Archive

Archive for November, 2013

The Washington Monument Commemorative Stone of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania

Click to enlarge.  Image from http://www.nps.gov.

Freemasons and students of Masonic history can claim many connections to some of America’s greatest national treasures.  Because of the esteem in which our Craft once held, it was not uncommon to have Masonic lodges asked to perform public cornerstone ceremonies and dedications to many of the nation’s best known buildings and monuments.  (readers may recall my Gettysburg blog here) As you can imagine, any organization asked to participate or contribute to the construction of a national memorial has a sense of pride and contribution to history.  The Masons are no different.

According to Pennsylvania Grand Lodge minutes, in June of 1848, an invitation sent from the Grand Lodge of Washington DC was received and accepted by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania to “attend and assist in the ceremonies of laying the corner Stone of the Washington National Monument.”  The ceremony took place the following month on July 04, 1848, Independence Day1

When the Freemasons laid the cornerstone of the George Washington National Monument in DC it not only put another short notation in the history books about the Masons, it also opened up an opportunity for Masonic lodges and other civic and patriotic organizations to have their mark placed in American history as part of the very structure itself.

When construction began the Washington National Monument Society, which formed in 1833 as a private association, allowed donation of blocks to be incorporated for a twofold purpose.  The first was so all states of the Union could feel represented by the monument, and the second was to aid in fundraising and construction costs.  The society originally planned to accept monetary donations along with the donated stones, but it seems many blocks came without such donation.2

There are 193 commemorative blocks inside the Washington Monument.  That is, there are 192 commemorative stones, and 1 commemorative block of copper ore. The latter donated by the state of Michigan.3   The stones were donated by individual states, societies, and private citizens.  These stones range is size and style.  Some are very basic with simple inscriptions, while others are incredibly complicated with fine detail.   The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania’s stone fits into the latter category.

The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, like many other societies, had an interest in donating a stone. In September of 1850 a motion was made to secure an appropriate amount of money “to procure a block of Penna. marble to be fashioned as a Keystone and inserted as part of the National Monument to Washington to bear the inscription from the Grand Lodge of Masons of the Keystone State in memory of the Masonic virtues of Washington or some other inscription that the Grand Master or Grand Lodge may direct.”4   A committee was formed for the purpose of designing and executing the project and to report the cost back to Grand Lodge.

In November that year the committee reported back that it had in fact met several times to work out the details of furnishing a block of marble as well as a design to be carved into the stone. The final cost of the stone was set not to exceed $500.00.  The carving design was supplied free of charge by committee chairman Bro. G. Parker Cummings who was Worshipful Master of Lodge No. 19.5

Gordon Parker Cummings

Gordon Cummings, or as most records record his name, G. Parker or GP Cummings, was a talented architect.  He was born around 1809 and was one of the first architects to have significant works on both coasts of the growing Republic.  Along with his many achievements, he was responsible for Philadelphia’s first structure supported by iron rather than timber, the cast iron Penn Mutual building. He also designed the Grand Lodge of Colored Masons, an Early English Gothic style, in 1851.  He went west to San Francisco after the gold rush boom where he is remembered for numerous building as well as the capitol of Sacramento.6

Cummings made it back to Philadelphia where died in 1889.  At the time of his death he was living in the Masonic Home in Philadelphia.  He was buried at Monument Cemetery, but unfortunately he did not remain there long.  Not to get too far off topic, but it is worth pointing out that in the 1950’s with expanding and changing times, Monument Cemetery which held more than 28,000 bodies was sold to Temple University.  Part of the university’s explanation required removing and relocating the bodies in the cemetery.  Today, it seems, there is no really good records of what happened to most of the bodies, with many being put into a mass grave.  Hundreds, if not thousands of headstones were dumped into the river.  To read more about Monument Cemetery check out The Cemetery Traveler blog here.7

William Struthers

Grand Lodge minutes indicate that the work was to be “carried out under the superintendence of a Special Committee appointed for that purpose, whose duty it shall be to see that none but the most skilful artists are employed and that the work be done in the most superior manner.” The man chosen to carry out said work was Bro. William Struthers.8

Detail on the George Washington tomb. (Photo from Adam T. Osman)

Struthers was born to Scottish parents in January of 1812.  He followed his family profession and became a marble mason.  His father John is credited with several well-known monuments including the new marble sarcophagi of George and Martha Washington as well as the sarcophagus of Henry Clay and that of Isaac Hull, Commodore of the United States Navy.9   I’ll point out here that, while Johns name is on the side of the Washington sarcophagi, and most historians believe he is the carver, there are claims that another man actually carved the eagle and shield, while Johns firm simply supplied the marble.10

By 1840 William and his father were working under the title John Struthers and Son.  William expanded the family business and his work can be seen in various places around Philadelphia, most notably Philadelphia’s City Hall.11

Struthers not only carved the stone for the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, but also was responsible for the Corporation of the City of Philadelphia stone.12

Despite the Grand Lodge Minutes on 1850 stating the stone would be placed at the 2nd landing, the actual location of the Grand Lodge stone is on the 16th landing, approximately 180 feet up. The following description was taken from “The Voice of Freemasonry” magazine in 1997.  (see link in reference for more Masonic stone information)13

On the 180-foot level, at the sixteenth landing, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania contributed a richly carved marble stone. Prominent upon the stone is carved an arch and keystone. The keystone contains a seal with four quarterings with a lion, a man, a cow, and an eagle, traditional emblems of the four apostles. Above the seal on the keystone is “Holiness unto the Lord”, below the seal is “From the Keystone State, A.D. 1851 A.L. 5851.” Above the keystone two angels guard with uplifted wings a small ark of the covenant. To the right of the arch is a crumbling wall surmounted by masonic tools set against a wooded hill. To the left is a wall of finished ashlar surmounted by a masonic altar and tools against another wooded hill. In the clouds on a banner to either side of the keystone is the inscription “Ad majorem Supremi Architect Glorium”.

While this is not meant to be a study of all the commemorative blocks in the monument, the resources below can provide hours of further study.

As of today the Washington Monument remains closed due to the earth quake that hit the Washington DC area in 2011.  Before the earthquake it was possible at certain times to ride the elevator up and walk down the inside to view the memorial stones.  This is no longer the case.  Perhaps someday things may change and you may be able to view the stone with your very eyes.

Book_Cover_front_rgbEarning Freemasonry – A One Day Class Redemption is now available for purchase.
Click the link below to purchase through Paypal for $15.00 plus $5.00 for priority shipping.
Books purchased here will be signed and sent directly from the author.

Keep up to date with me on facebook at:
www.facebook.com/SquareOfVirtue

Feel free to drop me any comments or books reviews here:
www.facebook.com/EarningFreemasonry

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

Books can also be purchased on Amazon and Kindle.

  1. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging, Volume VII, 1840-1848, Page 494
  2. The Washington Monument: A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones p. 8 (http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/wamo/stones.pdf) accessed 9/28/13
  3.  The Washington Monument: A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones p. 1 (http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/wamo/stones.pdf) accessed 9/27/13
  4. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging, Volume VIII, 1849-1854, Page 112
  5. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging, Volume VIII, 1849-1854, Page 117
  6. Biography from the American Architects and Buildings database, http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/ar_display.cfm/22495, accessed 9/27/2013.
  7. How Monument Cemetery was Destroyed, The Cemetery Traveler – by Ed Snyder, http://thecemeterytraveler.blogspot.com/2011/05/how-monument-cemetery-was-destroyed.html accessed 9/28/13
  8. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging, Volume VIII, 1849-1854, Page 117
  9. Philadelphia Graveyards and Cemeteries, By Thomas H. Keels, page 107.
  10. Andrew Doig, John Struthers & George Washington’s Sarcophagus, accessed 9/28/2013 http://chicagoscots.blogspot.com/2011/04/andrew-doig-john-struthers-george.html
  11. Biography from the American Architects and Buildings database, http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/ar_display.cfm/22755, accessed 9/28/2013.
  12. The Washington Monument: A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones p. 124 (http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/wamo/stones.pdf) accessed 10/28/13
  13. The Voice of Freemasonry, Grand Lodge, F.&.A.M., of the District of Columbia, Spring 1997