One of the great things about Freemasonry is being able to meet brothers from all over the world. Unfortunately, few Freemasons get the opportunity to travel to the four corners of the globe and visit in a Lodge in another country. A majority don’t even attend their own Lodge, but that’s another story.
It’s a little disheartening that an inanimate object has been to more Lodge meetings in more places that probably any Masons reading this have. But that describes the Travelling Trowel.
I first read about the trowel in the History of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia by J.T. Marshall. It originated with Justice Lodge No. 753 in New York and was dispatched with this admonition:
As the Trowel teaches all Master Masons that it is their duty to spread the cement of Brotherly Love and affection among the Craft, wherever and whenever opportunity offers, Justice Lodge No. 753, of the Eighth Masonic District, proposes to increase such opportunities by sending forth a SILVER TROWEL to journey among the brethren throughout the length and breadth of the land.
So it was the argentic tool bare a fond farewell to the sidewalks (and the rest) of New York in 1905 to begin its merry sojourn.
Just as Freemasonry cuts across national boundaries, in that members can be found around the globe, so the little trowel ignored national boundaries, too, and journeyed to Victoria, British Columbia on August 7, 1908, accompanied by a delegation from Lebanon No. 104 of Tacoma, Washington. It was received in a special ceremony at which Past Masters of various B.C. Lodges formed a “living trowel.” You can see their names by clicking on the picture of a similar trowel to the left; the best known is General Sir Arthur Currie.
A delegation of Victoria Masons helped the trowel on the next part of its voyage—to Oakland No. 188 in California on September 22, 1908.
Marshall’s history makes a reference to the trowel slowly making its way to the “Highest Hills and the Lowest Vales” in California. The book doesn’t outline much more than that, but I happened upon a story in the Imperial Valley Press, dated Saturday, March 6, 1909:
DIP TROWEL INTO SALTON SEA
Emblem of Unity Visits El Centro and Imperial Valley, Masons Escort it to Lowest Masonic Lodge in World.
The famous traveling trowel of Masonry, which is making its way around the world under escort from one Masonic jurisdiction to another, has reposed in El Centro’s Masonic Hall, has been viewed by the Masons of Imperial Valley, has been dipped with elaborate ceremonies into the Salton Sea, and is now on its journey eastward through Arizona.
About 250 persons participated in the excursion to Salton Sea last Sunday. The traveling trowel was brought to El Centro Saturday evening by an escort of Masons from Los Angeles, chief of whom were B. P. Spencer, Worthy Master of Southern California Lodge, No. 278, and custodian of the traveling trowel while it remained in the jurisdiction of Southern California; Motley H. Flint, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of California; H. W. Lewis, Past Master of Westgate Lodge, No. 3335; B. M. Power, Hollenbeck Lodge, No. 319; W. N. Blood, Highland Park Lodge, No. 382; J. C. Rommell, Sunset Lodge, No. 352; H. S. Jones and A. D. Bronson, Southern California Lodge, No. 275, and E.H. Dickinson, of Tyrian Lodge, Gloucester, Massachusetts.
The party was met by a reception committee of local Masons and was quartered at the Hotel Oregon. Saturday night the traveling trowel was placed in state in the El Centro Masonic Hall and a session of the lodge was attended by Masons from all points of the Valley. After the lodge session a banquet was served.
Early Sunday morning the visiting party were taken by local Masons in automobiles to Calexico, where the excursion train for Salton Sea was started.
Short stops were made at Imperial and Brawley, where the trowel was placed in the Masonic Halls for inspection by the brethren, and the train then proceeded to the Station of Durmid, almost on the northerly line between Imperial and Riverside counties. At this point the ceremonies of dipping the trowel into the sea took place.
After a picnic lunch on the beach, Custodian E. B. Spencer performed the ceremony with appropriate ritual, assisted by the Grand Lodge officers, and several short addresses were given. Some time was spent at the Salt Creek Trestle, where the fish are a great attraction, and late in the afternoon the trip back to Imperial Valley was made without special incident.
From this point the trowel went to Arizona, to be turned over to the custody of officers of the Grand Lodge of that jurisdiction.
The sojourn of the trowel at Brawley was unique In that at this point it reposed at the lowest Masonic lodge in the world, it being 126 feet below sea level. Only a short time before, the trowel was in the care of the lodge at the top of Mount Lowe.
The fact a highlight for Grand Lodge officers was staring at some fish that were not clothed in tartar sauce gives you an indication how the world has changed in 100 years.
The shiny trowel travelled over 20,000 miles, was solemnly put to labour at the laying of the cornerstone for the George Washington Masonic Memorial in 1923, and finally returned home to the proverbial hero’s welcome at Justice Lodge later that year. It is now in the Museum of the Grand Lodge of New York.
Masons are on a journey, too. It is not an easy one—it certainly wasn’t as easy travelling from Canada to California in 1908 as it is today. But it is a journey filled with rewards, in this life and in the life to come. And like the little trowel which was accompanied by members of the Craft, so are we to accompany our brothers in their journey through life. We should do it when possible and if necessary, through kind and thoughtful words and actions, with the goal of helping them be better men so as to make this world a better place.
The trowel which was assisted on its way by members of “the living trowel” still has a living message for Masons today.