Many relics of North American Co-Freemasonry's
early history remain doggedly lost until it is time to be found. This article is
about one of those relics, the first English Charter of the first Co-Masonic Lodge
in North America; how it seems to have been lost and its stationary journey to being
Prior to the spring of 2010, there
was no hint that the charter could have survived the first part of the 20th
Century. Many of these early charters had been transferred to the then international
headquarters in Paris, France and then were destroyed shortly after occupying German
forces entered Paris in 1940 during World War II. The assumption had, for decades,
been that the English Charter of the first Co-Masonic Lodge in North America was
among many lost in that conflict.
Not that the English Charter had
been the first Charter. When Alpha Lodge 301
was consecrated October 18, 1903 in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, the first Charter issued
was in French. There followed quite a controversy about the lack of English language
and Alpha Lodge eventually traded its French Charter for that in English.
Such charters are supposed to be
displayed during Lodge meetings or at least on the Lodge premises but Alpha Lodge's
rocky history makes this difficult to trace. Over the decades, Alpha Lodge went
periodically dark and was resurrected. On January 9, 1938, the Lodge transferred
across the river to Monessen, with a full roster of officers and seems to have thrived
for a while only to repeatedly wax and wane in the next few decades. Records are
scarce but Alpha Lodge appears to have gone dark for good in the 1970s and almost
all of its relics are considered lost.
It didn't occur to me when I arrived
in Charleroi May 19, 2010 with two other Brothers, Darylee Foertsch and Velma Foertch,
that we were about to find evidence Alpha Lodge's English Charter has survived World
War II and the Lodge's going dark. I then was doing intensive research for the first
written book on worldwide Co-Masonic history. I and the Brothers Foertsch went to
Charleroi to visit the print shop of the Louis Goaziou, first Right Worshipful Master
of Alpha Lodge 301 and the Order's second Grand Commander. Goaziou also was one
of the Order's primary founders. Goaziou's old print shop is preserved by the Charleroi
Area Historical Society and we expected to meet with the society's chair, Nikki
Also on hand was Charleroi Mayor Nancy Ellis.
Shortly after we entered the shop,
something hanging high upon a wall caught our eyes. Though neither Sheppick or Ellis
knew exactly what it was, I and the Brothers Foertsch recognized it as a charter.
Once the image was lowered from the wall, we were very excited to see it looked
like the first English charter of Alpha Lodge 301. Sheppick let us know that what
we were looking at was a high quality photo copy of what she thought was the original
that the Goaziou family had given to the historical society; and that the society
had carefully stored offsite. Sheppick agreed to allow us to see the original the
Thrilled, we alerted Brothers at
headquarters in Larkspur, Colorado that we thought we would see the original English
Charter for Alpha Lodge 301 the following day. Naturally, there was a good bit of
That excitement was dampened the
following day, back at the print shop, when we were allowed to view the "original";
which turned out to be a high quality, full scale black and white photograph of the
original. It was a very clear and well done photograph, impressive as it was to
scale. However, the gold seal clearly wasn't a seal (and was in black and white,
so not gold) and on the back of the photograph in three-lined printing were the
words "THIS PAPER / MANUFACTURED / BY KODAK".
Obviously, the image itself provided
some much needed information for my research but it was the printing on the back
carried its own importance as evidence the true original might still exist somewhere
in the world. In any case, it was proof the Charter survived into the second half
of the 20th Century.
Kodak commonly used that printing
on the back of their photo paper in the 1970s and 1980s and not prior. That meant
the original still existed at that time. The Charter probably never made it to Paris
and was not destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. I tried to guess at the
likely path of the Charter and came up with a theory. When Alpha Lodge 301 went
dark for the last time in the 1970s, it may be the Goaziou family was hesitant to
part with it given its attachment to their predecessor, Louis Goaziou. It's possible
the Order agreed to leave the family with a high quality photograph in exchange
for the original. Which would then have been sent to headquarters in Larkspur. And
where it might still be.
Another call was placed to Larkspur
to let the Brothers there know we did not, after all, have access to the original
but to please keep their eyes open for the charter in Larkspur.
Months passed and the charter drifted
out of my thoughts. However, the Brothers in Larkspur did keep their eyes open.
In early March 2011, as the publisher was reviewing final proofs of the book, Rosario
Menocal, President of the American Federation of Human Rights, was in the archives
looking from something totally unrelated when she noticed a large roll of paper.
She unrolled it and there it was, the original English Charter for Alpha Lodge 301.
Now it was my turn to receive an excited phone call. Bro Rosario told me what she'd
found and I also could hear the cheers of other Brothers in the background.
It had been found just in time for
a good quality scan to be included in the book published later that year.
Today the first English Charter of
Alpha Lodge 301, the first Co-Masonic Lodge in North America, is beautifully and
archivally framed and hangs on a wall in the anteroom where the Order's Supreme
 Numbering conventions in early worldwide Co-Freemasonry
history can be a little confusing. In general, Lodges founded in France
started with single digits as that was the first country where Co-Masonic
Lodges were consecrated. The second nation where Co-Masonic Lodges were
founded, under the direction of famed human rights activist Annie Besant,
was Great Britain, where numbering eventually began in the 200s. As the
US was the third nation where Co-Masonic Lodges were founded, numbers began
in the 300s with Alpha Lodge given the initial number of 301.
 For more information about these early French charters,
as well as other information about early Co-Freemasonic history, see my
"On Holy Ground: History of the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry,
the American Federation of Human Rights" (Masonic Publishing Company of
the US, 2011).
 A very notable exception is Alpha Lodge's first minutes
book which is preserved in the archives of the Larkspur, Colorado headquarters
of the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry, the American Federation of
 Her fuller title is "society administrator, researcher,,
'part time' creative carpenter-painter and all around worker".