NEW MADISON — Middle school and high school students at Tri-Village High School in New Madison were treated to a rare glimpse of American history Thursday.
Students and teachers at the school were able to get a close-up look at the gavel used by first U.S. President George Washington during cornerstone ceremonies at the construction of the United States Capitol Building in 1793.
A delegation from Potomac Lodge No. 5, Washington, D.C., flew with the gavel, locked in a hard case, and handcuffed to Robert Heffelfinger, Lodge No. 5 secretary.
Its journey to Dayton International Airport marks only the second time the relic has traveled by air since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. From there, the delegation was escorted by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, and then by Darke County Sheriff’s deputies.
Though the artifact is priceless, Heffelfinger said the gavel is insured for approximately $2 million, thus the high security measures surrounding it.
“It’s living history,” said Heffelfinger. “It was something that belonged to who I consider to be one of our first founding fathers, George Washington, and it’s something that’s been through several events throughout the history of the country. Here today it’s still living, something that gives us an understanding of where we come from.”
Greenville Lodge No. 143 Worshipful Master Tom Baker also called it a “piece of living history.”
“It’s an amazing artifact,” said Baker. “This is Greenville Lodge No. 143’s way of help celebrating the 300th anniversary of modern Freemasonry. By bringing a living artifact to Greenville, that George Washington was a mason, we want to share about Freemasonry and a historical artifact with the community.”
“A lot of these kids will go to D.C., and see the U.S. Capitol Building, and they can say ‘Yeah, I saw the gavel that was used in the ceremony to lay the cornerstone to build the Capitol Building,’” Baker added.
After a discussion of the gavel’s history, students were invited to ask questions. The first question asked — “Are we allowed to touch it?” — was met with a firm “No, you are not allowed to touch it,” from Heffelfinger, who told students they were, however, welcome to take pictures with, and of, the artifact, from a short distance.
“This is part of your history too,” he said. “As you grow, you will appreciated the things America has to give you. You’ll see that it’s little relics like this that remind us of how hard it was for us to get where we are to this point.”
The gavel was scheduled to be seen by Greenville students, and then displayed during a special dinner event at Romer’s Catering Thursday night. The public is invited to see the gavel starting at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Masonic Lodge No. 143, 202 Memorial Drive, in Greenville.
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