Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center-part 100

Part 100: The Plot Thickens

In this complicated tale between the John C. Becker and the Moline Scottish Rite, the timeline for the planning and installation of the Scottish Rite scenery becomes quite fascinating:

1925 First consultation by John C. Becker & Bro. with the Valley of Moline. Becker presents a tentative scenery estimate.

1926 Becker presents another tentative scenery estimate to the Valley of Moline.

1927 Becker presents another tentative scenery estimate to the Valley of Moline.

1929 April. Becker pressures the Valley of Moline to finalize their scenery selection as other large Scottish Rite contracts are being negotiated.

1929 May. Cornerstone laying ceremony for Moline Scottish Rite Cathedral.

1929 October. Becker presents another scenery estimate for new Moline Scottish Rite cathedral stage. The inventory provides a thorough installation to stage all twenty-nine degrees.

1930 January. Becker requests some form of deposit or guarantee that his studio will receive a contract soon as work has already begun refurbishing some of the existing scenery due to the impending deadline.

1930 February. Becker sends three final contracts to the Valley of Moline for the refurbishment of existing scenery and the creation of new scenery.

1930 March. Valley of Moline accepts two of three contracts sent in February by Becker but doesn’t sign them.

1930 April 1. Howard C. Passmore of Moline Consistory signs two scenery contracts.

1930 May 2. Raymond H. Becker leads installation crew at the Moline Scottish Rite. During this same month, John Becker is in New York. They are suing Harry Rogers of Theatrical Enterprises for an overdue amount on a scenery contract.

1930 June. Becker begins inquiries about overdue balance for scenery and installation labor from the Valley of Moline. A new board has been appointed to the Scottish Rite Cathedral Association.

1930 July. Becker visits the Valley of Moline to inquire about the overdue balance. A few days later, Becker receives a letter from the Valley of Moline soliciting donations for their Commander-in-Chief.

The following correspondence was sent to John C. Becker from the assistant secretary at the Moline Consistory. Howard C, Passmore, the Commander-in-Chief of the A.A.S.R. Moline, worked as a securities agent in the Moline area and is financially struggling. Here is the handwritten letter that the asst. secy. sent to John and Ray Becker.

The letter dates July 24, 1930:

“My Dear Bros. Becker.
I am writing you a few lines on a subject that is hard for us to talk about as it concerns none other than our Dear Commander in Chief, Howard Passmore, nor do I want to say much in writing, but knowing what you and Ray think of Howard, my short story will probably surprise you.

Howard has by some manner (“unknown” generally) gotten himself into a financial jam that took a sudden turn that it was very necessary that his friends come to his immediate assistance in order to save him from more serious trouble. So after many sleepless nights etc. it was decided that our faithful friend C. J. Seymour take hold and see what he could among the more prosperous of our Consistory members in the way of a free will offering, and he decided he could place his at $50.00 and $25.00 and I was to solicit the membership at large and I was to place my donations from $1.00 to $5.00 and my letter herewith is what I got out yesterday.

(Side note: C. J. Seymour was a successful salesman and later manager who started with the Moline Plow Company. By 1917 he became in charge of motor truck sales for the Nash Sales Co. at Omaha)

John and Ray, I am writing this letter to you as a personal matter as I feel you both are so close to Howard as any of us, and feel personally that you would want to do your bit for him whatever you feel you can afford will be appreciated by us. Make your check payable to me and I will see to it that it is properly taken care of.

I won’t go into any detail by letter. But if you come down our way and time I may tell you. Fraternally yours,
H. A. Johnston, asst. secy.”

John Becker donated $10.00 to the Passmore fund during an onsite visit.

1930. September. The Valley of Moline still had an outstanding balance for their scenery installation.

To be continued…

Downtown in Moline, Illinois, 1930. Note the prominent Le Clair Hotel in the distance.

2 thoughts on “Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center-part 100”

  1. I appreciate the research and the pictures of work by Becker Bros (later Becker & Sons, Becker Studios) out of Chicago. I’m a great-grandson of John C. Becker and have been researching his past and that of his company (which is what brought me to your site).

    It may interest you to know that John C. worked for Toomey & Volland for a couple years in the 1902 to 1904 timeframe in St. Louis working on floats for the Veiled Prophet parade and touching up scenery on jobs around the country.

    If you haven’t already, you may want to check out the American Passion Play in Bloomington, IL put on by the Scottish Rite Consistory there. The drops and sets were created by Becker Bros. in the 1920’s. The play is still being performed with the original or refurbished drops. Next year may be the last year however as the Masons sold the building to the City as a performing arts center and their lease runs out next year. One of the last things Becker Studios did before they sold their building on Taylor in Chicago was to refurbish or replace some of the original drops that were showing their age and use.

    Delmar Darrah was the driving force behind the Passion Play (and the consistory in Bloomington) as well as a version of A Christmas Carol, Joseph and his brothers, Shakespeare, and other plays all with sets and drops put together by Becker Bros.

    I’m also in MN – would be fun to compare notes.

  2. Thank you, Chris. This is wonderful information to have for my scenic artist and studios database. Amazingly, I have seen the souvenir program for the Bloomington Passion play as I processed it as part of the Great Western Stage Equipment Co. collection in the early 1990s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *