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Exhibit reveals Masons' influence
The Capitol and Washington Monument among noted buildings marked by group.

Associated Press | May 22, 2005
By Carl Hartman

WASHINGTON -- Some of the most famous buildings in Washington, including the White House, are deeply marked by Freemasonry, the brotherhood that goes back to the cathedral builders of the Middle Ages, says a new exhibit.

The show is called "The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry and the Architecture of Washington, D.C." It opened to the public Wednesday.

Peter Waddell, 49, a history painter born in New Zealand, contributed 21 pictures to the show. Now an American citizen, he puts emphasis on George Washington, shown as he dons his ritual Masonic apron on the way to lay the cornerstone of the Capitol in 1792. Washington and 14 of his successors have been Freemasons, down through Lyndon Johnson.

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Among the artifacts on view is a narrow white coffin strap, painted with Masonic symbols, used to lower Washington's body into the tomb at Mount Vernon.

Today's Freemasons owe their origin to associations of workmen who built cathedrals in Britain 700 years ago, though some believe in a connection with the mines where King Solomon took material for his temple more than 2,000 years before that. Over the centuries the nature of Freemasonry changed. British lodges began to accept members who were not stonemasons. By the 1700s many lodges were called "speculative" -- that is, they dealt in ideas rather than stone.

On July 4, 1848, President James K. Polk, a Mason, presided over the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument. Using the same Masonic trowel that Washington had used at the Capitol, Benjamin Brown French as Grand Master of Masons in Washington and clerk of the House of Representatives presented the symbolic Masonic tools and defined the meaning of the symbols to Freemason Robert Mills, the architect.

"The square, level and plumb are the working tools you are to use in the erection of this monument," he said. "You, as a Freemason, know to what they morally elude: the plumb(line) admonishes to walk upright in our several stations before God and man, squaring our actions by the square of virtue, and remembering that we are traveling on the level of time."

Despite definitions, Freemasonry has met serious antipathy, embodied in a hostile edict from the Vatican in 1738. In the early 1800s, there was an anti-Masonic Party in the United States, which won seven electoral votes and elected a governor in Vermont.

The exhibit is housed in a historic building, The Octagon, one of the oldest houses in Washington, where the treaty was signed ending the War of 1812.

The exhibit and a series of lectures have been organized by the American Architectural Foundation and the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the District of Columbia. The show will be on view through Dec. 31.

 

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