In the small museum space, the memories of a different but enjoyable childhood washed over the small group.
A group of former residents of the Indiana Masonic Home, gathered together for their 66th class reunion, walked between display cases and memorabilia. They peered at the relics preserved from their time growing up at the Franklin-based home.
A slightly tattered varsity letter — the IMH letters entangled among each other — was mounted behind protective glass. A massive drum head emblazoned with the words Indiana Masonic Home Band hung on the wall.
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Photographs, posters and other items captured moments of athletics achievement, daily chores and other parts of their lives.
For the men and women who had grown up at the home, the experience walking through the Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana was riveting. They had been brought together when their parents died, abandoned them or no longer could afford to care for them.
That shared experience is one that the resident cherish, and they forged friendships that would last for a lifetime.
“I had three brothers and no sisters, but when I came to the home, I gained a lot of brothers and sisters. We felt that way; we were a very close-knit group of people,” said Dorothy Howard, who came to the home in 1937. “The same thing happened to all of us.”
The trip to the museum had been planned as part of Franklin High School Class of 1950’s yearly reunion. Some members of that class had lived at the home.
After a breakfast together June 18 in Franklin, they traveled to the museum, located in downtown Indianapolis. Organizers had arranged for the museum to be opened up, a rarity for the space, which is closed on the weekends.
The museum included a large component looking at the Masonic Home and the lives of the children who lived there. That was what the group wanted to see.
“It had artifacts, some stories, toys we played with, basketball jerseys,” said Morgan McCandless, a former Indiana Masonic Home kid.
The museum had been in existence since the early 1900s, but an added emphasis was made in the mid-1990s to add more displays and properly take care of the items in storage it had collected.
Originally, it has been housed in Franklin on the grounds of the Indiana Masonic Home. Only in 2008 did it move to the Grand Masonic Lodge in Indianapolis to gain more attention, said Mike Brumback, director of the museum.
The museum contains artifacts from throughout Indiana Masonic history, including bricks from the White House found with Masonic symbols and an apron worn by Battle of Tippecanoe commander Major Joseph Hamilton Daveiss. But it’s the items related to the Masonic Home kids that get the most attention.
“The kids had a nice life, and it’s an important story for our fraternity and for our guests. Those items probably attract as much emotion as any other story we have to tell,” Brumback said.
The Indiana Masonic Home opened in 1916, with the intention of being a self-sustaining home for widows and orphans of Indiana Masons and Eastern Star members.
“One of our missions in Masonry is to help our fellow man, so the Indiana Masonic Home was one of our major statements,” Brumback said. “It was founded at a time when there was no welfare, no social security, nothing. So the Masons started talking about doing something to help others.”
During the next 60 years, it would house 812 children. They were provided with rooms, clothing and regular meals. At Christmas, members of Masonic lodges helped provide money for gifts for the kids to open, and on Easter, they were served a feast.
“We couldn’t have had a better life than we had as children,” Howard said. “It was during the Depression, and that was a hard time for everybody. But we always had good food, and we had more clothes than most other children.”
Howard came to live at the home in 1937, at age 6. Her mother had died, and her father, after losing his business in the Great Depression, had to find other work and was unable to care for his children.
She was often upset and homesick, and would call her dad to come get her. But at the same time, she grew close with the other kids. Looking back, it was a blessing to be able to go to the home, she said.
“I feel like he did the right thing to send me down here,” she said.
Every child who lived at the home was given an education, both in the classroom and in the value of hard work.
The home contained an elementary, junior high and high school. When the children at the home weren’t in class, they were doing chores to support the home.
The home had its own farm, vegetable garden, print shop and powerhouse. Children helped staff the kitchen that cooked all of their food, tended crops, hooked horses to the wagon each morning for the trash route, milked cows and loaded coal.
“My buddy Billy and I, our job was to shovel the coal bins ever morning,” said Morgan McCandless, a former Masonic Home resident. “We became tough guys doing that.”
When he came to the Masonic Home in 1944, McCandless was 14 years old. Sports were a big part of his life, and he integrated into the athletics programs.
Sports were a big part of life at the home. When the children weren’t working on the farm or doing chores in the powerhouse, they were out playing basketball, track or football.
Masonic Home children won state titles in track, and the school’s basketball teams won the county tournament multiple times.
By the early 1940s, social safety nets and an improving economy had decreased the number of children who came to the home. The final year for the high school was 1944, since there weren’t enough students to warrant keeping it open.
Everyone still in school was sent to Franklin High School.
“There became an issue of the home guys vs. the town guys,” McCandless said. “But we got along really well. The town guys were very accepting of us, and were curious about who we were.”
When the teams consolidated, Franklin’s athletics teams were injected with a fresh dose of talent.
When the Grizzly Cub basketball team won the regionals in 1946, it was a Masonic Home kid, Harold Stinson, who was the star. The 1948 Franklin varsity football team consisted of an all-Masonic Home backfield and two of the residents on the line.
For many years, the Masonic Home residents had its own reunion to celebrate their unique upbringing. They would have a big dinner and dance, catching up on their family lives, travels and occupations.
But the graduates got older, and fewer and fewer were able to attend, McCandless said.
So, they were integrated into the Franklin High School reunions instead.
Brumback has interviewed about 40 former Masonic Home residents for the museum, producing a video that allowed them to tell some of their stories. In his time working with those who grew up in the home, he’s been surprised at the positivity that stems from their time.
“I’ve been fascinated that there’s not sad stories. It’s remarkable the pleasant, uplifting stories that these former children tell us about their experience growing up. I expected to hear stories about their dad dying or their mom dying. But these kids now realize how lucky they were.”
Children haven’t lived at the Indiana Masonic Home since 1972. But on the grounds of the home, a plaque has been erected to recognize those who spent their childhoods on the property.
Located in the gardens outside the assisted living facility, it is a bittersweet reminder for past and current residents.
The plaque reads, “In memory of the 816 children who found sanctuary on these grounds from the tragedies that separated us from care by our own families. While here we were taught to be proud of a job well done, to be responsible for our deeds, to represent ourselves by saying what we meant and meaning what we said, to value keeping our promises and to respect one anothers’ differences.”
Those two sentences summarize what the experience of being a Masonic Home kid was all about.
“Maturing in a structured environment with a mutual awareness of the common losses that brought us here created brother and sister bonds that will last forever,” McCandless said.
Timeline of the Indiana Masonic Home
1915 — Construction of the Indiana Masonic Home started. The plans called for an administration building of 53 rooms, boys’ cottages to house 90, a girls cottage to house 30, a hospital with 15 beds, a power plant and the service building.
1916 — The home opened on Oct. 21, with 38 residents.
1917 — Additions to the administration building adds 40 rooms.
1918 — A second girls cottage is built to house 35.
1921 — The entrance arch, fountain with basin, approaches and stone benches are constructed.
1922 — The high school, Holloway Hall, is built.
1925 — Two more girls’ cottages are added to house 80.
1930 — Completed the Boy’s Cottage Four and Five duplex, to house 70.
1944 — Due to decreasing numbers, junior high and high school students are sent to Franklin schools for the first time.
1948 — An annual pilgrimage to the home was instituted, which at its peak brought a crowd of at least 6,000.
1972 — The last year children lived at the home.
— Information from Morgan McCandless, Indiana Masonic Home kid and historian for the group