A Visit from a Future President
Brother Franklin d Roosevelt visits Jephtha Lodge
On a late summer day in 1931, the clouds were grey, and the sound of thunder could be heard on the streets of a quiet Long Island village. The threatening weather could not dampen the spirits of the local businesses and residents, with dozens of American flags proudly displayed throughout the downtown area, a suggestion patriotically put forward by the local Chamber of Commerce. On this day, New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt was to spend some time in the Town of Huntington, on an invitation from the local Masonic Lodge.
Raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason in Holland Lodge No. 8 in New York City on November 29, 1911, Roosevelt later joined several concordant bodies, including the Scottish Rite, Shriners, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon as well as receiving several honorary memberships from different Lodges. By 1931, Roosevelt was Grand Representative of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, which earned him the title Right Worshipful.
It was speculated in published accounts at the time, that Governor Roosevelt chose to deliver the address in Huntington because of his relationship with Jephtha’s Worshipful Master, W:. John J. Boyle, Jr. An Irish immigrant, later raised in Washington D.C., Boyle attended Columbia Law School, was Captain in the US Army, 71st Regiment during World War I, and was a Municipal Court Justice in New York City in 1917. Active in the New York Republican Party since 1906, Boyle was Secretary of the New York County Republican Committee in 1910 and 2nd Suffolk District Assemblyman (1924-1928). Having spent many years practicing law in New York and Bronx counties, Boyle and his family moved to Huntington in 1920, he ran unsuccessfully for Huntington Town Supervisor and affiliated with Jephtha in 1924, from Crescent Lodge No. 402. It was probably through Worshipful Brother Boyle’s influence and political connections that enabled Roosevelt to visit Huntington, a respectful bipartisan act between two brothers from different political parties.
The first mention of R:. W:. Roosevelt’s visit in Jephtha minutes was recorded only three days prior, at the 1466th Stated Communication on Sept 14, 1931. At this meeting, W:. John Boyle briefly discussed the upcoming event, and a motion was carried authorizing the Master to pay the St. Cecile quartet, the official quartet of the Grand Lodge of New York, $100 for their performance.
The turnout was expected to be considerable, requiring the Lodge to request permission to use Old First Presbyterian Church on East Main Street, just a few blocks from the lodge building. Attendance was estimated between 370-470 Masonic brothers in the historic structure built in 1784 by a congregation originally organized in 1665. The third and current structure on the present grounds replaced a prior church that was torn down by British occupied troops in 1782 and materials used to erect Fort Golgotha on nearby Old Burying Ground Hill.
The Special Communication was held on Thursday, September 17, 1931. The Lodge was opened at 4pm and was called to recess and adjourned to the Church, where several brothers traveled by foot just a few minutes away. Several local Masonic Lodges sent delegations, including Suffolk No. 60 (Port Jefferson), Peconic No. 349 (Greenport), Alcyone No. 695 (Northport), Meridian No. 691 (Islip), Old Town No. 908 (Southampton), Star of the East No. 843 (East Hampton), Amityville No. 977, and Bay Shore No. 1043.
Just before 5pm, M:. W:. Charles H. Johnson, Grand Master of Masons in the State of New York, and his staff from the Grand Lodge opened the meeting at Old First Presbyterian Church. The two-hour program included an invocation by Brother E.J. Humeston, benediction by W:. Charles E. Cragg, several music selections by the St. Cecile Quartet and the Fife and Drum Corps of Huntington Post No. 360 of the American Legion and speeches delivered by Jephtha Worshipful Master W:. Boyle and the Grand Master.
By 7:30pm and over two hours late, Governor Roosevelt arrived by motorcade, having made the 30-mile trip from Valley Stream after giving a speech to the Nassau County Democratic Committee. Upon entering the historic church, the Governor joked that the name Long Island should be updated to “longer island,” one of the less colorful phrases given by more experienced drivers of Long Island rush hour traffic.His speech at Huntington would be his third and final that day, including a radio address on the completion of U.S. Route 1.
Upon entering through the double doors of the old church, the Governor, clad in his Masonic regalia, walked very slowly down the aisle, supported on either side by aides, including his Secretary, R:. W:. Guernsey Cross, Grand Representative of the Grand Lodge of Nevada. The Masons erupted in cheers and gave their Brother a standing ovation, as he was led to the pulpit by R:. W:. Douglas Conklin, president of the Bank of Huntington and Past Master of Jephtha Lodge. The thunderous applause from his fellow brethren brought a smile to the Governor’s face, as he was led to a platform by a ramp, specially constructed for his visit.
When reaching the pulpit, R:. W:. Roosevelt was received by M:. W:. Johnson, who in turn, under the escort of R:. W:. Russell J. Sammis, Assistant Grand Marshall, was received by W:. John Boyle, Jr. of Jephtha. Governor Roosevelt bypassed the chair that was placed for him in front of the pulpit, stood and faced the members of the fraternity, and began his address on the Adoption of the Constitution of the United States.
This speech in its entirety is not currently available from the FDR archives, but a portion was transcribed by one of the local newspaper reporters. Speaking on the fundamentals of masonry within the foundation of the United States, Roosevelt said “People then thought straight and kept their heads. Our form of government has existed longer than any other in the world. It must be backed by substantial acts rather than hollow lip service. The fundamentals of good citizenship are to be found in Masonry.”
M:. W:. Charles H. Johnson, Grand Master, then urged all present to be “…conscious of their individual duty and obligation as citizens. We all have duties, he explained, “to our God and our country, to our homes and the community in which we live, that we cannot shift to another, but that we must each one meet individually.”
At the conclusion of the reception, R:.W:. Roosevelt departed Huntington and the Grand Master was the guest of honor at a dinner back at Jephtha Lodge on New York Avenue. The Lodge was called to order at the Lodge room at 8 pm.
In the minutes for this Special Communication, the Lodge Secretary Arnold Hawxhurst recorded: “The Addresses of M:.W:. Bro. Johnson and R:.W:. Bro. Roosevelt were wonderfully admired and were very industrious and instructional. The entire program was an unqualified success and reflected honor upon Jephtha Lodge.”
The next and final mention in the Jephtha archives of this special event was in the minutes for the 1467th Stated Communication on September 28, 1931, where it was acknowledged that correspondences were received from R:. W:. Roosevelt and other dignitaries.
When I first joined Jephtha Lodge over 18 years ago, I was surprised how many archives were strewn about in this one large storage area next to the Lodge room. One item I discovered was an unlabeled 18 ½” x 22 ½” framed picture. I stored this unknown artifact in a closet, with the hope that one day someone would uncover its mystery.
The clue revealed itself over ten years later, thanks to Brother Ken Wilkinson of Wamponamon Lodge No. 437 in Sag Harbor, on the east end of Long Island. Brother Wilkinson emailed me a 1000 + page pdf file on Jephtha Lodge from the archives of the New York Public Library. On page 133 of this massive file, I came across an old newspaper clipping from 1931 with a cropped image of the larger framed picture. I immediately recognized this image as part of the unlabeled frame hidden in a closet at Jephtha and rushed up to the lodge to retrieve it to digitize it and edit the file.
I asked several of the older brothers in our lodge if they were aware that FDR was a guest of Jephtha Lodge, and all responded in the negative. I contacted Huntington Town Historian Robert Hughes to inquire if he knew of Roosevelt’s visit to the town. Mr. Hughes was familiar with the visit and where it took place but was surprised to learn that it was part of a large gathering of local Freemasons.
My research into this discovery has opened a new conversation with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Our exchange has included sending high-resolution files of the image and program to the library, which they did not have, and their current efforts in locating a copy of the speech Brother Roosevelt delivered to the Long Island Freemasons.
This should be a cautionary tale to all lodge historians; never discard artifacts because you might not know how important it is.
Written by Wor. Bro. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA
Trustee Chairman and Historian, Jephtha Lodge #494
Co-Editor, Craftsmen Online NY Masonic History column
32° Scottish Rite, Valley of Rockville Centre
Companion of Asharokan Chapter No. 288, Royal Arch Masons
Member of Suffolk Council No. 76, Cryptic Masons
Author, “Long Island Freemasons,” Arcadia Publishing, 2020