Friday, July 25: Today, the day after my mother-in-law’s memorial service, I have to drive Sarah to the Greyhound bus station so she can get back to work in Richmond this evening. Since the bus station is in Springfield, I hop over to Alexandria to visit the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. I’ve seen this building towering over Old Town Alexandria, but I never knew what it was until I heard it was a nice place to take photos.
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial is a memorial and museum, an active Masonic temple, a research library, a cultural space, a community and performing arts center, and an important regional landmark, according to a brochure handed out by the Memorial. It’s a nine-story neoclassical structure erected and maintained by the Freemasons of the United States to express their high esteem for George Washington and to preserve the history and heritage of American Freemasonry.
The Memorial Hall is symbolic of Greek and Roman temple entrances. The Hall features eight green granite columns 40 feet high and more than four feet wide. A marble floor, painted elaborate ceiling and two murals surround the room.
The mural on the north wall shows General Washington and his officers attending a St. John’s Day Observance at Christ Church in Philadelphia on December 28, 1778.
The mural on the south wall depicts President Washington in full Masonic regalia laying the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol on September 18, 1793.
In a rounded niche at the end of the hall is a huge statue of George Washington wearing his Masonic apron and jewel.
Next to Memorial Hall is the Replica Lodge Room of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22.
In the lodge room are artifacts, paintings, and a portrait display of past Masters of the Lodge. It also includes the Chamber clock of George Washington, stopped at 10:30 p.m., the hour Washington died on December 14, 1799.
On the third level of the Tower is The Family of Freemason Exhibit, featuring organizations such as the Grottoes of North America, The Order of the Eastern Star and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon.
On the fourth level of the tower is The George Washington Museum. The space draws on the old reading room of the Boston Athenaeum and portrays Washington’s life. Alcoves feature Washington as: Virginia Planter, Model Citizen,Military Officer, the Nation’s First President, Mourned Hero, and American Icon.
On the observation deck of the Tower, we can see a view of Old Town Alexandria all the way to the Potomac River. We can also see the great Washington icons: the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol, the Naval Observatory and Washington National Cathedral.
I can’t remember which level this was, and what it symbolizes:
Below Memorial Hall is the Grand Masonic Hall. The prominent features of this room are the eight Doric New Hampshire granite columns (4 1/2 feet wide by 18 feet high) which support the entire Memorial Tower. The room is enclosed by six etched glass panels featuring the Memorial Crest and the Square and Compasses.
In the east alcove is a bust of Washington backed by a mural of Mt. Vernon.
So, what are the Freemasons? Freemasonry is a fraternal organization that traces its origins to the local fraternities of stonemasons, which from the end of the fourteenth century regulated the qualifications of masons and their interaction with authorities and clients.
According to Freemasonry: A Fraternity United: Freemasonry exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around three million (including approx. 480,000 in Great Britain and under two million in the United States). At its heart, Freemasonry is a self-improvement organization. Through three initiation rituals, lectures and other ceremonies, combined with social and charitable activities, Freemasons seek to improve themselves as they improve the communities in which they live. To join, one must believe in a Supreme Being, be upright, moral and honest in character, and be recommended by a Mason.
Freemasonry employs the tools and instruments of stonemasonry to teach a system of morality, friendship and brotherly love, hence, the standard emblem of Freemasonry is the square and compasses.
It sort of brings to mind a top-secret boy scout organization for men.
Our guide at the tour today asks us if we know how many U.S. Presidents were Freemasons. She tells us that 20 were, beginning with George Washington. However, according to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, only “fourteen U.S. presidents have been Freemasons, meaning that there is conclusive evidence that these men received the Master Mason degree: George Washington; James Monroe; Andrew Jackson; James Polk; James Buchanan; Andrew Johnson; James Garfield; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt; William Taft; Warren Harding; Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Harry S. Truman; and Gerald Ford.”
According to some sources, there is much opposition to Freemasonry because of its secretiveness, its cult-like nature, and some of its practices. There are many groups that oppose Freemasonry, including religious groups, political groups and conspiracy theorists.
To learn more about Freemasonry or the Memorial, you can check out the following links: