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•  Spring 2014 | Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library

A

t the Scottish Rite Masonic 
Museum & Library, we 
actively collect objects, 
documents and books as-

sociated with all American fraternal 
groups—Masonic and non-Masonic. 
Recently we were given this set of 
props that was used by the Knights
of Pythias. While these two items may
look identical in the photo—triangu-
lar wooden bases covered with point-
ed spikes—there is a crucial difference 
between them. On one, the spikes are 
metal and unyielding. On the other, 
the spikes just look like metal, but  
are actually rubber.
 Founded by Justus H. Rathbone  
in 1864, the Knights of Pythias based
their ritual on the story of the friend-
ship between Damon and Pythias.
Like many American fraternal groups, 
and because founder Rathbone was  
a Freemason, the Knights took inspi-
ration from Freemasonry, which was 
officially established in America dur-
ing the 1730s. Like Freemasonry, the 
Knights of Pythias have three degrees,
called ranks, each with an initiation 
ritual.
 These props, known as the “test  
of steel,” were part of the ritual for 
the third Knights of Pythias rank—
the rank of Knight. A published ver-
sion of the ritual from 1928 explains 
how these objects were used. The can-
didate was asked to examine the one 
with the metal spikes. Then the offi-
cers would swap in the prop with the 
rubber spikes, without the candidate 
noticing. The Master at Arms would 
take the candidate to a set of steps 
and make sure he walked to the top. 
At the word of the man playing the 
King, the candidate had to jump into
the center of the spikes. A postcard in 
the Museum & Library collection 
shows a tongue-in-cheek allusion to 
the “test of steel.” It shows a woman 

Recent Acquisitions

on top of a block with a bouquet of 
flowers on the floor in front. Inscribed 
on the block is the Knights of Pythias
emblem and the words “Shall I jump?” 
A member of the Knights of Pythias
would understand the allusion being 
made by the postcard.
 While we depend on generous 
friends of the Museum & Library to 
donate objects for our collection, we 
also have a small acquisitions fund 
that allows us to purchase items.  
Recently, we were excited to buy a 
Connecticut mark medal. The silver
medal originally belonged to Ezra 
Bennet. Born in 1776 or 1778, Bennet 
appears to have been a life-long resi-
dent of Weston, Connecticut. He mar-
ried Esther Godfrey in 1796. He died 
in 1831 and was buried in Bridgeport, 
Connecticut. Records at the Grand
Lodge of Connecticut document that
he was raised in Ark Lodge No. 39  
of Redding in 1802. According to a 
published local history, Bennet was 
also a member of Lynch Chapter No.
8 and Heron Mark Lodge.  Heron 
Mark Lodge took its name from a 
locally-influential citizen, William 
Heron (1742–1819). In addition to 
serving as the first Master of Ark 
Lodge No. 39, Heron was active in 
local and state government and holds 

the distinction of having likely been  
a spy for both sides during the Ameri-
can Revolution.
 Bennet’s mark medal was crafted 
in an uncommon teardrop shape that 
probably represented a plumb bob.  
In Freemasonry, a plumb or plumb 
rule, a tool that helps the user assess 
verticality, is a symbol of uprightness, 
rectitude or truth. On one side of  
this medal, the engraver cut Bennet’s 
name in a flowing banner decorated 
by stylized flowers and vines. The 
other side shows four symbols (all-
seeing eye, sun, moon and heart) with 
the mnemonic, “HTWSSTKS.” This
mark is the one that Bennet chose for 
himself, probably to recall some of 
the lessons he learned in the lodge.

Knights of pythias Test of steel, 1900–1930, 

american. gift of James J. bennette, 

2013.057.1a-b.  photograph by David bohl.

Mark Medal, 1801–1828, probably  

Connecticut. Museum purchase, 2013.054.1.  

photograph by David bohl.