University architecture reflects freemason legacy
With lore about the Freemasons sensationalized in novelist Dan Brown’s latest book, “The Lost Symbol,” Washington University students may be surprised to learn that the University’s connections with Freemasonry run deep.
Originating from medieval traditions, freemasonry is a fraternal and charitable organization with secret rituals whose members share moral, intellectual and spiritual values.
Several prominent early members of the University community had ties to Tuscan Lodge #360, a Freemason society located in the Central West End. Some former Freemasons include Robert Brookings, William Bixby and William McMillan, all of whom have buildings named after them on campus. Architect James Jamieson, who designed many of the University’s buildings, including Brookings Hall, was also a Freemason.
Carl Barthold, a 1948 graduate of Washington University, is a member of Tuscan Lodge. He refers to Brookings and other notable Freemasons as the “Washington University influence.” He said that Brookings and Bixby were among the dozen or so highest contributors to Brookings Hall, and McMillan provided a substantial $20,000 to $25,000 loan to finance the building in 1907.
Freemasons have also had a significant influence on University architecture. Perhaps the most notable example of this is in Graham Chapel.
In the center of Graham Chapel’s eastern window is an image of King Solomon, a figure central to Freemason lore.
“King Solomon’s temple and building and its description is a part of the story that goes with the ritual that we have,” Barthold said.
In the stained glass window, Solomon is constructing a temple. He stands atop an oblong stone that represents the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was said to hold the Ten Commandments, and it was on this Ark that Solomon is believed to have built his temple.
Two pillars, another symbol of Freemasonry, are on each side of Solomon and represent Boaz, great-grandfather of David and symbol of strength, and Jachin, the high priest at the temple’s dedication and symbol of establishment in the Lord.
The eastern, northern and southern windows in Graham Chapel also bear a subtle reference to the six-pointed star, or hexagram. Although perhaps most recognizable as the Star of David, the hexagram was believed to have been found within Solomon’s temple, as well as inside and outside many current Masonic lodges.
The two interlaced triangles suggested by the windows symbolize the opposition of two equal forces—light and darkness, good and evil, wisdom and ignorance, and other principles. The hexagram also came to represent the four Grecian elements—fire, water, air and earth—or, when taken together, totality.
Freemasons: Secret society?
Barthold said that although Freemasons are often represented as a secret society, their actions are often very public.
“Are we secret? Well, if you look in the telephone book, you’ll see Tuscan Lodge. It’s there,” Barthold said. “We’re not a secret society. We’re a fraternity with some secrets.”
Although accurate and factual information about the Freemasons is available to the public, many misconceptions about the Freemasons still exist. Barthold said that it has been a tradition among Freemasons to ignore some of these misconceptions.
“We don’t want to argue with people who have their minds made up,” Barthold said. But he added, “We’re being forced into changing that a little bit now.”
As for Dan Brown’s books, Barthold said that Brown could have taken any organization and written about it.
“I think they’re rather entertaining,” he said. “But I don’t agree with all of it.”
Sophomore Rachel Folkerts said she was surprised to learn of the University’s ties with Masonry.
“That’s really bizarre that we have a Masonic influence,” Folkerts said.
Folkerts has read all of Dan Brown’s novels, except the latest one. She said her opinions of Freemasonry have been heavily influenced by what she has learned through pop culture.
“The fact I know [about Freemasonry] from Dan Brown books shows how they’re viewed in culture,” Folkerts said. “I know it because of these fictional, pretty ridiculous stories, so that’s the context that I think of them in.”