Washington Times Magazine, Feb. 17, 1907.
Free Masons The World over Searching for Picture of Dr. Dick
Stolen from Alexandria-Washington Lodge, Where the Father of His Country was Worshipful Master
Strange Persecution of Masonic Home from Whose Museum Many Rare and Valuable Articles Have Been Purloined Time to Time
PRICELESS art treasures have been stolen from the Vatican and other places at various times, entailing exhaustive searches, sometimes in vain; but probably the mysterious disappearance from the rooms of Alexandria-Washington Lodge, No. 22, A. F. & A. M. in Alexandria of a small likeness, in a plain oak frame, of Dr. Elisha Cullen Dick has resulted in a wider and longer sustained search than that for any other missing picture.
When the picture disappeared, Free Masons throughout the world were apprised of the fact, and a persistent but now seemingly hopeless hunt begun for the little portrait of Dr. Dick, who was the lodge's first secretary, and several times its worshipful master, who officiated at the laying of the first cornerstone of the District of Columbia and who was worshipful master at the time the corner-stone of the Capitol was laid, but who insisted that “Brother” George Washington, then President of the United States take the gavel.
Dr. Dick attended Washington in his last illness, and at his funeral performed the ceremonies of the order.
To the members of Alexandria-Washington Lodge the little likeness of Dr. Dick was simply without price.
Until now there has been no publicity of the search being made through the Masonic lodges, and this story is the first that ever has been printed of this and of certain other mysterious losses which have been sustained by the ancient lodge.
Picture Stolen in 1892.
The theft of the picture—for theft it doubtless was—took place in September of 1892, while a reception was in progress at the Alexandria Lodge, during the Grand Army encampment in Washington.
Thieves and souvenir hunters previously had made inroads upon the valued relics in the lodge's museum.
It was believed, however, that on this occasion the guard stationed by the Masons would be sufficient to prevent purloining and vandalism. Yet, when the doors were thrown open and the immense crowds which visited the lodge and museum began to arrive, it was seen that the chances for appropriating souvenirs was good.
Nothing of any consequence was missed until just at the close of the encampment, when it was discovered that the likeness of Dr. Dick had been removed from a hook on the wall.
The vigorous search was at once instituted which has continued during fifteen years.
It is due the Grand Army to say that it is the belief of the members of the lodge that no person who wore the uniform committed the theft, but that it was some one who had long coveted the picture and who took advantage of the large crowds to steal it, realizing that among so many it would be difficult to trace the theft.
This likeness of Dr. Dick, photographed from the only duplicate of the portrait in existence, is here published for the first time.
The little portrait was a rather crude affair and in size only about 3x4, framed in a natural oak. It was said to be a very fair likeness of the great Mason and physician, and there is but one other copy known to in existence.
The picture was made in 1799, and was presented to the lodge by Dr. W. B. Gregory who was one of Dick's lifelong friends.
Eccentricities of Dr. Dick.
Dr. Dick died in Alexandria in 1825. He was a native of Pennsylvania, and was in middle life when he located here, becoming at once one of the leading citizens and physicians. His wife was a Miss Harmon, also of Pennsylvania. The couple had two children, a boy and a girl. The daughter married Gideon Pearce, of Maryland, and was the mother of James A. Pearce, for several years a United States Senator from that State.
Dr. Dick was a peculiarly gifted man, though at times eccentric and difficult to understand. In religion he was blue-stocking Presbyterian, then an Episcopalian, and late in life he became a member of the Friends, remaining stanch in the faith up to the time of death.
He was a great lover of the fine arts, a fairly good musician and a painter of recognized ability.
A portrait of Washington which he executed is said to be a moat excellent one. He made with his own hands from wood imported for the purpose, a large and splendid church organ, but this instrument he demolished when he joined the Friends, believing that it was “too worldly.”
Dr. Dick once was a believer in the code duello, and owned a costly pair of dueling pistols of the flint and steel vintage, Inlaid with gold and pearl. These pistols he threw in the Potomac after he became a Friend, but several months after he consigned them to the water, he was passing down one of the streets and saw his pistols displayed in a window of a gunsmith's shop. Questioning the gunsmith, Dr. Dick ascertained that the pistols had been taken from the river by a fisherman, who had sold them to him. The doctor bought the pistols, and, taking an ax, he soon destroyed them.
Close Friend of Washington.
Dr. Dick was a close friend of General Washington, and a frequent visitor at Mt. Vernon. He was not the regular family physician at the Washington home, but was not infrequently called in. During the general's last illness he was the consulting physician, and within the last few months the Masonic lodge has been presented with the little scales used in weighing the medicine for Washington.
The theft of Dr. Dick's likeness from the lodge's museum doubtless will pass to the list of “mysterious disappearances” from this ancient place, and it will perhaps never be recovered, or the thief apprehended, but there are members of the lodge who still entertain hopes of again seeing the valuable relic.
This hope is based on the fact that a large number of vanished articles have been returned by conscience stricken thieves and souvenir hunters.
From March 12, 1812, at which time the museum was instituted there have been articles spirited away in a mysterious manner, and in a numbered of instances these have been as mysteriously returned.
Other Articles Missing.
In some cases more than a quarter of a century has intervened between the disappearance and the restoration.
A beautiful and costly cut glass bowl was returned from a point in Louisiana after it had been out of the museum for more than forty years; a silver cream pitcher was returned from New York State after an absence of thirty-two years; and a silver spoon found its way back from Missouri after twenty-nine years.
In no instance has the one returning the article given any intimation as to his identity.
But this little omission on the part of the senders gives the lodge people little concern, for they are only too glad to get the articles back and are rejoiced to know that conscience has not ceased to make even crooked people act “on the square,“ at times.
This ancient lodge sustained a severe Loss in May, 1871, when the city hall and market building was destroyed by fire. A large number of the most valuable and highly prized relics were burned and stolen.
The bier upon which Washington was borne to the tomb and his military saddle were not burned, but they have never been seen by any member of the lodge since the fire.
Many Relics of Washington.
There is still a belief that someday the bier and saddle will be restored to the museum and placed with the other relics of Washington—portrait of Washington in full Masonic regalia; full length portrait of Washington; Washington, in 1772; Martha Washington: an engraving, “The Washington Family;” clock from the bedroom in which he died; the hands indicating 10:20, the hour he died; his instruments; white kid gloves which he was married; leather garters he wore at Valley Forge; piece of cloth from his casket; piece of old vault in which his remains were first placed; a pair of his spurs; piece of cloth from coat worn at Braddock's defeat; his cupping instruments; apron and gash worn at laying of Capitol cornerstone, and which were made by Mrs. General Lafayette; a pruning knife; piece of tent used at surrender of Lord Cornwallis; a three-bladed pearl handled knife which his mother gave him and which he used all his life; pearl-handled trowel used by him at Capitol cornerstone laying; several of his letters, one of them declining an invitation to a ball in Alexandria and expressing regret that “the dancing days of both Mrs. Washington and myself, are, alas, over.”
Thefts from the lodgeroom and museum became of such frequent occurence that it was determined to take every precaution, and large recesses cut in the brick covered with heavy glass and locked, now contain the relics of smaller size. Besides those of Washington, there are a key to the Bastille, five pounds in weight, presented by General Lafayette; a long hickory cane form the Hermitage, presented by General Jackson; silhouettes of the original members of the lodge; original charter of the lodge; ancient Masonic staff from London; pair of spurs once owned by Gen. Santa Anna; invitation to a Free Masons' ball at Fredericksburg, written on the eight of spades; Masonic apron of Dr. James Craik, surgeon general of the Continental army, and hundreds of others, including 155 pieces of a 2,500-piece cut glass set presented to the lodge by an English captain of a vessel, and who had been the recipient of favors at the hands of the Alexandria Masons. On each piece of the set were the square and compass, with the name and number of the lodge.
This costly set of cut glass, presented by a grateful stranger, has 2,345 of its pieces scattered about no one knows where. A few were broken at some of the big “spreads” given by the “ancients,” but relic and souvenir hunters secured the best part of them. A few have returned to the lodge and perhaps others will show up by-and-by.
Valued Chair Damaged.
But the souvenir-bunter does even worse than steal. He gets down to the meanest kind of vandalism and does not care how much valuable property he destroys, so long as he satisfies his desires. As an instance of this: The rich and splendid chair in which Washington presided as worshipful master of the lodge, and which had been used since the lodge was instituted, was loaned for exhibition at a fair held many years ago in Washington, the promoters promising that a guard of twelve men keep constant watch on the priceless relic and that it would be returned to Alexandria in good condition.
The guard seems to have neglected its duties, for when the chair came back great pieces of mahogany had been cut from its back.
It will never go out of the lodgeroom again, and so highly does the lodge value it that it has been placed in a large glass case in order to give it better protection.
It is understood that the lodge has a standing offer of $10,000 for the chair, and half that sum for the silver trowel used at the Capitol cornerstone laying.
The relics of the museum would easily bring $100,000, but they are not for sale, and will not be as long as Masonry is known.