Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Potty words: Where to find Union soldiers' graffiti in Franklin

In 1863,  John Cottrell of the 14th Michigan wrote his name on the wall of Hiram Masonic Lodge No. 7.
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Many of us have enjoyed the beauty of Burnside Bridge from the bluff above Antietam Creek, marveled at the spectacular view of the Valley of Death from the summit of Little Round Top at Gettysburg or been transfixed by the scenery from atop Lookout Mountain.

But history often isn't pretty. Case in point: The second-floor men's room in historic Hiram Masonic Lodge No. 7 in Franklin, Tenn. On a wall next to the urinal there, you'll find graffiti by 14th Michigan Sergeant John Cottrell and other Union soldiers who occupied the town from 1862-63. The 14th Michigan was one of several regiments garrisoned at nearby Fort Granger.

Protected by a large sheet of plastic, Union soldiers' graffiti
 appears on a wall next to a urinal in the second-floor men's room.
Of course Cottrell -- quite a ladies' man according to a diary the Masons purchased on eBay -- and his comrades had no idea at the time they were defacing a restroom. The bathroom was added sometime in the 20th century, well before the Federals' graffiti was uncovered during a 1970s renovation. On the same wall where Cottrell wrote his name, rank, regiment, company and date of defacement (Aug. 25, 1863), even more soldier graffiti was recently uncovered.

The Masonic Lodge, built in the 1820s and now a National Historic Landmark, has a rich history. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson, a Tennessean and a Mason, met members of the Chickasaw Nation there during treaty negotiations with the tribe. During the Battle of Franklin, the building was struck by errant Union cannon fire, and in the aftermath of the fighting on Nov. 30, 1864, it was used as a Federal hospital. The Union army also used it as a barracks.

But my favorite historical nugget about the Lodge involves a Civil War-themed, Hollywood-produced movie. Early on the morning of Sept. 27, 1923, thousands of soldier extras for "The Human Mill" received Civil War uniforms and accoutrements at the Lodge, a wardrobe depot for the movie. Later that morning, a spectacular Battle of Franklin scene was to be filmed about a mile from town.

As the movie's wardrobe man, a World War I veteran from Germany, handed out uniforms, the faux soldiers became unruly. Most of them wanted to play Johnny Rebs. "Gentlemen please, gentlemen!" the German shouted, according to the Nashville Tennessean. "How vill de pig-ture be made if no vun vill be a Vederal?" The director of  "The Human Mill" died during production, and the movie was never completed.

MORE: The Historic Franklin Masonic Hall Foundation has ambitious plans to renovate the Lodge. Go here for information.

Purchased by the Masonic Lodge on eBay, this is the war-time diary of  Sergeant John Cottrell,
who wrote his name on a wall in the historic building in 1863.
Although difficult to read, more Union graffiti was recently uncovered in the Lodge's men's room.
Built in the 1820s, the Hiram Masonic Lodge No. 7 in Franklin, Tenn., was once the state's tallest building.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Nashville Tennessean, Aug. 6, 1950.

1 comment:

  1. I always enjoy these articles but I don’t get the defacement(s). I guess it’s no big deal.