I am a Tombstone Tourist: someone who loves to wander cemeteries. I find it akin to visiting a museum: an opportunity to enjoy rarely seen sculpture, intricate carvings, and amazing architecture, all in a tranquil outdoor setting. This blog is about cemetery culture, art, history, issues of death, and genealogy - subjects of current relevance. I usually find something that intrigues me and makes me want to dig deeper. Care to join me? Read on...
Friday, September 15, 2017
The History of the Order of Knights of Pythias
The Knights of
Pythias was founded during the Civil War in Washington, D.C. and was the first
fraternal organization to be chartered by an act of Congress. Justus H.
Rathbone founded the group based on the legend of Damon and Pythias, a Greek
story of honor and friendship.
Membership in the organization required a belief in a supreme being and was open to men in good health. According
to the secret rituals of the organization, when a man was inducted into the
group, he received a ceremonial sword usually bearing the letters FCB, which
stood for Friendship, Charity, Benevolence – the three attributes of the organization.
Their motto is “to speak the truth and to render benefits to each other."
The fraternal group was
comprised of three tiers – Castles made up local meeting places, state buildings were called Grand Lodges, and Supreme Lodges were the designation for national buildings.
Officers included the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Prelate, Secretary, Treasurer, Master at Arms, Inner Guard, Outer Guard and the Past Supreme
Chancellor. The organization also had a women's auxiliary – the Pythian Sisters,
along with the Pythian Sunshine Girls and the Junior Order of Princes of Syracuse
Knights of Pythias at the turn of the century
During the high point
of fraternal groups, the Knights of Pythias had close to one million members,
but once interest in secret societies died off, numbers dropped. There were fewer than
200,000 members by 1980. Today, there are more than 2,000 lodges in the world
with membership over 50,000.
The Knights of
Pythias of North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa (KPNSAEAA) was
formed in 1869 after an African American lodge was denied membership. By the
turn of the century, the KPNSAEAA had close to 40,000 members with lodges in 20
U.S. states and countries around the world.
By the 1870s, the
organization began offering fraternal insurance
benefits to members. In the 1930s, this endowment group broke from the
mainstream Pythians and became the American United Insurance Company.
The Improved Order,
Knights of Pythias began in 1892 as the result of a ruling that only English
could be spoken at meetings. Many members also spoke German so in the 1895, the
group fractured yet again but mended itself a few years later.
of Pythias included Presidents William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, and
Franklin D. Roosevelt. Vice Presidents included Nelson Rockefeller and Hubert
H. Humphrey along with numerous Supreme Court justices, members of Congress and
state representatives. Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong was also a member.
The Knights of Pythias still exist in more than 20 states in the U.S.
along with international groups. The Pythians provide camps for under privileged children, and homes for
older members. The American Cancer Society is the national charity of the
Pythian Castle in Missouri
structures can still be found throughout the United States. Many of these grandiose
castles and lodges have been listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic
Places and with the National Park Service.
Although a central
register of deceased members does not exist, the organization is happy to
answer genealogy questions. Contact them at Pythias.org.
My new book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide will be hitting
bookshelves across the country this month. Click
here for book information.