Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Citation of a burnt earth brick with unusual insignia – created more than a century ago in Jacksonville – on the website www.ruffbrickroad.com, is “a distinguished professional credit” for historical artifacts that comprise the local Vanishing Texana Museum, said museum board chairman Sam Hopkins.
Which in turn, he added, “makes Jacksonville an educational center for other heritage researchers.”
According to a description of the brick, loaned to the local Vanishing Texana Museum by the Ed Aber family, it was created by Aber Brick Kiln about 1890 with a “universal Good Luck Sign.”
From an excerpt of their book in progress, “Lives of Texas Brick,” authors Jim Atkinson and Judy Wood explain that “in the 19th century world that Ed Aber knew, the raised brand within a rectangular recess on his burnt earth brick signified good luck.”
The design – a cross with equal arms that "turn" at right angles – “is an ancient symbol that evokes whirling motion, like two sticks bound together and twirled to create fire,” they write. “During the very era that Aber kiln-fired this brick, the symbol had a surge of popularity in the Western world after it was discovered during Heinrich Schliemann's excavation of ancient Troy.”
Native American tribes, particularly those in the Southwest, also incorporated the design into their culture: “Hopi and Navajo referred to it as 'The Whirling Logs of Healing,'” the book explains, adding that the symbol is called a swastika, a name that “derives from Sanskrit su (good) + asti (it is) + suffix ka (soul).”
According to the website, About.com, “until the Nazis used this symbol, the swastika was used by many cultures throughout the past 3,000 years to represent life, sun, power, strength and good luck. Even in the early twentieth century, the swastika was still a symbol with positive connotations,” found on items like coins and building.
“During World War I, the swastika could even be found on the shoulder patches of the American 45th Division and on the Finnish air force until after World War II,” the site states.
However, the symbol – a black swastika against a white circular field – became “a symbol of hate, antisemitism, violence, death and murder” after Adolf Hitler adopted it as the official emblem of the Nazi Party in 1920, according to the About.com website.
The swastika is still perceived as such in this country, Hopkins said, even though in other cultures, the symbol represents a more positive image.
“ When I served in Vietnam, I observed the frequent use of the swastika symbol on grave markers in Buddhist cemeteries,” he said.
“The Aber brick reminds Americans that the imprinted symbol is still used outside of Western civilization by other world religions (and it) broadens our understanding of our own recent history, as well as the practices of other peoples in other places even today.”
The unusual brick may well just become the “attention-getter” the museum seeks to garner visitors.
“(It's) one of the most interesting of the museum's possessions,” Hopkins said; this year, “it is one of the three items that have been exhibited and studied by heritage professionals.”