George Washington Masonic Memorial
May 21, 2013
By Kathy Gamble
According to their brochure, “The mission of the Memorial is to promote the virtues, character and vision of George Washington, the Man, the Mason and Father of our Country, and to preserve the history of American Freemasonry.” They broke ground in 1922 and the building was dedicated in 1932.
May 13th, 1932 would have been the 325th anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown, VA, settlement and this date was chosen for the dedication. However, people considered 13 an unlucky number and the day was moved to May 12. More than 100 trains brought in 150,000 people to attend the ceremony. Many people had to sleep on the trains because hotels were in short supply.
The Navy brought in the historic frigate USS Constitution and a submarine and the Coast Guard brought in cutters to mark the occasion. More than 200,000 letters were postmarked on that day at a special postal station set up for the event. Members of the House of Representatives and the US Senate along with various Ambassadors attended the ceremony. As President Hoover and his Cabinet arrived, the Constitution and the Coast Guard ships fired a 21-gun salute.
It rained heavily that day. Attendance was lower than expected.
The interior of the building was not finished. It took another 41 years before the building was declared complete in 1973.
The entrance leads into a great hall with massive granite columns 40 feet high lining either side of the room At center back is an oversized statue of George Washington wearing his Masonic apron and jewel.
Our tour guide took us into a room off the main hallway where various items were exhibited. The guide told us the painting of George Washington on display was the only one he had officially sat for and therefore most closely resembled what he really looked like. In one of the cases a clock was displayed. According to the caption, on the day George Washington died he was attended by Dr Elisha Cullen Dick, a founding member of the Lodge, and two other doctors. On that day, Dr Dick removed the clock’s weights to stop the clock forever at the time of Washington’s death – 10:20 p.m.
We had a few moments to ourselves to look around this room and I asked the guide if anybody could become a Mason or if only certain people qualified. He looked at me point blank and said, “You have to be a man.” And I think he would have left it at that since it seemed he thought it was enough but I pressed him to tell me more since, being a woman, I was not going to be put off by this. From what I could gather, a man needs to be invited to join by another Mason.
From there we piled into elevators and toured three other floors. The most interesting part for me were the elevators themselves. The Luxor hotel in Las Vegas is built in the shape of a pyramid. When you take the elevator up to your room you go up and sideways to accommodate the smaller space at the top. The elevators at the Eiffel Tour in Paris work the same way. The elevators at the Masonic Memorial were also like that. The tower gets narrower as you go up so the elevators located at either side of the building are closer together on each floor.
There are ten floors with the tenth housing the carillon. Just beneath it is an observation deck. The tour ended in the basement where we found photos of all the lodges across the country and a small gift shop.