What does the word Freemasons conjure in your mind? Practitioners of occult rituals? Old white presidents? Or perhaps, a polite term for the Illuminati? Tom Savini, director of the Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library and our guide for the hour and a half long tour organized by Atlas Obscura, has heard it all before. With a rather weary chuckle, he tells me that the Masons have been accused of everything from baby kidnappings to human sacrifices. I ask him if the Livingston Masonic Library contains any such sensationalist material or if it archives manuscripts that more accurately represent the Faith, if it can even be referred to as such. Savini is emphatic when he says, “No, we still contain these materials, if only to give visitors a comprehensive view of the Freemasons. We don’t try to tell anyone how to think here.” His response itself speaks volumes about what may just be the true tenets of Freemasonry.
The Livingston Masonic Library is a classically beautiful space located on the 14th floor of Masonic Hall on West 23rd St. It is as much a repository for relics as for books, containing cases full of beautiful objects, each wielding their own special significance. Some of the most iconic are the building tools, symbols of the group’s possible beginnings among the guilds of stonemasons during the Middle Ages.
The Livingston Masonic Library also showcases several decorative china pitchers from the late 1700s, all presumably used during Masonic banquets.
As for the books, the Livingston Masonic Library holds a full spectrum of views on Freemasonry, both from within and without the group. One of the more sensational accounts is Occult America by Mitch Horowitz, who offers an outsider’s perspective on Freemasonry. For a more balanced view, you can also check out Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow, a biographer of America’s first president and one of the most eminent Freemasons in history.
After the tour, I ask Savini why he thinks Freemasonry receives so much bad publicity. “Well,” he says, “Because of its secrecy, Freemasonry is often associated with revolutionaries. I mean, after all, many Freemasons were behind the French revolution, bloodiness and all. Also, we do count many of history’s most famous rebels among us. Simon Bolívar is an example”.
After all this, I wanted to know, what do Masons actually believe? Savini replies, “Without saying too much about our inner workings, I’d say that our primary belief is tolerance. We have members of all faiths and political leanings, but we never discuss these within the Lodge. We prefer our focus to be equality and the friendship between like-minded men.” If you ask me, it sounds a lot like what we teach our children, arcane rituals notwithstanding.
Located on 71 West 23rd St on the 14th floor, the Livingston Masonic Library is open to the public on MWF 8:30am-4:30pm and Tuesday 12:00pm-8:00pm. If you want to take a tour, call at (212) 337-6620 or email at email@example.com.
(source: sharon wong, http://untappedcities.com/newyork/2013/03/08/livingston-masonic-library-all-you-will-need-to-know-about-masons-if-you-never-become-one/)