Freemasonry and Washington D.C.
No, I am not
I did become curious about the organization after realizing
that many of my ancestors on both sides had been members.
My conclusion — they're no sinister conspiracy,
just a harmless group containing a number of cranks.
(By "they" I mean the Freemasons, not my relatives)
Yes, yes, they do a lot of charitable work. But so do a lot of other organizations!
Meanwhile, as their own terminology makes very clear, I, as a non-Mason, am much less worthy than them.
On the one hand, they would call me a Lewis and thereby better than other people just because my father has gone through their rituals. Really. As described in the on-line Masonic Dictionary and elsewhere, they use the term "Lewis" to refer to the son of a Master Mason, someone who is allowed to join their organization at 18 rather waiting until the more mature age of 21.
But meanwhile, and this is what I'm more proud of, I am nothing but a lowly Cowan. As described by them, "This is strictly a Masonic term; it means an intruder, profane, pretender, or one who accidentally enters where he is not wanted." Even the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "One uninitiated in the secrets of Freemasonry".
Not that I lie awake on long winter evenings in anguish over this. I prefer Groucho Marx's philosophy, not wanting to have anything to do with an organization that would admit the likes of me.
However, mildly curious about this odd group, and wanting to stay up to date on popular culture (see both the movie National Treasure and Dan Brown's novel The Lost Symbol), I have checked out a couple of Masonic sights in Washington DC. As opposed to Masonic sites, locations defined by these masters of geometry.
House of the Temple
One prominent Masonic sight in Washington is the House of the Temple, north of the White House on 18th Street.
Even unworthy Cowans can tour the place. Anyone has to ring the buzzer at the immense bronze doors. If you don't signify your worthiness to your guide (all of them Masons) with the secret signs and grips and portents, you can still get a sanitized tour.
As they tell you, it's meant to look like the tomb of King Mausolus in Halicarnassus, today's Bodrum, in Turkey. Much like Grant's Tomb in New York, the Los Angeles City Hall, the Indiana War Memorial, and the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. I startled my guide by saying, "Yes, yes, I've been to the original Halicarnassus, I know what you're talking about."
There's loads of quasi-Egyptian decoration. Not exactly Egyptian, but what enthusiastic but poorly informed Americans might have thought "Egyptian" implied in the early 1900s.
Another problem of mine, from their point of view, is that I've also been to Egypt and so I can distinguish real Egyptian from "Egyptian as imagined in the early 1900s".
The main entry hall is in quasi-Egyptian style. Not so much like a real Egyptian temple, but like what the U.S. Postal Service might have built if they were trying to build an opulent big-city post office in the ancient Egyptian style as that was imagined in the 1930s.
Then it was up the grand staircase to the main ceremonial room.
I was taken into the main ceremonial room, where my guide took great pains to point out that I was standing at the west end of the room, and I was looking toward the east end — as seen in the picture below.
"Uh, you said that we're in the west end and that's the east?"
"Are you sure about that?"
"So, if I'm looking toward the east, that would mean that to my left is the north, right?"
"Why, yes! That's right!"
"Look, that just can't be..."
"No! We're looking toward the east!"
"Now look, that just isn't right. The sun is coming in from our left from those windows overhead and casting shadows toward our right. We're in the Northern Hemisphere, and that means that the mid-day sun is to our south, and so we're looking west."
"No, no! North is to our left and we're looking east!"
"No, that just can't be. We're in Washington D.C., well north of the Tropic of Cancer, the sun is always to the south at mid-day, and the sun is definitely to our left."
"Oh. Well, you see, what's we're looking toward is the metaphorical east!"
"The 'metaphorical' east?"
"Yes! You see, it's symbolically east!"
OK.... I asked if they ever had rituals during the day. Yes. Well, isn't it distracting on sunny days with everything rotated by 180 degrees? Oh no, it's all symbolic. But when pressed further, he said they originally meant for their "symbolic east" to really be east. But there was some mix-up with the plans, the architect originally thought that it was going to be built on the opposite side of the street, and, well, all of them know what "east" means. But yes, the building was built facing the wrong direction.
Note to everyone expecting sinister conspiracies — if this is any indication of their grasp of geometry, one of their claimed special interests and skills, I think we're safe.
Here is the central altar, brightly illuminated by sunlight from the "north" at mid-day. In December, no less. Ho ho.
OK, ending up with your building misaligned by 180 degrees, I'll concede that that could happen. But then he made an even goofier claim about the place.
I was taken to a smaller ceremonial chamber, this one below ground level. So who knows which profane and vulgar non-Masonic direction I'm really facing.
At this point my guide claimed that all the wood used to build all the ceremonial furniture and all the other woodwork in all the ceremonial chambers came from Tunguska.
The largest planetary impact event in known historical times occurred at about 0715 local time on 30 June 1908. Something — probably a meteor or comet fragment — broke up 5-10 kilometers above the earth's surface, releasing energy estimated at 10-20 megatons.
This happened at 60°55' N, 101°57' E, near the Подкаменная Тунгуска (Podkamennaya Tunguska) River in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia. Way out in the middle of nowhere in Siberia, between Lake Baikal and the Arctic coast. It's famous for having felled trees for miles in a pattern distinctive to very large air bursts. Look it up if you don't believe me.
My guide claimed that the Masons somehow obtained lots of lumber from those trees.
At the time it was out in the middle of nowhere in Imperial Russia. Within nine years the Russian Revolution was underway. Then the area was controlled by the Soviet Union. And Tunguska was still way out in the middle of nowhere.
Soviet scientists first visited the site in 1927, and in 1938 they did some aerial photography. More detailed scientific surveys were done in the 1950s and 1960s, with the assistance of the Soviet Air Force for transport to the remote site. In addition to the difficulty posed by distance, the swarms of mosquitos and biting flies in warm weather nearly prevent human presence. And in the winter, well, it's way out in Siberia.
Of course, none of those expedition reports mentioned anything about a Masonic lumber mill.
What a kooky story to make up about your furniture.
The only thing lacking is a claim that all the concrete came from Roswell, New Mexico.
They have a special exhibit honoring J. Edgar Hoover, the long-time FBI director who was also a Freemason.
Really. Paranoid blackmailer, cross-dresser, and Freemason. "Good men made better", as they say. Ho ho.
I asked if they had any of his lingerie, but my guide said that they didn't. At least none that they would let me see.
They also have a special exhibit on Burl Ives, another prominent Freemason. He was a folk singer who released his last album in 1977. I suppose that's the sort of member they highlight to attract the younger generation.
George Washington Masonic National Memorial
The next most obvious Masonic sight in the Washington area is the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, in Alexandria, Virginia, close to the King Street Metro station and just a short Metro ride from downtown Washington.
Here is the view of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial from the King Street Metro station. The tower is said to be precisely 333 feet tall. Although after that backwards building and further construction problems at the House of the Temple, I'm skeptical of the precision.
Anyway, as any competent numerologist could tell you:
If you double that height of 333 feet, you get the sinister value of 202.9968 meters.
That cannot be a coincidence! What ominous conspiracy is behind this?
There are some claims that the building's design is meant to parallel that of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, therefore providing two Masonic replicas of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World in the Washington DC area.
The main hall features a large statue of George Washington housed within more U.S.-Postal-Service-style "Egyptian temple" architecture.
Here is a mystical painting of a Druid and an owl. Too bad the artist hasn't seen any pictures of the real Stonehenge, he might have made part of this painting a little more realistic.
No, wait, this shows the secret Alternative Stonehenge, built by Druidic proto-Masons and known only to the initiated. And built from stones of entirely different shapes.
As a Cowan, I don't understand this interest in owls...
Here is a painting of another imaginary early Mason.
"Hey! According to these plans, we built this temple on the wrong side of the street and it faces the wrong way!"
Here are some of the make-believe Old-Testament-era founders of Freemasonry. As Ambrose Bierce put it in his Devil's Dictionary:
There's an animatronic George Washington in the basement.
I did not push the button, as I did not want the animatronic George to reveal any secrets to a Cowan and be obligated to "tear his tongue out by the roots".
They're masters of geometry, but mere dabblers in electricity.
It's not all 1930s U.S. Postal Service architecture. Some of it is 1950s American church basement architecture.
People believe that the world is secretly controlled out of dismal rooms like this? That's just sad.
Near this meeting room was a series of pictures and detailed captions. It seems that when the cornerstone was laid for this building in 1923, the cornerstone was too small and a replacement had to be quickly made for the planned ceremony!
Now, I've only done a little masonry work, but even I know that you do not cut a stone too small. A little too large, sure, it can be trimmed to size. But you can't stretch stone to fit.
There was also a small display about Harry S Truman, former U.S. President and prominent Freemason. I used to respect Truman, but the quote quickly ended that. He was quoted as saying — and this was after his second term as U.S. President — that he believed that the most important thing he ever did in his life was serve as head of the Missouri state Masonic Lodge.
I don't know whether to be insulted by that or to laugh at his ignorance. So, I do a little of each. But really, let's summarize some of the highlights of Truman's career:
- 1945 — Assumes the Presidency of the United States of America, overseeing the final months of World War II and making the decision to use atomic weapons against Japan.
- 1945 — Disbanded the Office of Strategic Services, splitting its functions between the Department of State and the Department of War.
- 1946 — Supported the establishment of the United Nations.
- 1947 — Established the Central Intelligence Agency through the National Security Act. The CIA took up the functions of the OSS.
- 1947-1951 — Directed the establishment of the Marshall Plan and the re-building of post-war Europe.
- 1948 — Directed the establishment of the Berlin Airlift.
- 1948 — Through the President's Committee on Civil Rights, submitted a detailed civil rights reform plan to Congress.
- 1948 — Re-elected U.S. President in an upset victory over Thomas Dewey.
- 1950-1953 — Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Forces in the Korean War. This included informing Douglas MacArthur of his mortal status and relieving him of service in April, 1951.
- 1949 — Supported the establishment of NATO.
- 1952 — Established the National Security Agency.
Yeah, all that is pretty inconsequential in comparison to his 1940-1941 term as Grand Master of the Masons of Missouri....
Other Presidents who were Masons include three of the four considered to be worst presidents ever (so far):
Warren Harding, widely agreed to have run the most spectacularly corrupt presidential administration ever. Harding himself said that he was not fit to be President.
James Buchanan, who led the country into the Civil War.
Andrew Johnson, who impeded post-Civil-War Reconstruction, vetoed civil rights legislation, and was impeached.
Then I saw the scariest thing of all...
The CONTROL ROOM!
The meeting room where world domination is planned!
And I would bet that it somehow involves owls.
Well, despite that one ominously labeled door, I am even more convinced that the Freemasons are harmless. Well-meaning and containing a lot of cranks, but harmless.
Secret Handshakes, Secret Signs, and Ritual Garb
All of this is a deep, dark mystery only to those without
access to that secretive high-security archive known
as the New York Public Library.
Or unable to spell
A RITUAL OF FREEMASONRY, Illustrated by NUMEROUS ENGRAVINGS,
by Avery Allyn, K.R.C, K.T., K.M., &c., with bonus secret information as its long-winded 19th century title continues:
To which is added a key to the PHI BETA KAPPA, the ORANGE, and ODD FELLOWS Societies, with NOTES and REMARKS.
It was written in 1853 and has been widely available ever since.
You can read or download the whole book here.
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