Beech Grove Masonic Lodge works to salvage pieces of presidential history after fire

BEECH GROVE, Ind. — The Beech Grove Masonic Lodge is hoping to salvage a big piece of presidential history after a large fire destroyed a substantial portion of their building.

A large fire broke out Monday morning on Lodge 694’s second floor. The fire damaged much of the floor.

A few valuable pieces of history got caught in the flames, including remnants of a visit by U.S. President Harry Truman.

“October 15th 1948, president Harry Truman visited Beech Grove lodge — We still use that chair that Hharry Truman sat in, and it's really special to us,” Worshipful Master Kevin Upshaw said.

Truman was famously on a campaign stop when he snuck away from the press to attend the Master Mason degree ceremony of a young sailor from Indiana who was his physical therapist on board the Presidential Yacht. Eventually, many of the items he touched and used during the ceremony would become part of the lodge’s history and lore.

"By the time the president showed up here, there were 1,000 people in the streets surrounding this wanting to catch a glimpse of the president. It is an example of national history, because even today, it's very unusual for a president to suddenly say, 'Hold it, I want to go and do this,'" associate director for the Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana Chris Hodapp said.

Everything from the “master’s chair” Truman sat in to items he used instantly became invaluable to the lodge. Now, many of those items are charred or covered in smoke and ash. Members of the lodge haven’t had the chance to evaluate all of the damage due to the building being unsafe.

“Once we’re able to get it and find what condition it’s in, we won’t know what we’re going to do with it,” Upshaw said.

Upshaw says they’re still waiting on damage totals, but estimates are well within the tens of thousands of dollars. He says they plan to rebuild, but first must take stock of everything. Until then, they’re relying on the help of other lodges to get them through.

“We’ll keep going, and we’ll be back in there. It’s not the furniture that makes the lodge, it’s the brothers,” Upshaw said

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