Inside the Union Building (p7)

Leaving the Union Building’s second floor behind, we ascended the newly installed staircase to the third – a floor that was originally home to the Free and Accepted Masons. As fraternal groups go, the Masons are probably the most famous of the all. They are also the most controversial, as their extreme secrecy, ritualistic tendencies, and highly powerful and influential membership made for some great stories and movie plots. The Masons date as far back as medieval times and to the stone masons who built Europe’s great castles, but Masonic legend holds the Masons descended from those men who built Solomon’s Temple around 840 BC. Whatever the true origin, the Masons would become one of the largest such organizations in the new world, though not so much in the Copper Country at the closing of the 19th century. Here the Masons had hardly the wealth or influence they had in other major cities, and the Calumet Lodge would be forced to seek other financial partners in order to erect a lodge space for itself. Thus the Union Building Association was born, and with it the Union Building itself.

Upon exiting the new stairwell we found ourselves at the Mason’s reception room, very similar in layout and style to the Odd Fellow’s version seen downstairs. In fact this entire floor was eerily familiar to the one we had just left. Along with the reception room in which we now stood, this floor featured its own anteroom, robing room, kitchen space (now replaced by the stairwell), and of course large meeting hall. The only real difference was the addition of a formal stage in the meeting hall, and the lack of a connecting hallway between the perimeter rooms.

Interestingly the Mason’s reception room was rather plain and pedestrian; quite the opposite of what I was expecting. There were no fancy tin ceilings, no ornate wall coverings, and only a very anemic selection of dark stained trim to be found. It was a rather uninspiring, but considering it would have been considered a more public space I suppose that would be expected. We figured we would have to move forward to the anteroom before we found something a bit more impressive.

At the end of the reception room was a pair of double doors, one a bit smaller then the other. The door to the right leads to a storage room, while the door to left leads to the anteroom. Since there’s no hallway here acting as an intermediary, once we passed through the door we found ourselves passing directly into the Mason’s waiting room itself; and right away we were impressed.

Now this was more like it. This was the type of room we were expecting to find within a Masonic Temple, decked out with all the class and pomp it could muster. Unlike the Odd Fellows more gentlemen’s club feel, the Mason’s approach was a bit more Victorian splashed with tin ceilings, cornices, and stenciled walls. Most impressive was the painted medallion sitting within the center of the ornate ceiling, home to the rooms lone light.

I’m not sure if these hand painted medallions are original to the building or whether it was part of the renovation but whatever its origin, its a great classy touch.

The painted motif continues along the rooms’ cornice work. These tin attributes feature a curling leaves motif that is highlighted in a dark green color against a light tan background. Just beautiful.

The rest of the tin ceiling tiles were painted with only a simply white overcoat, but its intricate patterns and scrolling were still impressive to behold. Of course the fire sprinkler is a more modern addition.

Here’s a wider look at the anteroom’s ceiling, showing all the intricate details working together (forgive the bad color temp though, this room was horrible for that and I couldn’t quite fix it in post). In addition to the ceiling, the room featured rather ornate wall details as well which can be see here. Large faux panels are painted along the upper portion of the wall, complete with some nice stenciling at the corners.

Though believed original to the room, these “panels” are actually reproductions done for the building’s restoration. I was told that this intricate paint job was not in the original plan, but some extra money was found during the process and these were then added. It would have been a shame of they were not done, as they really add to the room’s charm.

While the room is graced with several dark stained doors, its most arresting feature is this small staircase found in its southwest corner. These stairs lead up to the building’s secret fourth floor, a room used supposedly by the Masons’ affiliated Knights Templars.

This fourth floor – and the staircase leading up to it – is actually a later addition to the building, and was not part of the structure’s original design. Originally the space over the third floor was simply a large open attic space, that was until the Masons elected to renovate part of it into a large locker room. This staircase was then added to more formally access that space from the anteroom.

The fourth floor was home to row upon row of lockers, just like the ones seen here. These storage cabinets would have been used by the Knights Templar to store their ceremonial garb and militaristic accessories.

Unfortunately that short line of lockers seen previously are all that remains here, as the remainder of the space was confiscated for use by the building’s quite substantial heating and cooling system. While preserved by the park, most of the lockers were removed to make room for that equipment. You can still see faint outlines of where they once stood on the floor.

Coming back down the stairs to the third floor we notice this particular oddity in the floor. It’s a trap door, and it leads to one of the more interesting rooms of the whole building.

That door leads to this narrow passage leading down to a very small room – a closet really – found down on the second floor. Rumor has it that this space was used by the Masons for one of their initiation rituals, where members would be lowered by rope down through the trapdoor and left to hang here in the dark to reflect upon their life.

Besides that trap door this room can also be reached via a door found off the main stairwell on the second floor, which is how I got these pictures. Inside that room today you find very little, save for some remnants of its rather gaudy wall coverings. It looked just big enough for someone to hang around in but very else.

With the staircase and fourth floor behind us, we turned our attention to the last remaining area of our tour: the Masonic Hall itself.

The Grand Opening of the Keweenaw National Historical Park’s new Calumet Visitor Center – housed within the newly renovated Union Building – will be held tomorrow Thursday October 27th with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10am. In addition to the visitor center itself, the building will be home to several interactive exhibits about life and work in the great metropolis of Red Jacket. The building will be open to the public between 9am and 5pm, and there is no cost for admission.

6 comments

  1. Regular hours for the visitor center will be 9-5 Monday through Saturday (closed on Sundays) from now at least until Thanksgiving. Hope to see you there!

  2. It is indeed appreciable that there is still some who will put real craftsmanship into such a project. My compliments to your hard labors. Bravo.

  3. Doesn’t seem they have the hours udated on the KNHP website yet. They are hosting events today and tomorrow for the grand opening though.

    Here’s what I yanked from Jeremiah’s FB wall:

    Grand Opening, Calumet Visitor Center – Thursday, October 27. Ribbon Cutting at 10AM at 98 5th Street, right out front. 11AM Naturalization Ceremony on the 3rd floor, and 12M pasty lunch at the Keweenaw Heritage Center at St. Anne’s across the street. 7PM official premiere of the film Risk and Resilience, with a presentation by the film maker, Nancy Haffner of RBH Multimedia, 3rd floor. Free trolley tours of downtown Calumet, and free tours of the Calumet Theatre and the the Keweenaw Heritage Center will be offered all afternoon. The exhibit on life in a mining community (Calumet) will be open all day. Come check it out!

  4. Does the union building / new visitor’s center have regular hours when it will be open? Can anybody post those?

  5. HIGHLY recommend everyone getting a chance to see the new exhibit and visitors center at the Union Building. Saw the full tour last night, and it was absolutely overwhelming!

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