As you fly into DC, a bizarre structure greets you, monumentally confusing in its architectural references. I can only describe it as a Greek temple with the Ark of the Covenant stacked on top and opened up like a Russian matryoshka doll to issue a garland of diminishing square vessels into the sky. It is an eyeful (to be fair, I learned recently that it’s fashioned after the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt, of the Seven-Wonders fame). The structure stands out, towering as it does over Alexandria’s Old Town and verdant Virginia suburbs. What on earth IS that?
That, my friend, is the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, erected “to inspire humanity through education to emulate and promote the virtues, character and vision of George Washington, the Man, the Mason and Father of our Country.” Scores of American masons gathered funds for this colossus in the 1920s as they sought to “express in durability and beauty the undying esteem of the Freemasons of the United States for him in whose memory it shall stand throughout the coming years.” In the grand marble hall inside, Brother Washington, modestly bronzed, seems appeased.
The monument is several blocks away from the King Street metro station, so this can be an easy first stop as you arrive to explore Alexandria’s historic center (a brief itinerary for that adventure is available here). A reduced $5 fee admits you to the first two floors, but I’d suggest splurging for fuller access: For $8, you get a one-hour Mason-guided tour of the building, including its curious collection of Washington’s stuff (fancy seeing a chalice made from his first casket?), the baffling “recreation of King Solomon’s temple” (there is that Ark of the Covenant, with random Hebrew letters all around), and the observation deck with 360-degree views of Alexandria and Washington DC.
Here are some highlights from our visit last year, to whet your appetite:
On a good day, the observation deck views are stellar, Washington’s things are genuinely interesting to see, and the peculiar masonic regalia is the perfect fit for a conspiracy theory or two. Worth a visit? Yes, indeed.
- Old Town Alexandria: Walking the “Old & Historic District”
- George Washington’s Mount Vernon: An American Celebration and the Fall Wine Festival
- Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary: Dragon’s Blood, Anyone?
- At the Library of Congress: A Symphony in Gold and Marble
- Constitution Day Celebration at James Madison’s Montpelier