Author Archives: pdberger

Secrets of The Lost Symbol in Weston Magazine

Don’t miss this month’s Weston Magazine for an in-depth Lost Symbol photo tour of Washington DC.

Written by Secrets of the Lost Symbol co-editor Dan Burstein, with stunning images by Julie O’Connor, the article covers every major DC sight in The Lost Symbol.

If you don’t happen to be in the Weston area, you can see a pdf version of the article here. And if you want to look back over the photo tour we conducted here on the website, you can find our full Photo Tour archive here.

Photo Tour: Return to The Washington Monument

We’ve reached the final stop on Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC.

View from the base of the Washington Monument (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

It is the end of Chapter 128. Mal’akh is dead and Peter Solomon has decided it is time to show Robert Langdon the true location of the Lost Word. Peter begins by taking a blindfolded Langdon to the top of the Washington Monument:

Robert Langdon stood mesmerized at the glass portal, absorbing the power of the landscape below him. Having ascended unknowingly hundreds of feet in the air, he was now admiring one of the most spectacular vistas he had ever seen.

The shining dome of the US Capitol rose like a mountain at the east end of the National Mall. On either side of the building, two parallel lines of light stretched towards him . . . the illuminated facades of the Smithsonian museums . . . beacons of art, history, science, culture.

A ground-level view of the White House at night with the Washington Monument in the background (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Langdon is 555 feet in the air. Below, deep underground, is the cornerstone of the Washington Monument, which holds the Lost Word–the Bible.

As we have previously discussed, the cornerstone of the Washington Monument contains much more than just a bible. But for Dan Brown, the key to understanding the Ancient Mysteries is the idea that hidden within religious texts, the authors are “quietly whispering the exact same message…Know ye not that ye are gods.” (A theme we discuss in detail here.)

Following his epiphany at the Washington Monument, Langdon returns to the Capitol where he meets Katherine. Together they ascend to a circular catwalk close to the Rotunda ceiling. There, they are instructed to wait until an appointed time, when they may use a special key to open a small metal door. In the meantime, Langdon and Katherine examine Brumidi’s Apotheosis of Washington (covered here on our photo tour).

Finally, the hour arrives. Langdon walks through the door and finds himself on a skywalk that encircles the Capitol Dome. Standing outside, at dawn, he and Katherine watch the sun rise over the city. Meanwhile, Langdon’s gaze is drawn to the Washington Monument.

He thought about the great circumpunct, and how it had been embedded in the circular plaza beneath the monument at the crossroads of America. Langdon thought suddenly of the little stone box Peter had entrusted to him. The cube, he now realized, had unhinged and opened to form the same exact geometrical form–a cross with a circumpunct at its center. Langdon had to laugh. Even that little box was hinting at this crossroads.

Circumpunct at the Washington Monument (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

But the circumpunct quickly becomes a distraction for the main event, the sun’s ascent over the tip of the Washington Monument itself.

“Robert, look” Katherine pointed to the top of the monument.
Langdon lifted his gaze but saw nothing.
Then, staring more intently, he glimpsed it.
Across the Mall, a tiny speck of golden sunlight was glinting off the highest tip of the towering obelisk. The shining pinpoint grew quickly brighter, more radiant, gleaming on the capstone’s aluminum peak. Langdon watched in wonder as the light transformed into a beacon that hovered above the shadowed city. He pictured the tiny engraving on the east-facing side of the aluminum tip and realized to his amazement that the first ray of sunlight to hit the nation’s capital, every single day, did so by illuminating two words:
Laus Deo.

The Sun and the Washington Monument (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Discussing The Lost Symbol (Video)

For those who missed the recent Secrets of The Lost Symbol discussion in New York (mentioned previously here), it’s now possible to see an edited version of the panel’s opening comments (below).

Moderated by Time magazine’s Lev Grossman, the speakers discussed a range of ideas, including Dan Brown’s skill at weaving contemporary moral dilemmas into his narrative and also the suggestion that, despite the sneering of many literary critics, The Lost Symbol may be one of the most important works of American literature to emerge in the past few years.

The panelists for the evening were: Dan Burstein, co-editor of Secrets of The Lost Symbol; Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America and a contributor to Secrets of The Lost Symbol; Ron Hogan, founding curator of literary website, and, until recently, editor of Galleycat (also a contributor to Secrets of The Lost Symbol; and young adult author Maureen Johnson.

Secrets of The Lost Symbol 92nd St Y Panel (YouTube)

Photo Tour: Return to the House of the Temple

The House of the Temple (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

We’re nearing the end of Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC and we are back to where we started: The House of the Temple.

It’s Chapter 114. Langdon and Katherine have just been rescued from Mal’akh’s basement lair. Meanwhile, across town, the tattooed villain is wheeling Peter Solomon into the headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in the Southern Jurisdiction, aka The House of the Temple:

…Mal’akh tucked the blanket around Peter Solomon and wheeled him across a moonlit parking lot into the shadow of an enormous building. The structure had exactly thirty-three outer columns . . . each precisely thirty-three feet tall. The mountainous structure was deserted at this hour, and nobody would ever see them back here. Not that it mattered. From a distance, no one would think twice about a tall, kindly-looking man in a long black coat taking a bald invalid for an evening stroll.

Mal’akh takes Peter to the top floor of the House of the Temple, where he is preparing to perform the initiation right that he believes will give him extraordinary power. Of course, Mal’akh has the legend of The Lost Word all wrong. The secret is not a sign or a symbol. Instead, it lies within a religious text.

The importance of a religious text is one of the reasons why Dan Brown chose Freemasons as the heroes of his novel. Brown has stated in interviews that he admires Freemasonry because it allows people of all faiths to come together. In his, some might say, idealized version of Freemasonry, the brotherhood emphasizes tolerance, respect for many religious traditions, and diversity of belief. (A topic we explore, in depth, in our book Secrets of The Lost Symbol.)

Three Holy Books, House of the Temple (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Undoubtedly, Freemasonry places an enormous amount of emphasis on the importance of religious books from the world’s major faiths, as is evident in the photograph above of the three holy books that take pride of place in the House of the Temple.

To learn more about Freemasonry, faith and The Lost Symbol pick up a copy of Secrets of The Lost Symbol. For past stops on our photo tour, click here.

Photo Tour :: Smithsonian Castle

Smithsonian Castle Gates (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Welcome to Day Eleven of Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC. We’ve reached Chapter 111, where Robert Langdon is having a flashback to an old lecture delivered by his friend Peter Solomon, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

“This wondrous castle,” the voice said, “was America’s first real science museum. It was a gift to America from a wealthy British scientist who, like our forefathers, believed our fledgling country could become the land of enlightenment. He bequeathed to our forefathers a massive fortune and asked them to build at the core of our nation ‘an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.’ ” He paused a long moment. “Who can tell me the name of this generous scientist?

The answer, of course, is James Smithson. Like Albert Pike, Smithson is a fascinating historical character, who merits more than the passing reference he gets in The Lost Symbol. Undoubtedly, Brown did his research on Smithson and, for whatever reason, left out the intriguing questions that still surround Smithson and his unusual bequest today.

Smithson was born during the 1760’s, the illegitimate son of a British aristocrat. He was a brilliant scientist who, at the age of 22, became the youngest member of the Royal Society in his day. Smithson made many discoveries, including “an improved method of making coffee” and a zinc carbonate, smithsonite, which is named after him.

His work made Smithson a prominent figure in European scientific circles and a very wealthy man. Yet, there are huge gaps in our knowledge about him.

Though we know that Smithson’s father was the Duke of Northumberland and that his mother was a cousin of the Duchess of Northumberland, no one knows exactly when he was born. More intriguingly, no one has come up with a concrete explanation why Smithson should have bequeathed his entire fortune–about half a million mid-19th century dollars–to the United States, a country that he had never visited.

What we do know is that that fortune was used to build the Smithsonian Castle, pictured above, and to sow the seed for an institution that now spans 19 museums, a zoo, and nine research centers.

Also not mentioned in The Lost Symbol is the fact that, like the Washington Monument and other DC landmarks, the Smithsonian had a Masonic cornerstone-laying ceremony. President Polk even used the same gavel that George Washington had used when he laid the cornerstone for the Capitol and he wore Washington’s Masonic apron as well.

To find out more, read our interview with Smithson biographer Heather Ewing in Secrets of The Lost Symbol.

Photo Tour :: Washington National Cathedral

We have arrived at Chapter 79 of The Lost Symbol:

Washington National Cathedral, Langdon thought, feeling an unexpected anticipation at being back after all these years. Where better to ask about One True God.
“This Cathedral really has ten stone from Mount Sinai?” Katherine asked, gazing up at the twin bell towers.
Langdon nodded. “Near the main altar. They symbolize the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai.”
“And there’s lunar rock?”
A rock from heaven itself. “Yes. One of the stained-glass windows is called the Space Window and has a fragment of moon rock embedded in it.”

The Space Window, Washington National Cathedral (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Welcome to the tenth day of Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC. Robert Langdon and Katherine Solomon have given the CIA the slip and reached Washington National Cathedral where they seek answers to the pyramid’s riddle Jeova Sanctus Unus–One True God–from the dean of the cathedral, Reverend Colin Galloway.

Candles in the Cathedral (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

The Cathedral is a magnificent setting. One can easily imagine Dan Brown taking one of his anonymous tours of DC and being captivated by its possibilities. Here, in Chapter 82 and in true Brownian fashion, is the author’s description of the cathedral’s architectural statistics:

Washington National Cathedral is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world and soars higher than a thirty-story skyscraper. Embellished with over two hundred stained-glass windows, a fifty-three-bell carillon, and a 10,647-pipe organ, this Gothic masterpiece can accomodate more than three thousand worshippers.

Washington National Cathedral, Interior (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

The space is magnificent. It won’t be long now before Tom Hanks and his yet-to-be-announced female companion are led down the aisle.

Reverend Colin Galloway–dean of the cathedral–looked like he had been alive forever. Stooped and withered, he wore a simple black cassock and shuffled blindly ahead without a word. Langdon and Katherine followed in silence through the darkness of the four-hundred-foot-long nave’s central aisle, which was curved ever so slightly to the left to create a softening optical illusion.

Buy Secrets of The Lost Symbol or download the e-book.

Columbia Begins Work on Lost Symbol Movie

Warren Bellamy: A role made for Morgan Freeman?

The movie version of The Lost Symbol is starting to take shape. Columbia PIctures recently announced that Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things) has signed to write the screenplay. Ron Howard and Tom “Robert Langdon” Hanks are yet to sign contracts, but their agreement is doubtless close at hand.

Columbia must be hoping the trio can come up with a better movie than last year’s Angels and Demons, which grossed a paltry $486 million compared to 2006’s Da Vinci Code movie, which grossed $758 million.

No word yet on who will play Warren Bellamy in The Lost Symbol. But the movie’s casting director is in for a tough job if Morgan Freeman says no.

And what about the problem of casting Katherine Solomon? Columbia bosses must be scratching their heads about finding a box office draw to play a female lead who, in the novel, is a few years older than Robert Langdon. Perhaps they should look no further than Meryl Streep? She has had quite a run lately, playing everything from an older woman having an affair with her ex-husband to a vivacious (and slightly potty) Julia Child. Surely, noetic scientist is within her range.

What do you think? Is Tom Hanks the best man to fill Robert Langdon’s shoes? Who would you like to see play Katherine Solomon? And is anyone other than Morgan Freeman capable of playing Warren Bellamy?