The Mystery in Lodge 43
By: Nathaniel Gilchrist P.M., Lodge 43 Lancaster, Pa.
Among the many Masonic mysteries within the Masonic Fraternity there is one that has existed in Lancaster’s Lodge 43 for almost 200 years.
The mystery refers to the full size carving of the Father of our Country, and most prominent of Masons, George Washington. There is a life size carving of George Washington (Figure 1), which has resided in Lodge 43 almost as long as the very existence of the Lodge itself, which was chartered in 1785.
The mystery lies in the fact that to this very day the Lodge has not been able to identify the artist who carved it, the date it was carved, or when and how the statue became a possession of the lodge. The Washington carving is believed to be almost 200 years old, and was carved sometime after the revolutionary period of our country, most likely between the years 1825-1850. One theory however, may even date it to the revolutionary period of our country.
The full size carving stands 79 inches from the base to the top of the head. The wood consists of pine slabs as much as 6 inches in width, which were then fastened together into 1 piece. This was the preferred method of carvers of that period. The statue is painted white to facilitate the look of marble, which was a common finishing process of that period. As many as 5-7 coats of paint could be applied to accomplish the desired effect of marble. The carving is unsigned, and no specific carving of dates or carver name or initials is evident.
Like most mysteries, there have been several very interesting theories that have developed over the years, each with their own conclusions and coincidences, but to date nothing to substantiate the true identity of the artist, or the dates associated with the carving.
Recently a new research project has been undertaken by the author. Utilizing the advantages of the internet, as well as resources at the York and Lancaster Heritage Museums were used to explore the theories, which previous studies did not have available to them.
The printed Lodge 43 Twenty-Five Year Anniversary history books, dating back to 1785, and a more painstaking review of all the actual handwritten minutes of the Lodge in that time period, has revealed no information or clues regarding dates or information about the George Washington Lodge 43 carving.
There have been 2 theories over the past 100 years that have been repeatedly suggested as the most probable source of the carving. The current research efforts resulted in a third candidate and theory to add to the ongoing mystery of the carving.
John Fisher Theory
The first written documentation of the statue within the Lodge exists in the form of a typewritten report in 1950 by a Past Master of Lodge 43, Olin K. Zook. This report had long been considered the most popular theory, especially by the older members of the lodge. Recent research strongly suggests that while a good theory, the facts simply do not support it.
The report suggests the carver was a young German born artist who migrated from Germany to York, PA when he was a young lad. His name was John Fisher (1736-1808). Initially a farmer, as he developed into a young man he pursued his talents in carving and became one of York’s best known carvers. He was most noted for his grandfather clocks, both in the carving of the clock, and the tooling of the actual clock internal movements themselves. John Fisher grandfather clocks to this day are highly sought after, and considered very valuable works of art.
He also did several prestigious carvings, one of which is still prominently displayed at York College as a wall carving depicting, The Pennsylvania Coat of Arms. He is most known for his Goddess of Justice full size carving which stood in the old York County Courthouse for years, until the courthouse was demolished. That carving then went to a private collector, who still has it in their possession.
The 1950 report further suggests that the Lodge 43 Washington carving was the work of a young unknown artist from Philadelphia, who upon seeing George Washington in person decided to carve his likeness. This was reported as the period when the Continental Congress evacuated Philadelphia and came west to Lancaster, then York, to further evade the British when they occupied Philadelphia in 1787. The report suggests that the young man having been so impressed with the person of George Washington, carved the statue and gave it to Lodge 43. This was so implied in an 1863 book published by Sydney Hayden “Washington and his Masonic Compeers”. In the book however, he is unable to identify the actual artist, and he does not elaborate on the source of that one and only statement.
The 1950 report identifies John Fisher from York, Pennsylvania as the likely artist based only on a later verbal statement from a York County mason. That statement is not documented to further support the claim.
The accuracy of this report and subsequent theory becomes questionable when the stated facts are reviewed and found to be both confused and incorrect by Olin Zook.
The report references the artist as both a young artist who carved it in Philadelphia; and later in the report as a young carver from York, Pa., who carved it when he saw George Washington in York. It is my opinion that Olin Zook has unknowingly referenced 2 different artists. There is no record of John Fisher ever living or working in Philadelphia, and there is no Masonic connection that would justify why he, a York resident, would have given the statue to a Masonic Lodge in Lancaster, Lodge 43
The report implies the statue stood in the York County Courthouse for many years. The statue that stood in the courthouse was a completely different statue “The Goddess of Justice” which was carved by John Fisher, but bears no resemblance to the Lodge 43 statue.
The Lodge 43 carving does bear a very striking resemblance to a famous statue carved by William Rush, a Philadelphia artist, in 1814. John Fisher died in 1808, 6 years before the famous William Rush statue was carved.
In consideration of the above facts and timeline, the John Fisher theory when evaluated against the William Rush theory, you begin to see where dates and coincidences do not tie to John Fisher as the mostly likely candidate.
William Rush Theory
This theory by far evolves around the remote possibility of the Lodge 43 Washington carving being the work of one of our country’s most famous sculptors, William Rush (1756-1833), or at the very least, being undeniably influenced by one of his students, associates, or an unknown carver who was familiar with William Rush carvings, and specifically the William Rush George Washington carving of 1814.
William Rush was a Philadelphia resident who initially was consigned by the United States Government to carve mastheads for several of America’s Naval vessels. When the age of the wooden ships passed, William Rush turned his attention and skills to artistic carving. He became a co-founder and professor of the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) in 1812. The PAFA exists to this day as an academy for the study of fine arts.
William Rush carvings are considered quite famous and very valuable. There are seven William Rush carvings among the vast collection of art at the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge, which he was commissioned by Grand Lodge to carve. One of his most famous pieces currently on display at the 2nd Bank of Philadelphia is his full size carving of George Washington (Figure 2), carved in 1814. His son John Rush assisted in the creation of this piece.
It is in this carving that one of the most interesting coincidences provides the distinct possibility of a William Rush connection to the Lodge 43 George Washington carving. When the pictures of these two full sized Washington carvings are compared, it becomes very obvious they are very similar in style and appearance (Figure 1) (Figure 2). It is this similarity between the 2 sculptures that has provided the basis for this theory, and has been so stated by various experts throughout the years who through viewing various photographs have suggested a possible connection to William Rush.
The similarities further suggest a number of relationships, one of which may be found in a letter William Rush wrote to the director of Independence Hall in 1831, where he states he modeled “several likenesses of Washington in miniature and as large as life” before he completed the famous Philadelphia George Washington carving. None of those likenesses (carvings) are thought or known to still be in existence.
William Rush influenced many young artists with his association as a professor at the PAFA, and while in his employ as apprentices when his business was carving ship’s mastheads. It has been suggested that a more likely artist responsible for the Lodge 43 Washington could have been one of these students or apprentices, who may potentially remain forever unknown.
During the Bi-Centennial period of our Country, 1974-1978, the Lodge 43 George Washington was on loan to the Lancaster Heritage Society and placed on public display for our country’s Bi-Centennial. Several experts from the Philadelphia Museum of Art familiar with William Rush sculptures offered their opinions regarding the carving. Their accounts were published both in Lancaster and Philadelphia newspapers at that time, and offered several very interesting opinions and suggestions regarding the Lodge 43 Washington carving, and its potential connection to William Rush.
Henri Marceau, Curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in 1937, was considered the most knowledgeable expert of William Rush’s work having cataloged it for a 1937 exhibit for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A personal scrapbook of William Rush’s work was made available to Henri Marceau from William Rush’s great grandson William Rush Dunton Jr. Mr. Dunton had developed this scrapbook over many years to memorialize his great grandfather, William Rush. Henri Marceau published a book in 1937, “William Rush (1756-1833) – The First Native American Sculpture” which provides an extremely detailed account of William Rush, his work based on the exhibit, Marceau’s independent research, and from the contents of the family scrapbook provided by William Rush Dunton.
In 1937, Henri Marceau was provided with 4 photographs of the Lodge 43 Washington carving by a local historian John Lippold. Marceau’s conclusion in looking at the photographs of the Lodge 43 Washington was that it was “carved by the same hand as the William Rush Philadelphia George Washington carving”. He remarked in his book there were undoubtedly many more Rush carvings in existence that have never been identified, owing to the vast number of pieces William Rush most likely would have carved and distributed to others throughout his lifetime. He suggested that many of these pieces may forever go unknown and undiscovered.
The opinions of others who have been solicited for their input over the years, who have been knowledgeable of William Rush, have all suggested similar possibilities. That being the remote possibility of the Lodge 43 Washington carving to being the work of William Rush, while implying at the very least, a strong influence of William Rush by perhaps a lesser known artist or student who knew or worked with him.
The newspaper articles further indicated an investigation of a forensic nature, and a thorough examination by qualified William Rush expert was necessary to prove or disprove the Rush theory. This type of a structured formal investigation has never be undertaken to date, with only the verbal input from various experts over the years through photographs to support or not support this theory.
Johannes Demuth Theory
This theory represents a new possibility that developed only in recent months while researching the John Fisher, William Rush theories.
Dr. Irwin Richman of the Landis Valley Farm Museum published a book in 2001 as part of a four book series on Pennsylvania German Folk Art. The 2001 book has a picture of the Lodge 43 George Washington carving on the cover that was taken while it was on loan to the Lancaster Historical Society. On page 82 of the book, with a picture of the Lodge 43 Washington carving, Dr. Richman includes a caption which suggests the artist of the statue was Johannes Demuth, who modeled it after the famed William Rush George Washington carving.
Johannes Demuth (1750-1820) was the son of Christopher Demuth who opened the famous Demuth Tobacco Company in Lancaster in 1770. The Demuth family continued to operate the tobacco store until the early 2000’s when it finally closed and become part of the Demuth Foundation. The Demuth Foundation was formed as a museum in memory of the famous Charles Demuth, an ancestor of Johannes. Charles Demuth was a renowned oil and watercolor artist.
Research on Johannes Demuth is very limited. He is known for his two and one-half foot cigar store carving which stood in the door way of the Demuth Tobacco Shop for many years, and is now on display at the Demuth Foundation. Dr. Richman feels there is direct similarity in the carvings styles of the Lodge 43 Washington carving to the Cigar Store carving and serves as the basis for his theory that Johannes Demuth was the artist. While this does not represent a strong case for Johannes Demuth in of itself, there are several other considerations that were discovered in the research.
George Washington visited the Demuth Tobacco Shop in 1773 to make a purchase while traveling through Lancaster which provided Johannes Demuth the opportunity to see George Washington personally, and perhaps inspired him to create the Washington carving.
Another interesting connection to Johannes Demuth as the possible carver is the fact that one of his ancestors, Ferdinand Demuth, father of famous artist Charles Demuth, became a member of Lodge 43 in 1850. This could very likely account for how the carving eventually found its way to Lodge 43.
To date there has been very little additional data to research. The Demuth Foundation has not provided any further information to draw conclusions from so this theory will remain plausible, but remote at best.
While at this stage of the current research there are no conclusions to resolve the ongoing mystery of the Lodge 43 George Washington carving, there are several factors which point the way for the ongoing research.
- The Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), because of the William Rush association, may have records on file that may pinpoint more of his life work; and may have records of students who studied under William Rush or attended the Academy in the period when the carving was most likely to have been created.
- The Demuth Foundation in Lancaster, although founded for the purpose of preserving the memory of Charles Demuth, may have records that help establish the schooling and additional works of Johannes Demuth.
- The John Fisher theory while not completely eliminated, seems less likely owing to the fact that John Fisher died in 1808. The William Rush Philadelphia carving was not created until 1814. If John Fisher did the Lancaster carving there is little explanation on the similarity between the two Washington carvings. Some have suggested the same portrait of George Washington may have been used as a reference by 2 different artists. It has been noted by at least one expert that no known portrait of this nature exists from which the artist(s) would have been able to use as a reference.
- John Fisher had no known Masonic involvements, which would question why he would give the carving to Lodge 43. He also became quite locally known for his work, yet no reference is made in any research on file at the York Heritage Museum to the Washington carving, while much of his other accomplishments are documented, on display and recorded in their historical files.
- William Rush did have a connection with the PA Grand Lodge, and while not a Mason, surely became acquainted with Masonry through his PA Grand Lodge consignments.
- William Rush offered to make and sell plaster casts of the Philadelphia Washington carving in letters to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison only to cancel the offer when there was not enough interest. He then offered the original to James Madison at no cost to display in a national prominent setting as James Madison would so choose.
- William Rush experts are becoming increasing scarce which minimizes the potential of connecting the Lodge 43 carving to him without the services of a professional researcher.
The renewed research to identify the artist, and the actual period it was created and given to Lodge 43, may never be determined given the 200 years it has existed and the experts knowledgeable in the possible theories become more remote. The identity of the artist would prove to be a huge discovery, and solve a wonderful 175-200 year mystery within Lodge 43.
The Lodge 43 George Washington none the less represents a significant piece of the Lodge 43 history in its current unknown artist status. It has stood in the confines of the lodge for almost 200 years for all past and present members of Lodge 43 to admire, appreciate, and feel proud for the uniqueness it brings to Lodge 43’s long history, and what it represents in the figure of George Washington. It represents a piece of American history that was created very soon after our country won our independence. It is the hope of the Lodge that it will continue to stand in a place of honor in our Lodge 43 Museum for all future members and visitors to appreciate.
Figure 2 Figure 1
Additional Photo (Figure 1) of Lodge 43 “George Washington Statue”
William Rush George Washington Statue (Figure 2) 2nd Bank of Philadelphia
The following represents additional research data and notes and is included in the text of the paper
William Rush – Notable Facts/Quotes/Sources
Source: 1974 Lancaster Newspaper article by Jack Brubaker
Subject: John Lippold, Local Historian
- West Willow historian John Lippold quoted in saying the foremost authority on William Rush, Henri Marceau, told him personally in 1937 that the Lodge 43 carving was the work of William Rush
- Henri Marceau was assistant curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the time, and considered the foremost authority of William Rush. Marceau had published a book in 1937 “William Rush (1756-1833) The First Native American Sculpture”.
- Henri Marceau had just completed a William Rush exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art which served as the basis of the book from information obtained from the personal files of William Rush. These personal files were provided to Henri Marceau by William Rush’s great grandson.
- John Lippold personally took 4 photographs of the Lodge 43 Washington statue to Henri Marceau in Philadelphia in 1937 from which John Lippold was quoted “and since it was nearly like that of George Washington at Independence Hall, he felt the Lancaster figure was definitely George Washington and done by the same artist”.
Source: 1974 Philadelphia Inquirer article by Jack Brubaker
Subject: John Milley, Independence Hall Supervisory Curator
- Quote – “According to John Milley, Rush wrote in one of his letters that he modeled “several” likenesses of Washington although the lifesize sculpture in Philadelphia is the only known carving still in existence”.
- John Milley had only seen pictures of the Lodge 43 Washington and expressed his skepticism, although he remarked it would be a fantastic find with an astronomical value.
- John Milley wanted to see the statue personally to make comparisons to other known Rush work, but never did come to Lancaster to look at it.
- John Milley studied 4 photographs and remarked that no one can give a final opinion on the basis of photographs, but indicated his first impression was that the differences in the Lodge 43 Washington as compared to other Rush work made it highly improbable.
- John Milley dated the Lodge 43 Washington between 1825-1850, and indicated a member of his staff was researching all carvers in the Philadelphia area for that period to try and identify the artist. No conclusions are known of that study at this time.
Source: 2014 Appraisal Report from art Directives to Albert Kling, Lodge 43 Trustee
Subject: Research Results re: Lodge 43 Washington Authentication as a Potential William Rush
- Their findings were inconclusive in that they were unable to contact any known William Rush experts, and based their opinion on the John Minney statements from 1974.
- They recommended we continue to follow the John Fisher theory based solely on the 1950 Olin Zook Report. No actual research was undertaken.