The Manuscript Society News takes readers on a never-ending road trip to member institutions. Next stop: the Iowa Masonic Library and Museums located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This white marble structure is home to one of the largest and most complete libraries of Freemasonry and allied orders in the United States, if not the world. Our host is Bill Kreuger, librarian and curator of collections. Al Ottens, the Manuscript Society’s president, contacted him for a virtual tour.
What in your collection would be of special interest to our members?
The collection includes a wide range of items and materials dealing with Freemasonry, Iowa history, and religion and philosophy. The oldest book in our collection is The Pharsalia by Lucan, published in 1470. We have a first edition of the Book of Mormon, published in 1830, and an account book (referred to as a daybook) used by Joseph Smith. We also have many autographs, a Lincoln letter, a small lock of George Washington’s hair, and an original Grant Wood painting.
What is the major focus of the collections?
The library was started in 1845 to provide reading materials for the enlightenment of our Masonic membership. (Freemasonry has its basis in education as a means of improving oneself.) The main focus is Freemasonry and its allied orders, including York Rite, Scottish Rite, Shrine, Order of the Eastern Star, Prince Hall (African American Masonry), and anti-Masonry.
Because one is required to believe in a higher power to be a Mason, the library also collects materials on all religions and philosophies. Because our first Grand Secretary arrived in Iowa Territory as the personal secretary to our first territorial governor, we collect items and materials on Iowa history. Finally, because our library was in existence in Cedar Rapids 12 years before there was a public library in town, we have a large collection of non-Masonic materials representing the humanities. We have always been open to the general public.
What current or upcoming exhibitions are planned?
We have two permanent exhibition galleries and two temporary exhibition galleries. Our first-floor permanent gallery has an exhibition on the history of Freemasonry. It includes aprons, regalia, medallions, and the Grant Wood painting. The second-floor permanent gallery houses our General History collection. It focuses on books and materials in both our non-Masonic and Masonic library collections.
For instance, there is in Freemasonry a school of thought that the ancient Egyptians were some of the first Freemasons. The library was a supporter of the Egyptian Exploration Fund in England during the late 19th century. In our General History gallery is a collection of Egyptian materials recovered from some of these explorations. We also have exhibits on Oriental history, Native American history, the American Civil War, and World War I.
What noteworthy items are currently on display?
We have on exhibit five cuneiform tablets from the Middle East; an original medallion of the Grand Stewards’ Lodge in England, designed by William Hogarth in 1735; and the Scottish Rite 33rd degree sword presented to our first grand secretary, Theodore S. Parvin, in 1859. Also on display is a collection of woodcarvings by local Czech folk artist John Stodola.
Do you sponsor educational programs or perform school outreach?
We have presented talks on items on our Egyptian collection and our collection of World War I recruitment posters. In our General History gallery, we have developed a scavenger hunt and discussion for fourth-grade students.
What nearby venues would be of interest to members?
Nearby are several museums, including the Grant Wood studio, where he painted many of his more famous works. It is directly behind our building. Also behind our building is the Linn County History Center. The Brucemore Historic Site, Iowa’s only National Trust property, is about 1.5 miles away. The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which houses many Grant Wood and Marvin Cone paintings, is a half mile away. The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, as well as the African American Museum of Iowa, are within a mile of us.
Whom should members contact if they want to view the collection?
We are open Monday through Friday. To arrange a visit, contact Bill Kreuger at email@example.com or call 319-365-1438. For a preview, browse the Iowa Masonic Library online card catalog at http://alexandria.iowamasoniclibrary.org.