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.

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