Cracking the code
Masons and myths in Washington, DC
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