6. Secret Societies
Secret Societies Dramatize Rituals
Strange as it may seem, “secret societies” like the Masons generated some of the largest audiences for magic lantern shows. About a third of adult American men in the late 19th century belonged to such societies, and all of the societies used magic lantern slides as part of their rituals every month, creating a monthly audience in 1920 of about 6 million.
After 1890, most of the secret society slides were by Beale, who created about 170 such images, many used by several societies. One of his images was reproduced on this Knights of Pythias 100th anniversary plate. The story of the unswerving friendship of Damon and Pythias was the organizing metaphor of the Knights. The climax of the lantern-slide ritual was Beale’s picture of Pythias saving his friend from the headsman’s axe. The Masons are still using Beale’s images in 35mm and PowerPoint.Archival Notes