By Wayne Bednersh

When I first acquired this spoon I had no idea who Mrs. W.A. Murdock was or why she was pictured on a souvenir spoon. The symbol in the bowl looked equally obtuse and the only thing that made this spoon look interesting to me was the middle of the stem which indicated the spoon was for a 20th anniversary of something.  However, I was soon involved in hours of deep research which led me down some previously unexplored byways of history. I hope that you enjoy reading about it as much as I did from doing the research.

Mrs. W. A,Murdock, Grand Ladies Auxiliary, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers spoon

This 5.865" sterling teaspoon has a lot of interesting detail

At the very tip of the finial we have some 4 leaf clovers which are to represent luck.
Then there is a 3/4 right facing portrait of Mrs. Murdock in a downward pointing horseshoe. The horseshoe surrounding her head is also a symbol for luck and the downward shape is for 'luck' to pour onto the person shown. Also around the horseshoe you can see the horse shoe nails pictured. Surrounding the swastika is a chicken (or turkey) wish bone as a symbol of good fortune. (The wishbone tradition dates to the
ancient Etruscans who believed that fowl could foretell the future. The custom was adopted by the Romans and it is still with us today)

Below it says "founder G.I.A." and below that "B. of L.E."
I was quickly able to determine that this stood for the Grand International Auxiliary for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.

Below is a background of more four leaf clovers and a swastika.
The swastika was first use in the neolithic era weaving and is a common element for luck found in the cultures of Asia, Europe, and the USA including American Indians.
 This spoon was made in 1907 and it significantly predates the use of the swastika by Hitler and the Nazi's during
 World War II. This spoon has nothing to do with the Nazi atrocities.

The four leaf clover is also a symbol for luck. Most clovers have only three leaves and less than 1 in 100 is a four leaf.

The stem indicates that the G.I.A. was formed in 1887 and was celebrating it's 20th anniversary in 1907.
After considerable research I was able to discover that the G.I.A. celebrated their anniversary at the famous
 Palmer House in Chicago on October 21 and October 22, 1907

During my research I found several examples in the history of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers where Mrs.  Murdock was given souvenir spoons for various occasions. So we know that she was a spoon collector. But I could not find any reference to this particular spoon in the chronologies that I was able to access.

The bowl has an embossed picture of a crescent with a star inside. On the left are the letters "GIA". In the middle of the star is a large "E" with the letter "B" on the upper line of the "E" and the letter "L" on the lower line of the "E". We of course now know that this stands for the "Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers". Below the design the word "Chicago" is engraved in the bowl and we know that is the location for the ceremony.

Today we associate the crescent and star with the world of Islam. But that again has not aways been the case.
This symbol is very ancient and can be traced to the early Greek civilization. It is commonly found throughout Europe as well as the Arab world. The Islamic  Arabs seem to have adopted it sometime after the mid 1400's from Turkey. It was not an original symbol for Islam and was not originally use on the flags of Islamic countries. However, today it is frequently found on the flag of most Islamic nations.

The symbol is also found in many variations within fraternal organizations in the USA and Europe. It was particularly used extensively in the railroad community and even today many railroad locomotive names and railroad routes are called "star' ( with variations) and "crescent" (with variations).

There are also letters at each point of the star.  Becky Schneider, past president of the BLET Auxiliary, contacted me to fill in the missing part of my research. The five letters in the star, F,L,C,H,P stand for
Faith, Love, Charity, Harmony and Protection.

Apparently there was a secret ritual (which was very common among fraternal organizations during this era) and these were part of the 'grand honors' for the officers.

The back of the handle features a continuation of the pattern from the front with 4 leaf clovers and berries and a swastika. In addition there is a little dragon fly 
in the design which was a symbol of luck if it lands on you. Some species of berries were also considered to be good luck and were included in the design.

The back says "J.S.T. sterling pat applied for"

After considerable research, I was able to track down the patent on this spoon:

On Sept. 9, 1907, (application #38897), Eustace Crees and Charles S. Court of Providence, Rhode Island (assignors of J.S. Townsend of Chicago,  Illinois) filed for a patent featuring this spoon (the drawing exactly matches the picture above). On  November 26, 1907 patent #392073 was awarded.
(note: the patent procedure was a lot faster in those days)

Crees and Court had a long term relationship. Several years later they worked for Watson and Newell and designed several flatware patterns  including the  famous "Lily" by Watson, "Olympia by Watson" and the Fruit Series by Watson (popular spoon collector items).

I had been unsuccessful in tracking down the "J.S.T" mark on the back of the spoon. However, with this new knowledge I quickly located the maker:


Wholesale and Retail Watchmaker and Jeweler,


I was able to find this old advertisement for the firm.



The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers was created in 1864 and was one of the four largest railroad related fraternal unions (It is now part of the Teamsters Union). The B of LE has a long history of advocating better working conditions for all Americans and was a primary promoter of the 8 hour working day. Their archives have a pen which was used to sign this legislation into law.

The fraternal brotherhood was formed because of abuses by the railroad industry. The locomotive engineers were forced to work under extremely hard conditions which involved 16+ hours of daily physical  work which jeopardized their safety and the safety of their passengers and cargoes. There were even reports where the engineers were not allowed to sleep for up to seven continuous days. In addition there were a number of unfair labor practices such as stranding employees in distant locales and of course extremely low wages.

The B of LE was also one of the first fraternal unions to set up an insurance policy for their members.

The G.I.A. was set up in 1887 by Mrs. Murdock as a ladies auxiliary to the union.
 "The Order was founded solely for one purpose, to promote fraternal love and sociability between the families of the B. of L. E. men and to render aid and assistance in times of trouble. How far we have lived up to this purpose is shown by the increasing growth of the Order that now numbers 566 Divisions, with a membership of about 28,000."

About five years after this spoon was created, the G.I.A. also set up an insurance fund for its members.

Within the last few years, the auxiliary has changed its name to the BLET (Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen).
On October 16, 2010 it will celebrate 123 years of service to its members.
The secret rituals were abandoned years ago.

As an interesting side note. I found a notice in the historical records which announced this 20th anniversary and they listed hotels which members could use in the vicinity of the Palmer House.
 note these prices.

"Hotel rates for rooms, European plan, are as follows:

Palmer House, $1.50 per day and up; 2 in one room, $ 1.00 each and up.

Great Northern, $1.50 per day and up.

Grand Pacific, $1.50 per day and up; 2 in one room, $1.00 each and up.

Sherman House, $1.50 per day and up; 2 in one room, $1.25. each and up.

Briggs House, $1.00 per day and up; 2 in one room, $1.00 each and up.

McCoy Hotel, $1.50 per day and up; 2 in one room, $1.25 each and up."

"Mrs. W. A. Murdock, the founder, builded {sic} better than she knew, and was our leader for 32 years.
On April 17, 1919, she was summoned by the Death Angel and left the work she so dearly loved, but the foundation was so well laid that the structure remains firm and solid and at the present time the G. I. A. is marching on to even greater achievements and is an honor and credit to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the Order that we feel we owe everything to.

Mary E. Cassell, Grand Pres." (successor to Mrs. Murdock)

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