Alma Rose Rhodochrosite (Hillsboro, OR)

One of the most unusual crystal specimens I’ve ever seen on display is the Alma Rose rhodochrosite at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals in Hillsboro. This extravagantly beautiful specimen boasts five large rhodochrosite crystals, speckled with yellowish calcite deposits. Almost pure MnCO3, they have a deep pink, almost cherry-reddish coloring and are shaped like tilted rectangles (rhombohedrons). It sits innocuously, protected by a glass case, in the basement of the house originally occupied by Richard and Helen Rice, who were avid rock collectors. The ranch-style house is listed on the National Registry for Historic Places and considered the Northwest’s finest rock and mineral museum.

Alma Rose’s companion, the Alma King, both mined from the Sweet Home Mine in Alma, Colorado, resides in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and is the largest known sample, almost perfect in its rhombohedric symmetry.

Alma Rose

Alma Rose

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Bishop Museum (Honolulu, HI)

Since the strong winds continued to blow this morning, we decided to go back to the Bishop Museum, after finding out too late yesterday that it was closed.

Bishop is considered the finest museum of Hawaiian arts, culture, history and anthropology in the world. The Hawaiian Hall itself is worthy of a visit all by itself. But, there is also a stunning science center that explains the geology of the islands and other buildings that specialize in various aspects of Hawaiiana. The Sports Hall of Fame showcases Hawaii’s top athletes. The Kahili Room displays the Hawaiian royal staffs (called kahili) in all their feathery splendor, the finest collection anywhere.

There are frequent tours and demonstrations throughout the day. Volunteer docents explained to us about Hawaiian mythology and about the royal line. One extravagant artifact is the cloak worn by Kamehameha I made from the yellow feathers of 80,000 mamo birds, now sadly extinct. There was also an entertaining overview of lava, including the artificial creation of some in a fiery furnace right before our eyes. One display (Polynesian Hall) traces the three major groups of Polynesia.

The Hawaiian Hall is an impressive, three-story structure, open in the middle, that displays wonderful artifacts. Suspended from the ceiling is a life-sized model of a whale and an outrigger.

You can easily spend two days here if you’re so inclined.

Rodin Museum (Philadelphia, PA)

The Thinker

I was surprised to learn that there was a museum here in Philadelphia of Auguste Rodin’s works, thinking that most, if not all, of the originals would be in Paris. This belief is based on a misunderstanding of how Rodin worked. He often made plaster casts of his sculpture to be used to make replicas in bronze. To preserve their value, only limited numbers of pieces were ever made. Thus, there are other museums of Rodin’s works.

The Thinker, Rodin’s most recognizable bronze sculpture, sits outside the Rodin Museum. The Philadelphia museum houses the largest collection of his sculpture outside France. Though the building is quite small, there are over 100 of Rodin’s pieces here.

Rodin’s (in)famous sculpture is The Kiss, which is also widely recognizable as one of his enduring and erotic works. There is a copy of it, actually done for the museum by Henry Gréber. Another marble sculpture of an embracing couple is Eternal Springtime, a bronze casting of which also stands nearby.

Eternal Spring

Rodin’s most ambitious work is The Gates of Hell, a bronze door that recreates themes from Dante’s Divine Comedy. It can be seen in the portico as you approach the front of the museum. Several of Rodin’s most famous sculptures were inspired by smaller versions of them on the door, such as The Thinker and The Kiss.

Gates of Hell

Masonic Temple (Philadelphia, PA)

A view down the Grand Staircase from the second floor

The Philadelphia Masonic Temple, built in 1873 and situated directly across the street from City Hall, is one of the city’s historic buildings and an architectural wonder. The design of its interior is among the finest of all Masonic temples. Its museum holds many interesting artifacts from American history. The lodge (the full name is The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania) is where luminaries of the American revolution claimed membership. The last time I was in town in May, the museum was closed because of renovation to the Grand Entrance gate.

Freemasonry has been an enigmatic, some say secret society of men which has played an influential role in American history. It is assumed by some that it traces its roots back to the Knights Templar, the organization primarily responsible for Europe’s Gothic cathedrals. Many of the most important Founding Fathers were Freemasons: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, to name a few. Most American Presidents were Masons. While the Freemasons were not a majority of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution, whatever you think of them, they were extremely influential in shaping the ideas of what we now call American democracy and creating its form of government. How ironic that a society dedicated to equality, righteousness, and fraternity did not (and still does not) officially include women.

A guided tour of the temple will not necessarily reveal what Freemasonry is or does, in no small measure because it was led by a Stanford graduate (just kidding, but he is an alum). You do discover that it adheres to no particular faith, its only “religious” requirement for membership being the belief in a Creator. There is also a belief that esoteric wisdom was handed down by priesthoods or secret societies throughout history, dating as far back as the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians, some of which is codified in the symbols that are very much a part of a Freemason’s education.

There are seven lodge halls designed in a variety of architectural styles. Oriental Hall reproduces a part of the Alhambra in Granada (Spain), giving it a striking Moorish appearance. Egyptian motifs and hieroglyphics adorn the Egyptian Hall, designed after the temples of Luxor. The other meeting rooms are Renaissance, Ionic, Corinthian, Gothic, and Norman.

Oriental Room is inspired by Granada’s Alhambra

Egyptian Room shows influence of the temples of Luxor

Symbols are very important to Freemasons. There are many beyond the well-known compass and square. For example, the Star of David makes its appearance, not necessarily as an emblem of Judaism but as an esoteric symbol, signifying Divine Providence. The Star of David can be seen as an interweaving of two equilateral triangles, a special Euclidian shape and an important symbol to Masons. It also appears as points on George Washington’s Masonic apron.

Star of David

Even the materials used in the construction of the temple have meaning. An entire side of the building is covered in stone (Cape Ann syenite) that was quarried in Upper Egypt, the very same stone used by the ancient Egyptians to build pyramids and temples.

The museum is also an architectural masterpiece, done in the Byzantine style. It is so ornate that you tend to overlook the fact that it holds important Masonic artifacts, such as the apron, embroidered by the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette (also a Mason), that George Washington wore when he laid the first stone of the U.S. Capitol building.

Byzantine architecture of the museum (note the Star of David pattern again and other Masonic symbols)

If you are a Masonic scholar or interested in Freemasonry or if you are a student of architecture, you can do no better than pay a visit here.