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.
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.
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.
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.
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)!
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.
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.
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.
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!
All of the thoughts and opinions are my own.