Unearthing a Masonic Time CapsuleMay 25, 2018
It was a brisk and sunny October morning in 1957 when the procession of Minnesota Masons, led by Knights Templar, traveled three blocks along Harvard Street in Minneapolis. They were there to witness the symbolic laying of the cornerstone for the new Masonic Memorial Cancer Hospital at the University of Minnesota. The cornerstone ceremony marked the culmination of more than two years of dedicated fundraising.
Within a cavity inside the cornerstone was a copper time capsule with items related to Minnesota Masonry, the University of Minnesota, and press stories about the hospital fundraising campaign. The practice of placing time capsules in cornerstones is not unique to Freemasonry, but the cornerstone itself is symbolically significant. As the historic first stone in a building, the cornerstone dictates the placement of all other stones. Freemasons today use the laying of the cornerstone in truth and morality lessons.
Fast forward to 2018. Crews that razed the original building to make way for the new Health Sciences Education Center uncovered the cornerstone time capsule. The University then returned the green-patinated box to the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Now part of the Col. James B. Ladd Museum, the opened time capsule and its contents tell a compelling tale.
What the Time Capsule Reveals
Clippings in the time capsule track the campaign’s timing. In May 1955, the University’s Board of Regents approved a project proposed by Dr. Donald J. Cowling, the Masonic Cancer Relief Committee’s executive committee chairman. The project involved raising “primarily among Minnesota Masons…a sum of not less than $500,000 for the erection and equipment of a hospital…to provide care for patients with cancer.” Later in 1955, as reported in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Dr. Cowling announced that the Masonic Cancer Relief Committee intended to raise $1 million for the hospital.
The race was on. An April 8, 1956 story in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune reported that, “Now, 3,500 Masons, Eastern Star women, and DeMolay young men, are ringing doorbells of other members.” In the nine weeks after the January project launch, the author said, Masons had raised about $200,000 in cash and pledges. Other stories highlighted specific contributions:
- Mesabi Daily News, on July 21, 1956, ran the story “Virginia Masons Add $4,336 to Cancer Hospital Fund.”
- A January 10, 1957 piece in the Eagle Bend News was titled, “Five Dollar Gift Brings Cancer Fund to $500,000.” The accompanying photo showed 13-year-old Mary Kay Mattlin—a newly minted member of Jobs Daughters of White Bear Lake—handing a $5 bill to University of Minnesota President James L. Morrill.
- Just a month later, a February 6 notice in the St. Paul Dispatch reported that a $750 check from Osman Temple Shrine brought the pledged total to $800,000.
The Final Push
By mid-April of 1957, The Minneapolis Star announced that a “Hit the Million” rally would be held at Coffman Union. Speakers at the event asked supporters to bridge the final $100,000 gap by June 1. Within weeks, press coverage recorded the groundbreaking in May of 1957. Then came the cornerstone ceremony in October.
Masonry and the University of Minnesota
Dr. Harold S. Diehl was dean of the University of Minnesota’s medical school from 1935 to 1957. As quoted in November 9, 1955 story in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Dr. Diehl declared that the Masonic Cancer Relief Committee’s proposal to raise money for a cancer hospital was “one of the most humanitarian enterprises ever to come to [his] attention.”
At the Masonic ceremony in 1957, reported the Minneapolis Star, Reverend W. Harold Young declared that “To build a rampart against the advance of so dread an enemy of mankind is a humanitarian undertaking of the greatest significance.” Dr. Charles Mayo, at the same ceremony, opined that “The men and women of Minnesota Masonry have created an enduring monument which is a measurement of their faith in the future.”
Looking to the Future
In fact, Minnesota Masonry, now led by Minnesota Masonic Charities, continues to have a strong tie to the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Cancer Center. On April 10, 2018 Minnesota Masonic Charities announced an accelerated $25 million payment to the Cancer Center on the 10-year anniversary of its $65 million pledge. Doctors at the annual Masonic Cancer Center dinner, held two weeks after the announcement, spoke of how Minnesota Masonic Charities’ ongoing financial support has made their ground-breaking treatment discoveries possible.
Over the past 60 years, many things have changed. What hasn’t is the way in which Masons continue to support important humanitarian causes. Today, more than ever, we are committed to advancing research and treatment options with the abiding hope that cancer will one day cease to be the second most common cause of death in the U.S.
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