GRAFTON, Mass. - The discovery of a pair of mysterious Masonic aprons at Franklin Lodge led Stephen Qualey on a quest that discovered ties to two former American presidents, Paul Revere and, finally, a woman in Alaska.
On Saturday, those two aprons, which once belonged to lodge founders Amasa Roberts and Royal Leland, were unveiled, fully restored, in a ceremony at Franklin Lodge. Witnessing the event: Joellen Dunning, who flew in from Anchorage, Alaska to see the historic artifact which once belonged to her great-great-great grandfather.
"For me, this became a quest," Qualey said of his search for the story behind the hidden aprons. "My wife would argue, it became an obsession. I'd say it was a little like a dog worrying at a bone."
Qualey initialy discovered the aprons in March 2011, while cleaning out the back hallway of the Masonic lodge. The setting sun reflected off a dusty glass surface he initially took for a discarded window. It turned out to be a dusty display case which, wiped clean, revealed two silk Masonic aprons and sashes from the early 19th century with documentation cards indicating they once belonged to Roberts and Leland.
"At this point, I kind of felt like Indiana Jones finding the lost Ark," Qualey said. "This dated back to the very beginning of our lodge."
Franklin Lodge was founded in 1852, an offshoot of the Olive Branch Lodge, then in Sutton and now in Millbury, a "Revere lodge" with a charter signed by then-Grand Master Paul Revere. Coming to the new lodge were Roberts and Leland, both Oxford residents.
The lodge met for years in Warren Hall, inside the building that is now One Grafton Common. The 1861 fire destroyed many of the lodge's records and artifacts and the Masonic brotherhood found itself homeless for several years, meeting at a home on Slocum Lane and at the Grafton Inn before returning to the rebuilt Grafton Town House. In 1965, it moved to its current home on North Main Street -- and someone, somewhere along the way, stored the aprons and completely forgot about them.
Qualey's search for descendants of the two men led him all the way to the White House -- twice. Both men count future presidents in their family tree, Millard Fillmore and William Howard Taft.
A Masonic website posted a link to an article on TheDailyGrafton.com about Qualey's search. And that is where Dunning, a descendant of Leland, discovered the key to her ancestry.
"I grew up hearing family stories around the dinner table," said Dunning, who was accompanied to the ceremony by her grandson, Dylan. "My mother was always interested in geneology, long before the Internet. I used to visit courthouses with her, looking for records. Royal Leland -- that's a name you couldn't forget and, one day, I just plugged it into a search engine and there it was."
The two masters' aprons were carefully restored by textile conservationist Kathleen MacKay of Westborough and placed in new, separate cases. The faded cards which once identified them were replaced with brass plaques.
Robert Vincent Jolly Jr., Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, praised the Franklin Lodge for their dedication.
"It's an important part of their history and worth preserving," Jolly said.