The Master Mason degree of Theodore Roosevelt
Third article in a multi-part series
“Make way for the Treasurer!” someone yelled from the steps of the Oyster Bay Bank Building as Captain Alfred Ludlam of Matinecock Lodge pushed his way through the crowd gathering outside. The lodge treasurer traveled up three flights of stairs crowded with visiting brethren and finally reached his desk in the lodge room, only to discover that a pickpocket had “made way” with his purse containing a substantial amount of money. Ludlam would not be the only brother to be relieved of his valuables this evening. Several visiting brothers, who happened to be detectives, were too ashamed to “acknowledge the corn” or admit the truth, that criminals from New York City were alerted by local newspapers that a “grand affair” would take place this evening in the coastal town of Oyster Bay, and the bounty would be plentiful.
The grand affair was the Master Mason degree of Vice President Theodore Roosevelt.
Matinecock Lodge secretary Walter Franklin estimated that over 500 visiting brothers, many traveling from out of state, would overwhelm the modest lodge room, and wisely decided to issue tickets to witness the historic event. This would be an evening when the duties of the Junior Deacon and Tiler would be seriously tested. Only those holding tickets were permitted entry into the lodge room, with over two hundred brothers turned away from the lodge to mill about outside in the cool spring night while the degree was conducted.
Brother Roosevelt arrived at the steps of the Oyster Bay Bank Building prior to the scheduled start of the event, with hundreds watching his every move, many of whom unsuccessfully tried to catch his attention. Assessing the large crowd and realizing he may be late for his own degree, Roosevelt was faced with a dilemma. It is not known who made the extraordinary suggestion, but, within moments, the muscular Roosevelt was raised over the heads of the visitors crowded in the narrow staircase and physically passed up the three flights of stairs. Standing at 5’10” and weighing approximately 210 pounds, this was no easy task for men not accustomed to vigorous exercise. For the athletic Theodore Roosevelt, however, this was just another day in the life of a man living to the fullest.
The “raising” of Brother Roosevelt took on a different meaning as he reached the third-floor lodge room door just in time to be prepared for his third degree as the only Brother to be raised that evening.
Master Mason Degree
The first section of the third degree was conferred by the Matinecock Lodge officers. The Matinecock Lodge officers were: W:. Theodore A. Swan, Master; James Duthie, Senior Warden; Edward P. Waldron, Junior Warden; Alfred Ludlam, Treasurer; Walter Franklin, Secretary; Alexander G. Russell, Chaplain; Edward H. Kirby, Senior Deacon; George S. Lewis, Junior Deacon; Stephen A. Baylis, Jr., Senior Master of Ceremonies; Irving B. Van Sies, Junior Master of Ceremonies; James Russell, Marshall; Thomas E. Baldwin, Senior Steward, William H. Carl, Junior Steward, Frank R. Spicer, Organist; and James Buchanan, Tiler.
Matinecock Lodge Officers, 1904. W:. James Duthie (seated, wearing top hat) was the Senior Warden for most of Brother Roosevelts degrees.
A “who’s who” of visiting Masonic dignitaries presided over the second part of the degree. Seven Past Grand Masters of New York were joined by M:.W:. Charles W. Mead, Grand Master of New York and M:.W:. Frederick Sylvester Stevens, Grand Master of Connecticut, R:.W:. Frank E. Haff, District Deputy Grand Master, First Masonic District; R:.W:.Theodore A. Taylor, Grand Treasurer; and R:.W:.George R. VanDeWater, Grand Chaplain.
M:.W:. Charles W. Mead
Brother Roosevelt was raised by M:.W:. Charles W. Mead, Grand Master of Masons in the State of New York. At the conclusion of the raising, the Grand Master along with his entire staff were received by R:.W:. William L. Swan.
The reception after the degree was held in the second-floor rooms of Welfare Lodge No. 695, I.O.O.F., and in the first-floor truck room, home of the Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 on Bayles Hill (now Summit Street). Both the local Order of the Odd Fellows and the Hook and Ladder Company donated the use of their facilities.
On April 24, 1901, Brother Theodore Roosevelt was the only sitting Vice President to be raised a Master Mason, accomplishing this historic moment just a few weeks after being sworn in. The following September 14, Brother Roosevelt would become President of the United States, days after Brother and President William McKinley succumbed to an assassin’s bullet or bullets in Buffalo, NY. Theodore Roosevelt was the ninth U.S. President who was a Freemason and the first of six Presidents to be raised Master Masons in the twentieth century.
Theodore Roosevelt was a proud Freemason, often discussing its merits while in casual conversation or in written correspondence. On November 5, 1902, Brother Roosevelt delivered a speech to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania on the sesquicentennial anniversary of the initiation of Brother George Washington. He stated in part: “One of the things that attracted me so greatly to Masonry, that I hailed the chance of becoming a mason, was that it really did act up to what we, as a government and as a people, are pledged to — of treating each man on his merits as a man. When Brother George Washington went into a lodge of the fraternity, he went into the one place in the United States where he stood below or above his fellows according to their official position in the lodge. He went into the place where the idea of our government was realized as far as it is humanly possible for mankind to realize a lofty idea.”
Brother Roosevelt’s Masonic career continued until his death in 1919, which will be explored in future articles.
Written by Wor. Bro. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA
Trustee Chairman and Historian, Jephtha Lodge No. 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