Category Archives: Photo Tour

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.

Photo Tour :: Capitol Rotunda

Statue of George Washington, Capitol Rotunda. (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

It’s Day Four of Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC. We’ re now at page 83, standing in the Capitol Rotunda, as Robert Langdon describes to CIA security chief Inoue Sato how the founders of Washington, D.C. modeled the nation’s capital–its architecture and landmarks–on Rome:

Now, centuries later, despite America’s separation of church and state, this state-sponsored Rotunda glistened with ancient religious symbolism. There were over a dozen different gods in the Rotunda–more than the original Pantheon in Rome. Of course, the Roman Pantheon had been converted to Christianity in 609 . . . but this pantheon was never converted; vestiges of its true history still remained in plain view.

Langdon goes on to explain that the Rotunda was designed as a tribute to Rome’s Temple of Vesta. And that there was once a hole in the floor that looked down upon a “sacred fire of enlightenment” that could be tended by a “sisterhood of virgins.”

Brown is correct. There once was, indeed, a hole in the middle of the Rotunda. But during our research for Secrets of The Lost Symbol, we discovered that the hole was probably created for an altogether different purpose.

The statue you can see in the photograph above is of George Washington. But once, there was a much more controversial statue of Washington in this room. It is the statue of Washington as Zeus (mentioned on page 87 of The Lost Symbol), bare-chested, holding a sword, and pointing towards heaven.

That statue, perhaps unsurprisingly, was something of a laughing stock in its day. It was unveiled in the Rotunda in 1841. But it was so controversial that it was soon moved into the Capitol Crypt.

During our research into Secrets of The Lost Symbol, Pam Scott, an architectural historian with DC Office of Planning, told us that when the statue was moved into the crypt, in 1842, a small hole was created in the center of the Rotunda so that people could peer down on it.

Eventually, Washington as Zeus was moved to the Smithsonian Institution (you can see it today in the National Museum of American History) and the hole was covered up.

The flame theory, like many of DC’s conspiracies, springs from an overactive imagination.

But there’s even more to this room than Roman gods and vestal virgins. As Langdon explains, there are symbols of the Ancient Mysteries, too.

We’ll save that for tomorrow.

Pre-order your hard copy of Secrets of The Lost Symbol today or download it now as an e-book.

Photo Tour :: US Capitol Visitor Center

The Dome of the Capitol viewed from the US Capitol Visitor Center. (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

The US Capitol Visitor Center. (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Day Three of Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC, and we find ourselves looking up through the glass of the recently renovated US Capitol Visitor Center at the dome of the Capitol Building.

The new security checkpoint for tourists entering the Capitol Building is located deep within the recently completed subterranean visitor center, beneath a magnificent glass skylight that frames the Capitol Dome. Newly hired security guard Alfonso Nuñez carefully studied the male visitor now approaching his checkpoint.

Chapter 4, The Lost Symbol.

A few interesting facts about the Capitol Visitor Center and its relation to The Lost Symbol:

  • Throughout its history, and until quite recently, visitors to the U.S. Capitol could enter the building directly. After 9/11, a more secure visitor’s entrance was planned. It was under construction from 2002-2008, and opened only about a year before The Lost Symbol was published. The Capitol Visitor’s Center was deliberately placed underground in order not to block the magnificent approach view of the Capitol Dome. Most details in The Lost Symbol appear to come from the 2003-6 period, when Dan Brown seems to have written much of the basic text of the book. The reference to the Visitor’s Center is one of a handful of allusions to 2008-9 realities that appear to have come from a more recent round of editorial updates to the book.
  • The Capitol Visitor’s Center really does connect the Capitol building to the Library of Congress through a very long tunnel, just as Dan Brown describes in The Lost Symbol. The use of the tunnel between the two buildings in The Lost Symbol is reminiscent of Brown’s use of “Il Passetto” in Angels & Demons. Il Passetto connects the Vatican with Castel Saint’ Angelo, both of which were important scenes of action in Angels & Demons, just as the Capitol and the Library of Congress are in The Lost Symbol.
  • According to some Washingtonians, the biggest running joke in The Lost Symbol starts in this scene where security guard Alfonso Nuñez is watching the Washington Redskins in an NFC playoff game. One wag has called the idea of the Redskins in the playoffs as proof positive that this is a work of fiction.

Photo Tour :: Washington Monument

The Washington Monument at sunset. (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Day Two of Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC, takes us to the Washington Monument. The monument makes a number of appearances in The Lost Symbol, but we first glimpse it through Robert Langdon’s eyes from the seat of a Falcon 2000EX corporate jet, as he flies into Washington:

Outside the window, the sun had set, but Langdon could still make out the slender silhouette of the world’s largest obelisk, rising on the horizon like the spire of an ancient gnomon. The 555-foot marble-faced obelisk marked this nation’s heart. All around the spire, the meticulous geometry of streets and monuments radiated outwards.

Chapter 1, The Lost Symbol.

Some Lost Symbol/Washington Monument trivia (spoiler alert! Read on only if you have finished The Lost Symbol):

  • Intriguingly, the Washington Monument’s height—555 feet—is mentioned specifically four different times in The Lost Symbol, including the first reference.
  • The “lost” cornerstone of the Washington Monument referred to so often in The Lost Symbol is actually huge and, appropriately, used underground in the construction of the monument. It is true that its exact location is no longer known, but it is undoubtedly underground at the base of the Monument. Sealed in its time capsule is not just the Bible that is the centerpiece of The Lost Symbol, but numerous other documents and artifacts collected in 1848 (when the cornerstone was laid) to reflect American life and society at the time. A small sampling of what’s in there (via Snopes) besides the Holy Word of the Bible includes: Constitution of the United States and Declaration of Independence; a portrait of Washington; a map of the city of Washington; all the coins of the United States, from the eagle to the half-dime inclusive; the Constitution and General Laws of the Great Council of the Improved Order of Red Men of the District of Columbia; Appleton’s Railroad and Steamboat Companion; Copies of the Union Magazine, National Magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, Graham’s Magazine, and Columbian Magazine, for July, 1848; Harper’s Illustrated Catalogue; and the Annual Report of the Comptroller of the State of New York, January 5, 1848.

Photo Tour :: The Sphinx

A Sphinx stands guard outside the House of the Temple. (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Many Dan Brown fans have already made the Lost Symbol pilgrimage to Washington. For all those for whom Washington is too far, we aim to bring the city to you. Over the coming weeks, we will post photographs from the main Lost Symbol locations by Julie O’Connor.

Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC will feature Washington sights in the order they appear in the novel. Today, it’s the sphinx outside the House of the Temple, the headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in the Southern Jurisdiction.

This colossal edifice, located at 1733 Sixteenth Street NW in Washington, D.C. was a replica of a pre-Christian temple–the temple of King Mausolus, the original mausoleum . . . a place to be taken after death. Outside the main entrance, two seventeen-ton sphinxes guarded the bronze doors.

Prologue, The Lost Symbol.

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