The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Disclaimer: The George Washington Masonic National Memorial will be referred to generically as the Masonic Temple throughout this article, as that is what the locals call it.

Masonic Temple

What does the Masonic Temple (Alexandria, Virginia) and the Empire State Building (New York, New York) have in common? They are both iconic buildings and locals rarely visit them! Being a relatively new homeowner my travel budget has shrunk, a lot! So I have been investing my time in local travel, as I like to call it. This time around I toured the Masonic Temple.

Masonic Temple

Growing up within a mile of Mount Vernon Estate, I feel as though I grew up in the shadow of George Washington. A lot is dedicated to his memory in the DC Metro area. To name a few, there is a monument downtown; there is a parkway in his name; an airport with his name; and a masonic temple. I never realized that the temple was a memorial to George Washington, mostly because never took time to think about it. Although masonry has been around a long time, a lot of people know little about it. The freemasons (aka masons) have been glorified by writers like Dan Brown (evidently the masons have very little that is secretive), and a lot of great American historical figures have been freemasons. However, the tour of the masonic temple has a lot less to do with masonry and a lot more to do with the memory of George Washington.

Masonic Temple

In 1910, the Grand Master of Virginia invited every Grand Master in The US to gather together for the purpose of “forming an association to plan and build a suitable Memorial”*. The building took decades to complete, largely due to not wanting to take out loans for the building. The construction began in 1922 with the interior being finalized in 1970. Today it proudly stands as the iconic landmark on Shutter’s Hill in Alexandria, Virginia fashioned after the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt.

Masonic Temple

Although the building stands tall and proud, it is not huge on the inside, and the elevators actually ascend and descend at an angle to compensate for the smaller space on the 9th floor, the observation floor, and the large bottom floor where meeting rooms and the mason museum is located. The tour starts in the great entrance hall at the top of the stairs and through the massive doors. The two-story rectangle room adorned with columns and portraits of important masons, also houses an amazing statute of good old G’Dub (the original)!

George Washington Statue

Off to the side of the great hall is a mock lodge room full of historical pieces, all items belonging to Washington’s lodge, used throughout time, including all of the chairs that line the walls, and the artifacts found in the display cases around the room. Most importantly, there is a chair that belonged to Washington and was gifted to the lodge from his home. In order to keep the chair from a fatefully end, it lives under a clear box where people and see it and not use it. Once a year the box is removed and the Grand Master takes his place briefly, long enough for a photograph.

Masonic Temple Lodge Room

As a non-mason, entry is only allowed to a few floors. Heading upstairs from the main floor takes us into a two-story museum filled with natural light and dedicated to the life and achievements of Washington. The walls are lined with stories of him as a mason, a landowner, and the president. It’s a wonderful piece of history. The tour then leads guests to the top floor to grasp the amazing view of the surrounding area. On a clear day, one can even see Mount Vernon, Washington’s home, located just south of Alexandria City.

Alexandria, Virginia. View from the masonic temple

The base of the tower holds a masonic museum. In this area the different degree’s and organizations of masonry are explained along with a display of costumes and tools of the trade. A degree is a level of membership. Although ultimately, only men become freemasons, there are female organizations, Eastern Star, as well as youth organizations for boys and girls. Two lodges currently use the Masonic Temple for their meetings, as well as some of the other masonic organizations. To become a mason, one must also believe in a higher power (God); although, they can be of any religion. The idea of a freemason, is that each person has a responsibility to make things better in the world. To help make life a little easier, they contribute a lot to their local area and sponsor charities and causes.

George Washington Statue

And one even cooler thing about this building–just to add that person twist–it’s the view I see every time I leave and arrive back home!

Masonic Temple

All of the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Interesting Links

*The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Visit Alexandria

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Walking the DC Memorials…

Growing up in the Washington DC metropolitan area, I know my parents took me to see a lot as a kid. And over the years when friends and family came into town, we would head in and do something touristy. But in all honesty, I rarely cross the river. Since I am a part-time traveller, I figured I should get to know the area I live in just as I would want to get to know the places I visit. Recently I had the awesome opportunity to work with Context Travel and attend their Front Yard America walk in downtown DC with Katie.

In the many years since I have moved abroad and returned to my home city, new monuments have surfaced that I had yet to have seen, so this was a perfect chance to get myself out and about! Katie was full of information, somethings I remember learning as I grew up, some things I think I knew but I had forgotten, and many things, I simply just didn’t know! DC was once mostly swamp area, and during the summers the area suffer’s from immense heat, humidity, and bugs! Fortunately our three-hour tour included a lot of shaded area’s; because it was the first silly hot day of the season, even at 9am the sun was suffocating. We did our best not to let it distract us too much!

Starting by the capitol building in front of the botanical gardens we got a brief overall lesson of the basic city plan in the early days and headed to the Smithsonian castle to view a 3D model of the current city as is. We then wandered our way down the length of the mall, past the Washington Monuments and almost all the memorials. Did you know that there is only one monument in Washington DC? Everything else is considered a memorial. New fact!

Interesting facts and tidbits:

Washington DC, USA

-The (current) Capitol Building is actually the third design throughout time. The first, with a leaky roof, the British kindly burned down for us during the war of 1812. The second was the rebuild from that fire and I think the third update was due to the ever-growing congress and renovations were required for a larger building.

-To get the marble to the capitol building location to build the capitol, a canal was built from the river to the building site following the now road that is called Constitution. The canal is still present under the road, it was never drained or filled in, so the road floods easily.

-The monument that proudly stands in front of the Capitol building is the Grant memorial. It is also the third largest equestrian memorial in the western hemisphere…who would have thought?!

Washington DC, USA

-The Botanical Gardens was originally planned to be directly in front of the capitol building, over time it was moved to the side. Maybe as not to effect the view from the steps to the washington monument.

Washington DC, USA

-The Washington Monument lost funding around the time of the civil war. When construction restarted, they could not get the same marble, you can see the difference in color just shy of half way up.

-2011’s earthquake caused structural damage to the Monument. Repairs are expensive, but there are plans for private and public funds to be put towards the project of repairing and reopening the Monument.

Washington DC, USA   Washington DC, USA

-Smithsonian Castle. Washington is somewhat unique in the fact that they offer free museums. “The Smithsonian Institution was established with funds from James Smithson (1765-1829), a British scientist who left his estate to the United States to found ‘at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.'” (Smithsonian Institute). The Castle was the first building ever built under the name Smithsonian and mostly offers a rest area with bathrooms for tourists, the rest of the building I believe is purely administrative. But they do have beautiful roses out front.

Washington DC, USA

-Our newest memorial, The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial looks out over the tidal basin towards the Jefferson Memorial, a lot of controversy went into developing this memorial from the position it was facing to the paraphrased quotes used around the site.

Washington DC, USA

-Franklin D. Roosevelt was our only disabled president, what are the changes a man in a wheel chair are to get elected again? Of course there were not TV’s and the opposition back then didn’t seem to strike at personal information quite like the cat fights of today! This is one of my favorite memorials.

Washington DC, USA

-The Vietnam Memorial is a long reflective wall listing all servicemen’s name who died in action during that time. Here’s the thing, this memorial was built about what many consider a less important “Conflict” when still nothing had been built for WWII or the Korean War. These soldiers standing watch over the wall was actually an after thought because of the controversy of there being no actual figures.

Washington DC, USA   Washington DC, USA

-In response to the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean Memorial was built shortly after, also with a reflecting wall, but this time with a field full of soldier figures.

-The World War II Memorial is one of the most recently built memorials. With a large fountain surrounded but an Atlantic side and a Pacific side, every state and territory is named on a pillar with a memorial wreath.

-The tour didn’t actually take us to the Jefferson Memorial because the walk to the other side of the tidal basin is not by any means a short one! But the beauty of the memorial radiates.

Washington DC, USA   Washington DC, USA

-The Lincoln Memorial, I swear Lincoln gets bigger every time I see him! Lincoln proudly watches over the mall from his perch with a view towards the capitol building.

Wow, what a walk! Although I was a guest of Context Travel on this walk, all of the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Interesting Links

Front Yard America, Context Travel

Smithsonian Institute

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Vampire Legends & Dead Presidents

Old cemetery’s are full of ghost stories and legends. The are filled with those who are long forgotten and recent memories of loved ones. They can be beautiful and eerie. This particular cemetery is located in the heart of Richmond, Virginia nestled along the James River. The Hollywood Cemetery’s history began in 1849 and is home to many of great men who proudly served their nation as well as family burial plots and some of our histories most notable names. The cemetery is one of the area’s main attractions.

grave market, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia grave marker, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

I enjoyed an afternoon roaming the rural garden style cemetery with my friend and her son. We passed many people picnicking, biking and relaxing among the grave markers. Some plots have long been forgotten and have been slowly overgrown with plant life, while others remain clean and tidy. I enjoyed the uniqueness of the many mausoleums throughout the grounds. Although many great people are buried in Hollywood Cemetery, artists, writers, and many long forgotten citizens, our day was to see some of the names we recognized most and the beautiful stone work of time gone by. There are several memorials to those who once helped shape the country I call home. In 1869, a pyramid was constructed as a memorial to the more than 18,000 enlisted men of the Confederate Army buried in the cemetery. Te cemetery is also the final resting place to two US Presidents, the president of the Confederacy, 25 Confederate generals, including JEB Stuart.

grave marker, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

But first and formost…

The Vampire Legend

I have never been big into vampires, I am not familiar with the recent Twilight phenomenon nor many legends throughout history. But I always enjoy a good local legend. The Richmond Vampire legend began around 1925. The story goes, a bloody creature with jagged teeth and skin hanging from its muscular body, emerged from a cave-in and dashed towards the River. The creature was pursued by a group of men and took refuge in Hollywood Cemetery. The creature then disappeared into W.W. Pool’s mausoleum never to be seen again.

grave marker, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

I wont spoil the fun by including the historical facts to this even, but if your interest feel free to check the facts on the Richmond Vampire on wikipedia! Disclaimer: As with most legends there is an explanation, it will spoil the fun!

Dead Presidents

Virginia is the birth place to 8 presidents, thats more then any other state. Something we Virginians are proud of, so it’s not surprising that we find two of them buried here. Three of them are buried out of state, including one at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC and the other three are buried at their homes, scattered throughout Virginia. James Monroe and Zachary Taylor’s graves and located next to each other at the top of a hill overlooking the beautiful river below. Hollywood Cemetery is also the final resting place of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy, among the four years of their succession from the Union (United States). His grave and memorial is located lower in the cemetery, next to what I like to refer to as mausoleum row.

John Tyler:

grave marker, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

James Monroe:

grave marker, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

Jefferson Davis:

grave marker, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

Mausoleum Row:

grave marker, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

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