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Harmony Lodge Papers

NO. 7

February 12, 1863

Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin

In the attic story of the house on the corner of Main and Thomson streets, is, or was, a spacious room, dimly lighted by a small window at each end, which, in my early days, possessed, for me, a deep and mysterious interest. It was fitted up by FRANCIS BOTSFORD, at the time the building was erected, for the use of the Masonic Society, which succeeded Harmony Lodge, and which was known as Catskill Lodge, No. 102. The furniture was plain and simple, consisting of four raised desks, one on each side of the room, resembling oyster-stand, and a number of hard-bottomed, back-breaking benches. What else might have been seen therein on the working night of the lodge, I cannot say, as I never approached nearer to it than, on one occasion, to see Uncle Nat. Eells, sitting before the door, with a drawn sword in his hand, which he flourished at me so menacingly as to effectually deter me from all subsequent explorations in that direction.

This room was often used by the Mechanics’ Society for their monthly and annual meetings, by political clubs, mountebanks, raree showmen, and, at one time, was grossly perverted from its original purpose, and hired to SOLOMON SOUTHWICK, for his Anti-Masonic Sunday lecturings. " To what base uses may we come at last!"

I well remember my first introduction into the room. It was to witness an exhibition by the noted showman, "Old Sickles," whom many of your readers will doubtless recollect—I never shall forget him. As I entered the door my attention was arrested by the beauty of the internal decorations, which, to my mind, seemed, at that time, more magnificent than all the many elaborate frescoes which I have since seen and admired. On the eastern section of the vaulted ceiling, a rising sun of yellow ochre radiated its glories over a green sky; stars, in white, twinkled in an indigo firmament overhead; in the West was a new moon resembling a chopping-knife, less the handle, and in the far South appeared a dark cloud, in size and shape the fac simile of a well-smoked ham, with a "silver lining" of fat.

After seeing all this, with Punch and Judy, the Babes in the Wood, and the fight between the Constitution and Guerrier, almost converted into realities by the skillful manipulations of the immortal Sickles, and listening to his innumerable songs, all sung to the same old tune, I supposed I had seen and heard about all there was worth seeing or hearing within the entire compass of the earth’s periphery. Very vivid is the remembrances of this my first "show." In the twilight of this dusky afternoon, my "mind’s eye" presents the dapper form of Sickles, clad in tight breeches, buff vest, and bob-tail coat; I see again the robin red-breasts descending, on paste-board wings, to strew green paper leaves over the deserted babes; I witness again the gambols of as many unrecorded aquatic monsters as could be crowded into an eight-foot ocean; my olfactories inhale the sulphureous odor of pop-guns of the mimic Ironsides, and the tympanum of memory vibrates responsive to the rattling chorus of "Down, derry down." Peace to the ashes, and honor to the memory of the jovial, gentlemanly, genial old boy, Sickles!

As I said before, the room was occupied by Catskill Lodge, circum 1818, but the records show that many of the old members of Harmony joined the new association. The first Masonic procession which I ever witnessed was of this Lodge. It was in the month of June, and I remember that joyful anticipation roused me very early in the morning of one of the longest days in the year, that I might be ready for the occasion, and those were long weary hours in which I watched and waited for the pageant. At last it came, heralded by the shrill notes, of "the wry-necked fife." Blown by the sore-eyed tailor, MITCHELL, and the rub-a-dub of Uncle DAVE HAMLIN’S drum. Next in order came the Catskill Band, composed of old CHARLES BACKUS, JOHN BOGARDUS, and one BERRY, with three clarionets; young CHAS. BACKUS with his bass drum, looking, for all the world, like his namesake, "the rosy god, except that instead of being astride his barrel, he had it strapped across his diaphragm; one, whose name I have forgotten with a big bassoon, and then three more BACKUSES, (BILL, JOHN AND JAKE,) with blue sashes and triangles. [I think that about that time my highest ambition was to wear a blue sash and lay the triangles, and I have not yet forgotten how I spoiled a pretty good fire-shovel—and got licked for it, too—by breaking off the handle and twisting it into an isagon, upon which I performed with a spike extracted from one the bar-posts.]

Then came the Worshipful Master, THOMAS HALE, tall, straight and puritanical; NATHANIEL HINEMAN, with the open Bible on his outstretched arms, and a face which would have puzzled Lavater to guess whether it was crying or laughing; NAT. EELLS, senior, doubly armed with his Tyler’s sword, and a nose like the prow of an iron-clad; Wardens with white sticks and blue ribbons; and, then, a long train of members, with collars and scarfs, and the other trappings of the order, looking so decidedly antique that, if there had been a dirty apron among them, I should have readily believed it had been soiled by the vertiable mortar used in the building of the Solomons’ Temple.

After permabulating the Village, keeping step to the tune of "Come, Brothers, prepare," the procession repaired to St. Luke’s Church, to listen to an address from the worthy Chaplain, the Rev. JOSEPH PRENTISS—in which place, the lack of a better, I will leave them, and my reminiscences, until some future issue of the Recorder.

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