Apron Envy: The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

As you fly into DC, a bizarre structure greets you, monumentally confusing in its architectural references. I saw 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 soon learned 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. What on earth IS that?

George Washington Masonic Memorial

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.

George and his apron, GW Masonic Memorial

George and his apron

Dashing gentlemen: Murals in the Grand Hall

Dashing gentlemen: Murals in the grand hall describe scenes from Washington’s life as a Freemason

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 $7 fee admits you to the first two floors, but I’d suggest splurging for fuller access: For $10, you get a one-hour Mason-guided tour of the building, including its curious collection of Washington’s The Ark of Covenant with fake Hebrewstuff (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 my last visit, to whet your appetite:

George having a masonic moment

George, having a masonic moment

Museum, George Washington Masonic Memorial

At the museum exploring various aspects of George Washington’s life, a bit thick with adoration, but many of the artifacts are quite interesting

Chalice made from George Washington's casket

The casket chalice: Washington’s body was moved years after his death–and this cup is made from that first wooden casket

Super desk, George Washington Masonic Memorial

Washington’s super-desk (with secret double drawers)

George's stuff at the George Washington Masonic Memorial, Alexandria

More of George’s stuff: There were several truly impressive artifacts–like Washington’s doctor’s pocket watch that was stopped at the exact time when the doctor announced Washington’s death, and the Masonic trowel and gavel used by Washington to lay down the Capitol’s cornerstone.

King Solomon's temple, George Washington Masonic Memorial

“King Solomon’s temple”

King St view, George Washington Masonic Memoria

Old Town Alexandria: View from the Masonic Memorial’s observation deck

View of DC: George Washington Masonic Memorial observation deck view

The view of DC’s National Mall–from the spear of the Washington memorial to the dome of the Capitol.

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.

George Washington Masonic Memorial, painting fragment of an apron

The only apron for which I’d settle

Read on: 

12 thoughts on “Apron Envy: The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

  1. I lived in the DC area for 20 years and never knew there was a tour of the Masonic Temple. You can bet that when we visit the area this will be on our list. Thanks for your post.

  2. A chalice made out of George Washington’s first casket: how can I resist that? I’ve lived in the area for 30 years and have never been (except for a quick look around the first floor during Alexandria’s First Night many years ago). I’ll definitely have to go soon.

    • I KNOW, right?! It’s impossible to compete with the casket chalice, but there were several other cool things–like Washington’s doctor’s watch that the good doctor stopped at the precise moment he declared Washington dead, and the trowel and gavel that GW used to lay down the cornerstone of the US Capitol. I should go back. Last time, we went for laughs, mostly–I really didn’t expect there to be so many cool actual, real things!

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