A 75-year-old Masonic Bible with mysterious connections to the Mother Lode has returned home after narrowly avoiding an industrial paper shredder in Wisconsin.
Bob Snodgrass, 82, (left) of Jamestown, and Steve Webb, 68, of Sonora, hold a Masonic old Bible from 1937. Maggie Beck/Union Democrat, copyright 2012
The Bible was discovered in Wausau, at a recycling company that employs handicapped workers to sort through old papers and derelict books, which are either resold or shredded for pulp.
A sharp-eyed worker noticed the heavy brown book wasn’t just any old piece of scrap paper.
“It was an ornate book in perfect condition,” said Cory Tomcyzk, owner of IROW shredding and recycling services. “We don’t see things very often that aren’t damaged in some way.”
The rather large leather-bound book has gilded pages and is embossed with the familiar Mason square-and-compass symbol. Inside, the book is filled with ornate prints and etchings depicting Bible scenes like Moses and Aaron before the Pharaoh, and Jesus’ sermon on the mount.
It also contained an 1873 marriage certificate issued in Tuolumne County to residents Mary Carter and Greenbury Baker, as well as a death notice from the 1890s and a poem clipped from an early issue of The Union Democrat.
Tomcyzk passed the Bible off to the Masonic chapter in Wausau when he ran into a group of Freemasons during the Midwestern town’s annual Memorial Day Parade. They, in turn, used the documents stashed inside to trace the book back to Tuolumne County.
“Years ago, families used to use those Bibles like filing cabinets for important papers,” said Jesse Furrer, a member of the Wausau Masonic Lodge. “We just wanted to track down where in the world we could send this Bible to a place that will appreciate it.”
Members of the Masonic Lodge in downtown Sonora were ecstatic when a special package from Wisconsin arrived in the mail in June. They immediately set out to decypher the book’s rightful owners.
“I’m curious to know how it ended up way out in Wisconsin,” said Mason Chaplain Steve Webb.
He said Bibles are commonly given as a rite of passage to Masons when they reach “third degree” status.
Pages in the Bible from Tuolumne County that would normally bear the names of those presenting and receiving the book were left blank. The documents inside the book, however, indicate that it belonged to families with deep roots in the Mother Lode, the Carters and Bakers.
Part of what is now Tuolumne was originally the town of Carters, named for a prominent family in the area.
Webb said the book was likely issued to Ross Woodward Baker or Perry Frank Baker. “The Baker Boys,” as they were called, were both Masons in Tuolumne County during the time the Bible would have been issued and both attained third-degree ranking.
They were lifelong cattlemen and members of a pioneer Tuolumne ranching family. Both men died in 2005. Ross was 88, and Perry was 93.
The Baker family has owned a cattle ranching business in and near what is now Tuolumne since the 1870s. Part of their property was sold in the early 1900s for development of what became West Side Lumber Company.
Evan Royce, who represents District 3 on the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors, is a descendant of the Carter family, but said he wasn’t sure if it was the same family mentioned in the marriage and death certificates.
Webb said he would be glad to turn the Bible over to rightful family members if they can be found. In the meantime, the book is kept on display in a century-old black walnut bookcase at the Mason Lodge.
The special Mason edition was issued in 1937 by the famed Philadelphia publishing company A.J. Holman and contained artwork by Gustave Doré.
Webb said the book’s return to the county has prompted a great deal of interest from local historical groups and it may be put on display in the Mason Museum in Columbia State Historic Park.
“I’m sure glad someone had the sense not to shred it,” he said.