Category Archives: Photo Tour

Photo Tour :: George Washington National Masonic Memorial

The George Washington National Masonic Memorial (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

The George Washington National Masonic Memorial stands atop Shutter’s Hill in Alexandria, Virginia. Built in three distinct tiers of increasing architectural complexity from bottom to top–Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian–the structure stands as a physical symbol of man’s intellectual ascent. Inspired by the ancient Pharos lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt, this soaring tower is capped by an Egyptian pyramid with a flamelike finial.

So, here we are, on Day Nine of Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC. We have reached Chapter 78 of The Lost Symbol. Robert Langdon and Katherine Solomon have just rushed from a taxi, dashed onto the map of Washington DC at Freedom Plaza, and then run into the Washington Metro, headed, they say, for Alexandria.

CIA agent Turner Simkins quite sensibly guesses that the pair are headed for the most famous Masonic destination in Alexandria, the George Washington National Masonic Memorial:

The statue of George Washington is 17 feet tall (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Inside the spectacular marble foyer sits a massive bronze of George Washington in full Masonic regalia, along with the actual trowel he used to lay the cornerstone of the Capitol building.

Unfortunately for agent Simkins, the George Washington National Masonic Memorial is a red herring, purposely suggested to throw the CIA off Langdon’s and Katherine’s trail. Which is a shame really because it could have made an incredible setting for Langdon and Katherine to explore. Here’s a view inside the memorial.

Inside the George Washington National Masonic Memorial (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

And here’s a view of the Masonic symbol, the square and compass, cut into the memorial gardens.

View from the observation deck of the George Washington National Masonic Memorial (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Want to see more? Click here for previous stops on our Lost Symbol Photo Tour of Washington, DC.

Buy Secrets of The Lost Symbol or download it as an e-book.

Photo Tour :: The Jungle

US Botanic Garden Jungle (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Our next stop on Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC brings us to Chapter 69.

The Architect of the Capitol, Warren Bellamy, has been blindfolded and driven a few blocks from the Library of Congress. He is led through a number of security doors and into a building where the air is warmer and more humid, “earthy and primal:”

Bellamy now realized where they were. My God! He came here often, although never through the service entrance. This magnificent glass building was only three hundred yards from the Capitol building and was technically part of the Capitol Complex. I run this place! Bellamy now realized it was his own key fob that was giving them access.

Although it only figured modestly in novel, the jungle was a prominent stop on Matt Lauer’s pre-book release tour of the sites that would feature in The Lost Symbol.

And, indeed, the space is extraordinary. Once inside, you really are transported into different worlds and climate zones.

Despite its proximity to the Capitol, tourists to DC rarely visit the US Botanic Gardens. But it is a beautiful, magical, and restorative visit for anyone pounding the pavement on the Lost Symbol route. (Click here for more stops on our Lost Symbol  Photo Tour of DC.)

Buy Secrets of The Lost Symbol or download it as an e-book.

Photo Tour :: Library of Congress

Library of Congress (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Our first stop in 2010 on Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC brings us to the Library of Congress.

Robert Langdon reaches the Library (in Chapter 46) through an underground tunnel from Congress, led by Warren Bellamy. They enter the library, rush up a staircase, pass through a wide hall lined by eight pairs of statues of Minerva, and then “through a vaulted archway, into a far grander space:”

Even in the dim, after-hours lighting, the library’s great hall shone with the classical grandeur of an opulent European palace. Seventy-five feet overhead, stained-glass skylights glistened between paneled beams adorned with rare “aluminum leaf” — a metal that was considered to be more precious than gold at one time. Beneath that, a stately course of paired pillars lined the second-floor balcony, accessible by two magnificent curling staircases whose newel posts supported giant bronze female figures raising torches of enlightenment.

The Lost Symbol may be an adventure story and a brainteaser. But, as we point out in Secrets of The Lost Symbol, it can also be viewed as a love song to literature: A book lies at the heart of its mystery, the “Lost Word” is its deepest secret, and dozens of books and authors are mentioned by name. In fact, one could read the entire work as an argument for the extraordinary power of words.

Seen in this light, the Library of Congress is more than just a backdrop for the action. It’s an integral part of the plot. Little wonder then, that Dan Brown takes such pleasure in not only having his characters move through the space but also in writing them into the library’s distribution system itself, as Langdon and Katherine escape on a conveyor belt to the library’s Adams Building.

For more of our thoughts on Dan Brown’s celebration of the written word, and to find out more about the Library of Congress — its history, its architecture, its links with Freemasonry, and its enormous collection– buy Secrets of The Lost Symbol or download it as an e-book.

Photo Tour :: Happy Birthday Albert Pike!

Statue of Albert PIke in Judiciary Square, Washington DC (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Welcome to Day Six of Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC. So far, we have visited DC locations in the order they appear in The Lost Symbol. Today, because of a special birthday, we are skipping ahead to Chapter 121, and Albert Pike, who is mentioned briefly as Robert Langdon dashes past a bust in the House of The Temple on his way to rescue Peter Solomon:

On the first landing, Langdon came face-to-face with a bronze bust of Masonic luminary Albert Pike, along with the engraving of his most famous quote: WHAT WE HAVE DONE FOR OURSELVES ALONE DIES WITH US; WHAT WE HAVE DONE FOR OTHERS AND THE WORLD REMAINS AND IS IMMORTAL.

The photo above is not, of course, in the House of The Temple. It is a statue of Albert Pike found in Judiciary Square. (It is also the only public statue of a Confederate soldier to be found in Washington DC.) Here, Secrets of The Lost Symbol senior contributing editor Dave Shugarts explains Pike’s significance to Freemasonry and to American history:

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Albert Pike, a revered force in Freemasonry and a somewhat conflicted figure in American history. He was a poet, lawyer, scholar and Confederate brigadier general.

Pike was born December 29, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts and although his parents were poor, he gained a good education in the classics at Boston area schools through help from locally prominent relatives. At age 16 he passed the entrance exam for Harvard, but couldn’t afford to attend college. He taught in Massachusetts schools for a few years, and wrote poetry that was published in several national magazines.

At the age of 22 he headed west, into young America’s frontier, eventually settling in Arkansas, where his writing ability landed him a newspaper job. He also was a clerk for the Arkansas legislature, and this led to him becoming a lawyer.

He was a remarkable figure of a man, standing well over six feet tall and weighing 300 pounds, with long flowing hair and beard. He had a good singing and speaking voice, and played the violin. As he got older and his hair whitened, he came to look like Merlin the magician. Pike married an Arkansas woman in 1834 and the couple eventually had 11 children, but Pike lived apart from her during the later years and was almost a recluse in the end.

Pike was the court reporter for the Arkansas Supreme Court from 1836 to 1844, in addition to his budding legal practice. Law cases led him to practice at all levels of the court system, including the U.S. Supreme Court. In the late 1830s, he represented the Creek and Choctaw tribes in their efforts to recover compensation for treaty lands taken by the federal government. Ever the student of languages, he learned several Native American dialects.

Pike also served as an officer in the Arkansas Artillery and later, in 1846-47, in the Arkansas regiment during the Mexican-American War, seeing action in the Battle of Buena Vista.

Pike for a time was a member of the American Party (the Know-Nothings) and he did believe in state’s rights, he came to believe in secession after opposing it initially, and was against abolition. Unsubstantiated rumors of a link to the Knights of the Golden Circle, and even the Ku Klux Klan, have hounded his memory.

During the Civil War, Pike sided with the South and was named a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. He was tasked with bringing the Native American tribes into an alliance with the Confederacy, which he accomplished, and to raise troops. His only major action came at the Battle of Pea Ridge in 1862 and it was marred by a rumor that one of his Cherokee soldiers had scalped a fallen foe.

In 1866, Pike met Vinnie Ream, the 19-year-old who had sculpted a bust of Abraham Lincoln and then was commissioned by Congress to create Lincoln’s statue in the Rotunda. Pike and Vinnie conducted a friendship that lasted 25 years, until he died. They often sat and held hands, reading poetry together, and he composed more than 2,100 pages of “Essays to Vinnie.”

But Pike’s most enduring legacy is his contribution to Freemasonry. He became a Mason in 1850 and helped his Arkansas lodges thrive. At that time, Freemasonry was emerging from a decline that had begun in 1826 with the infamous Morgan affair.

A rising order of Freemasonry was the Scottish Rite, which confers the appendant degrees above Master Mason (the fourth through 32nd degrees). The rituals for these degrees were in need of revision, and Pike turned his scholarly and creative skills to the task energetically, completing them in 1857 and even printing his massive manuscript at his own expense. The Scottish Rite, sensing a valuable resource, made him Grand Commander of the Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction in 1859 and he held that title for 32 years until his death.

In 1871 Pike completed his most widely published tome, the 800-page “Morals and Dogma,” a massive elaboration on the Scottish Rite degrees that had taken him into deep studies of religion and philosophy from ancient cultures, including the Egyptians, Hebrews, Babylonians, Gnostics, Hindus and many others. This book was handed to many thousands of Masons for many decades, well into the 20th century. Pike also delved into the Rig Veda of the ancient Hindus, and the Avesta of the ancient Persians.

The original “House of the Temple” was purchased by the Masons as a brick building, at 433 Third Street, NW in Washington. This is where Pike took up residence in 1883 and remained until he died on April 2, 1891. He was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

The grand stone edifice now known as the House of the Temple, at 1733 16th Street, NW, was completed in 1915. In 1944, the Masons moved Pike’s remains to a crypt in this “new” House of the Temple. There is a museum room for Pike there, as well as his extensive library of arcane books.

In 1901, the Masons erected an 11-foot bronze statue of Pike that now stands on D Street near Judiciary Square. It is the only outdoor statue of a Confederate officer that has been permitted in the nation’s capital.

Though revered by Masons, Pike is not much known among the general public. One of Pike’s most famous quotes is this one:

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains, and is immortal.”

This is inscribed near Pike’s bust in the House of the Temple. In Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol,” Robert Langdon pauses for an instant to take note of this bust and quotation on his way up the stairs to save Peter Solomon.

In a sadly ironic twist, Pike is in danger of losing hold on the quotation, at least among non-Masons, Apparently due to a misprint in a book of quotations, it is being promulgated on the Internet as attributable to “Albert Pine.” Indeed, one of the episodes of the hit television show “Criminal Minds” misattributed the quotation.

Buy Secrets of The Lost Symbol today or download it now as an e-book.

Photo Tour :: Apotheosis of Washington

The Apotheosis of Washington, Capitol Rotunda (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Welcome to Day Five of Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC. You’re staring up at The Apotheosis of Washington, a fresco painted onto the ceiling of the Capitol Rotunda by Italian artist Constantino Brumidi in 1865.

The use of The Apotheosis of Washington in The Lost Symbol is classic Dan Brown, directing the reader’s attention to an unusual episode of American history that is hidden in plain sight:

For most people, The Apotheosis of Washington got stranger and stranger the longer they looked at it. “That’s George Washington on the central panel.” Langdon said, pointing 180 feet upward in the middle of the dome. “As you can see, he’s dressed in white robes, attended by thirteen maidens, and ascending on a cloud above mortal man. This is the moment of his apotheosis . . . his transformation into god.”

Langdon goes on to point out the major figures in the painting: the goddess Minerva giving inspiration to American inventors such as Ben Franklin and Samuel Morse; the god Vulcan helping America build the steam engine; Neptune demonstrating how to lay the transatlantic cable.

Though this scene, in Chapter 21, is memorable, The Apotheosis of Washington plays only a minor role in the novel at this early stage. It holds no secrets and offers no clues to guide Robert Langdon on his quest.

But, for the attentive reader, it does point the way to one of the overarching themes in The Lost Symbol–the power of human thought and the god that lies within every man.

So important is The Apotheosis that Dan Brown returns to it at the end of The Lost Symbol, with a memorable, some might say, cinematic scene, in Chapter 133, where Langdon and Katherine Solomon climb to a circular catwalk and marvel at the fresco while discussing the key to the Ancient Mysteries–the power of the human mind:

Langdon had to admit, not many frescoes in the world fused scientific inventions with mythical gods and human apotheosis…Today, this soaring icon–the father of our country ascending to heaven–hung silently above our lawmakers, leaders, and presidents . . . a bold reminder, a map to the future, a promise of a time when man would evolve to complete spiritual maturity.

And now Katherine:

“Robert,” Katherine whispered, her gaze still fixed on the massive figures of America’s great inventors accompanied by Minerva. “It’s prophetic, really. Today, man’s most advanced inventions are being used to study man’s most ancient ideas. The science of Noetics may be new, but it’s actually the oldest science on earth–the study of human thought.

Noetics is a topic for another post. But there is much more that can be said about The Apotheosis.

Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, adjunct professor of religious art and cultural history at Georgetown University, has written a detailed essay about the fresco for Secrets of The Lost Symbol.

Among her many fascinating insights, she points out that although the painting, mingling gods and real people, might seem confusing today, at the time The Apotheosis was commissioned the depiction of abstract ideas, like moral courage, as a recognizable person was commonplace.

She also draws attention to small details Robert Langdon doesn’t acknowledge, such as that fact that the 13 maidens attending Washington represent the 13 original colonies. And that six of them have their backs turned to represent their secession from the Union during the Civil War.

To find out more pre-order your hard copy of Secrets of The Lost Symbol today or download it now as an e-book.