale of intrigue. The planning and construction of the Scottish Rite was revealed in a series of letters between John C. Becker and various Scottish Rite representatives, including Harry C. Passmore, the Commander-in-Chief (Northern Jurisdiction SGIG equivalent). Even though this tale occurred almost nine decades ago, the relationship between theatrical suppliers and Masonic clientele had remained unchanged. “When will I get paid?” seemed to be a constant theme.
My file on the Moline, Illinois, Scottish Rite scenery collection by John C. Becker & Bros. Photograph by Waszut-Barrett, 2017.
The story of the design and installation of the current scenery collection is long and complex. John C. Becker & Brothers’ correspondence with the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in Moline began in 1925. During this time, scenery estimates were sent out and rejected by the Valley of Moline. Their bids also included scenery for the use by the Mystic Order of the Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm (Grotto). Some of the Grotto compositions included theatrical settings that depicted the River Styx with profile pieces of water rows.
Moline, Illinois, is part of a region referred to as the Quad Cities that include four counties in northwestern Illinois and southeastern Iowa. The urban core consists of four principal cities: Moline and Rock Island in Illinois, and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa. These cities are the center of the Quad Cities Metropolitan area. The settlement history in this area was primarily stimulated by river-based transportation along the Mississippi and its tributaries. The first bridge across the Mississippi linked Davenport, Iowa to Rock Island, Illinois in 1856, replacing earlier ferry service and winter ice bridges. A few years earlier in 1848, John Deere moved his plough business to Moline, incorporating Deere & Company by 1868. Today, John Deere remains the largest employer in the Quad Cities.
Freemasonry flourished alongside the economy in this region. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite was especially popular and prospered during the 1920s. As in many other parts of the country, a large Scottish Rite Cathedral was planned toward the end of this decade and just prior to the 1929 crash of the stock market. As others that were in the midst of planning and constructing a new building, the collapse of the American economy affected the final outcome of each fraternal edifice. In some instances, rooms were left incomplete or the “bells and whistles” cut from the project entirely. The Valley of Moline’s handling of construction during times of economic uncertainty is one of intrigue.
To be continued…

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