Monday, March 31, 2008
My Visit to George Washington Masonic Memorial
In the next three out of the four weeks I will be in Washington DC, today I was asked by a customer, if I was going to get an apartment here. My life on the road is hard on my home life and my research suffers as a result. Today a meeting was cancelled this afternoon and I took the opportunity to visit the George Washington Masonic Memorial, an hour before it closed. I didn’t sit in lodge or impose my travels on brothers that seem more wary of brother visitors than of eavesdroppers and cowans. I went in a tour group with a group of regular tourists; three of us were Masons (not including the tour guide). The other two were much older and the one was an atypical Shriner. He hadn’t been in the blue lodge since 1974. Said he didn’t like the memorization work, and he wanted to have fun, the other said nothing during the entire tour.
The tour started in the Replica Lodge Room, which is of course a replica of the Alexandria-Washington Lodge room as it was in 1802. It contained many historic items, including Washington’s Bedchamber Clock which stopped at 10:20pm, December 14, 1799 (the exact moment of his death). Of course other such items as the silver trowel used by Washington at the United States Capitol Cornerstone Laying Ceremony in 1793. The room is laid out as a typical lodge room (albeit pretty small). The artifacts are interesting, but found it odd that he (the tour guide) didn’t bring up the pin knife, which is major “icon” of the entire monument. We moved onto the memorial hall, which is magnificent memorial and is really something to behold. Posting pictures on the internet doesn’t do it justice.
We skipped the Grotto Floor and went to the George Washington Museum which has more Washington artifacts (not necessary Masonic), include all aspects of his life as a planter, soldier, and president. Included in this exhibit was the history of the construction of the building U.S. Capitol. Interesting enough the museum is sponsored by the north and southern jurisdictions of the Scottish Rite, and recently was renovated.
The next floor was the Royal Arch floor, which is decorated and adorned with the symbols of the Royal Arch apendent body. While as a York Rite Mason, I found it very interesting, I would imagine was confusing for the majority of the tour group, or out right boring. We skipped the Cryptic Exhibit, most likely because of time, and moved onto the Knights Templar Chapel, which had some lovely stained glass windows, the room itself is meant for reflection, but the tour guide was very clear that there was no connection between the Freemasons and the Knights Templars of the 1300s. I have a feeling that the poor guy gets asked that a lot.
The top level, is just bizarre. It is sponsored by the Tall Cedars of Lebanon of North America I had no idea that this organization existed, but it is 13,000 strong, and is mainly concentrated in the north east. This organization’s goal is to find a cure for Muscular Dystrophy, the tour guide referred to them as one of 19 “Silly Hat” organizations.
The tour ended on the balcony and then took us to the shrine exhibit, which is very Shrine like (I don’t know how else to explain it).
The monument itself is interesting in that it was conceived and brought into reality not by the GI Generation, but by the Lost Generation, something that is easily forgotten given the stature and impressiveness of the building. The sense that I got is that it isn’t a monument to Washington as it’s a monument to Freemasonry in the 20th century. Pitches all over to join vary apendent bodies, York Rite, Grotto, Shrine, Tall Cedars, Scottish Rite. Its overt recruitment is not meant to lure people into the blue lodge but to get Master Masons out of the blue lodge, put on a stupid hat and raise money for your charity of choice. I guess that is how I took the museum and tour, I mean as a MM it’s not like you don’t get people pushing a Rite applications in your hand right after you are raised, or a Shrine application every time you go to lodge.
I would like to go back to the site in 50 years, just to see if its focus has changed at all. I honestly think that things are changing all around us in Freemasonry, and while those clutching the old ideals of 20th Century Freemasonry are still the predominate thought, I think that things will be changing over the course of the next 20 years, and it will be interesting to behold