New to the Collection: Odd Fellows Gavel
September 09, 2014
By 1900, over 250 fraternal groups existed in the United States numbering six million members. To fully understand and appreciate Freemasonry in America, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collects objects and documents associated with all types of fraternal organizations. Many of these groups were inspired by Freemasonry and adopted similar structures and rituals. We recently acquired this carved gavel with the three-link chain symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The gavel represents fifty years of American history. An inscription on the head of the gavel reads “Presented to Grant Lodge No. 335 by H.W. Swank Lookout Mtn. April 29, 1914.”
In November 1863, Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee, was the site of the Civil War’s “battle above the clouds.” Under the leadership of General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), the Union Army was able to attack the Confederate troops who occupied the mountain and drive them away. The following day the Union forces continued to Missionary Ridge and broke the Confederate lines around Chattanooga. Unfortunately, H.W. Swank’s connection to Lookout Mountain is unknown. Was he one of the soldiers that fought in that battle? Did he have a relative that fought there? Did he just enjoy the natural beauty of the site? The mountain continued to be a tourist destination, as shown in this cabinet card from the Museum’s collection. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Americans began to visit Civil War sites as they healed from the war and remembered those who were lost there.
Originally founded in England in 1745, the American branch of the Odd Fellows was organized in Baltimore in 1819 by Thomas Wildey (1782-1861). The group took several cues from Freemasonry – they share some symbols, as well as the three-degree structure for initiation, although the specific rituals are different. Presumably, Swank was a member of Grant Lodge No. 335, which was located in Redkey, Indiana, a town about halfway between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. Thirteen members instituted Grant Lodge No. 335 in Redkey in September 1869. According to a 1922 local history, Oddfellowship “prospered in Jay county [where Redkey was located] and…several lodges are reported to be doing well.”
The gavel is currently [September 2014] on view in our lobby as part of a changing display of recent acquisitions. Consider coming by to see it – or leave us a comment below about whether you have been to Lookout Mountain!
Independent Order of Odd Fellows Gavel, 1914, Tennessee, Museum purchase, 2014.036. Photograph by David Bohl.
Unidentified Group at Lookout Mountain, 1870-1920, J.B. Linn, Tennessee, gift of the Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA, 85.80.29.