On a late summer day, the clouds were grey, and the sound of thunder could be heard on the streets of a quiet Long Island village. The threatening weather couldn’t 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.
Little is known about the Masonic career of the future 32nd President of the United States. 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.
But one piece of FDR’s Masonic history that has been lost for over 87 years has recently been discovered; a reception held for the Governor to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, hosted by Jephtha Masonic Lodge No. 494 in Huntington. His grandfather Isaac Roosevelt, was a delegate for the Constitutional Convention.
It was speculated in published accounts at the time, that Governor Roosevelt chose to deliver an address in Huntington because of his relationship with Jephtha’s Master, W:. John J. Boyle, Jr. An Irish immigrant, later raised in Washington D.C., Boyle attended Columbia Law School, was a Captain in the US Army 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 NY 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, ran unsuccessfully for Huntington Town Supervisor and affiliated with Jephtha in 1924, from Crescent Lodge No. 402. It was probably through his influence and political connections that Roosevelt came to Huntington to deliver the address.
The first mention of R:. W:. Roosevelt’s visit in the Jephtha minutes was made just 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 $100 for their performance.
The turnout was expected to be considerable, so the Lodge requested permission to use Old First Presbyterian Church on East Main Street for the event. Attendance ranged between 370-470 Masonic brothers, depending on which source is to be believed, in the historic structure originally built in 1784.
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 Alcyone (Northport), Suffolk (Port Jefferson), Bay Shore, Amityville, Meridian (Islip), Peconic (Greenport), Old Towne and Star of the East, both from East Hampton.
Just before 5pm, M:. W:. Charles H. Johnson, Grand Master of the State of New York and his staff from the Grand Lodge, opened the meeting at Old First Presbyterian Church. For the next 2 hours, the program included an invocation by Brother E.J. Humeston, benediction by Brother Charles E. Cragg, several music selections by the St. Cecile Quartet, the official quartet of the Grand Lodge, 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 and preceded by a motorcycle escort, having made the trip from Valley Stream after giving a speech to the Nassau County Democratic Committee. The Governor joked that the name of Long Island should be changed to “longer island.” 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 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 available from the FDR archives, but a portion was transcribed by one of the local newspaper reporters. “People then thought straight and kept their heads,” said Roosevelt. “Our form of government has existed longer than any other in the world. It must be backed by substantial act rather than hollow lip service. The fundamentals of good citizenship are to be found in Masonry.”
M:. W:. Charles H. Johnson, Grand Master of the State of New York, 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 8pm.
In the minutes for this Special Communication, the Lodge Secretary 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 1467 Stated Communication on September 28, 1931, where it was acknowledged that correspondences were received from R:. W:. Roosevelt and other dignitaries.
By Ron Seifried