Crack­ing the code

Ma­sons and myths in Washington, DC

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holiday Reading Special - DO­MINIC DUNNE

WASHINGTON, DC, is the Dis­ney­land of Freema­sonry and its magic cas­tle is up the road from the Aus­tralian em­bassy, where I once worked. One day, ac­com­pa­nied by Ron Ram­sey, Aus­tralia’s then cul­tural at­tache to the US, I fi­nally sum­moned the courage to climb the stairs, past the sphinx-like half-man, half-lion stat­ues on ei­ther side, and then up to the huge bronze doors where we rang the bell.

The spook­ily deep voice through the in­ter­com com­manded us to en­ter. I hadn’t been asked any se­cret Ma­son­ic­type ques­tions that surely would have re­vealed my sta­tus as a non-Ma­son. Had the voice both­ered to ask our in­ten­tion, I would have told the truth. We just wanted to have a stick­y­beak.

I’d of­ten walked up and down 16th Street, past the mon­u­men­tal ed­i­fice of the House of the Tem­ple, and won­dered what went on in­side this colos­sal build­ing, a mas­sive plinth sur­mounted by an ionic tem­ple. Ac­tu­ally, I al­ready knew what went on: mur­der and may­hem. As the sa­cred mother house and head­quar­ters of the Supreme Coun­cil 33rd De­gree of the An­cient and Ac­cepted Scot­tish Rite of Freema­sonry, it was an un­hal­lowed place, full of evil and in­trigue and se­crets. My imag­i­na­tion ran ram­pant as I re­called read­ing about an in­ci­dent on Long Is­land, New York, in which a woman was fa­tally shot dur­ing a cer­e­mony in a Ma­sonic lodge.

In­side we were met by a Ma­son who shook my hand. If there’s a se­cret hand­shake, I should have been caught out at that moment — but, hav­ing some­how passed that test, we were led on a tour and he ex­plained that Washington was awash with Ma­sonic sym­bols, start­ing with the dol­lar bills that fea­ture an all-see­ing eye in a tri­an­gle above a 13-stepped, four­sided pyra­mid.

He paused at a map of the city that re­vealed how the street grid formed Ma­sonic sym­bols, with the White House (pre­cisely 13 blocks from the House of the Tem­ple) the lower point of a pen­ta­gram. In fact, the whole net­work of roads in this city con­spired to form the fa­mous Ma­sonic sym­bols of the square, com­pass and rule.

Even the Washington Mon­u­ment, which ought to have been noth­ing more than a gi­ant phal­lus, was a Ma­sonic mon­u­ment 55 feet (16.8m) wide and 555 feet high — di­men­sions im­por­tant in Ma­sonry. It was also a trib­ute to Ge­orge Washington, who wore an apron adorned with Ma­sonic sym­bols when he laid the cor­ner­stone of the Capi­tol build­ing in 1793.

On our im­promptu tour we called in to the Supreme Coun­cil Cham­ber, fol­lowed by the cherry on the cake, the Tem­ple Cham­ber, a cav­ernous room be­neath a high dome. In the mid­dle of the or­nate par­quetry floor was what looked to me like an al­tar. I didn’t bother to ask what oc­curred there be­cause I was sure I would not be told the truth. And in any case I al­ready knew: the sac­ri­fice of vir­gins. And in the midst of all the ac­cursed­ness was a large or­gan, un­doubt­edly used for some ne­far­i­ous pur­pose.

Ron, an ac­com­plished or­gan­ist who ev­i­dently couldn’t re­sist a j olly good or­gan, sat down and belted out a honky­tonk tune. Sud­denly the whole at­mos­phere changed. This was still the tem­ple of doom but Ron had man­aged to in­ject a bit of fun. The up­beat tempo had cleared the mist of dark­ness.

The Ma­son, how­ever, was not amused, go­ing by the look on his face as he es­corted us back to the ground floor where he thanked us for vis­it­ing.

Ron’s mu­si­cal foray had pre­cip­i­tated our swift de­par­ture.

Later that night I went on­line to learn

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