Heart of Louisiana: Masonic Jewels

Published: Aug. 27, 2014 at 2:25 AM CDT
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GREENSBURG, LA (WVUE) - It was a crime that happened 150 years ago: A set of precious jewels were stolen by Union soldiers from a Louisiana Masonic lodge. But in an odd twist, it may have been the best thing that could have happened to these heirlooms. FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us to a Masonic lodge in St. Helena Parish in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

Symbols are an important part of the fraternity of Masons. They adorn Masonic lodges, and members wear the emblems or jewels. The Masonic lodge in Greensburg dates back to the early 1850s. During the Civil War, Union troops took over the Greensburg lodge, and when the troops left Louisiana, something very valuable left with them.

"We knew that the lodge had been used as a barracks and that it was pretty well looted, you know, at the time of the Civil War," said Lodge Master Chuck Coburn. "That was in our history."

The stolen items included pure silver artifacts. All have deep meaning to the Masonic brothers.

"I like to make a comparison to them like a family heirloom," Coburn said.

For 150 years, the jewels were missing and presumed to be lost forever. But early this year, they resurfaced at a Masonic lodge in California.

"I was presented with these jewels that were given to us by a retiring or elderly brother who had them for apparently many years that were passed down to him and given to his father because he was a Mason," said Jeff Hertig lodge master at the Consuelo Lodge.

"We happened to have gotten along with the jewels a small 100-year-old note written by someone giving us some names to get the investigation started," said George Tegart, also with Consuelo .

"The note said they came from Charles Harvey, a soldier from Kane County, Illinois.

Harvey was later transferred into Company K of the Illinois 15th Calvary Regiment and ended up in this area around the end, around the early parts of 1864. A reading of Louisiana Masonic archives showed that the Greensburg lodge was missing its jewels.

"That was really a big eureka moment, all my gosh, we know who lost them," Tegart said.

California's Consuelo Lodge traveled to Greensburg, and in a special Masonic ceremony, hand over a long lost jewels.

But the jewels aren't the only things this group has lost over the years. The lodge in Greensburg burned down in 1950. Every single artifact in the building was lost. And that makes these historic jewels even more important.

"It mean so much to us because this lodge, they are the only things that remain from the original lodge," Coburn said.

Perhaps this is the end of a century-and-a-half-old theft. Or these Masons prefer to think a Union soldier took them for safekeeping, hoping that someday they would find their way back to where they belong.