A virgin sacrifice, a murdered pontiff, a lost symbol: That may be what you're hoping to learn about on a tour of the towering George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria. What you'll learn instead is the Freemasons' love of all things George Washington.
"George Washington epitomized what the Freemasons wanted to be," said tour guide Stephanie Blaher as she started the tour in Memorial Hall. Washington joined the Freemasons when he was 20 years old and in his retirement served as the charter master of the Alexandria lodge.
Four massive marble columns line each side of the dimly lit hall. Behind them are large murals showcasing Washington by Allyn Cox. (Cox's work can also be seen in the U.S. Capitol.) The focal point of the hall is a 17-foot, seven-ton statue of Washington holding a gavel in one hand and a hat in the other.
Parts of the movie "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" were filmed at the memorial, but the building feels far less steeped in history than you might imagine. The building's cornerstone was laid in 1923, and the last room wasn't completed until 1983. If you ask your tour guide to explain some of the Freemasons' symbols, her explanation is likely to be far less romantic than a novelist would conjure. The Freemasons date back to the 1600s in Europe. They used symbols, she said, because at the time many people couldn't read.