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Take a Tour of Masonic Washington: What Does It All Mean?

Cities in Europe where author Dan Brown has set scenes from his past best-selling novels have been flooded with tourists eager visit the places mentioned in the stories. Here are some locations and iconic symbols in D.C. that may find a way into Brown's newest work, "The Lost Symbol."

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According to Getler, Brown said: "I don't think I should read your book right now. My next book is about Albert Pike."

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4. The Capitol

In September 1793, Washington donned a ceremonial Masonic apron and helped lay the cornerstone of the Capitol, a ritual complete with a silver trowel, marble gavel and the sprinkling of corn, wine and oil.

Washington's participation was special for Masons. He was the president of the country, but he was simultaneously being a Mason.

For conspiracy theorists and fiction writers, it could be special, too. Were his loyalties divided?

In his novels, Brown reveres art as a system for communicating secret messages to the initiated. The Capitol, as essentially a massive national art gallery, may have something to say.

High on the Capitol Rotunda's domed ceiling is Brumidi's dramatic portrayal of the "Apotheosis of Washington" -- the Mason ascending to heaven. Of 100 or so statues in Statuary Hall and elsewhere in the building, Hodapp counts at least 30 Masons. And he found a panel on the doors of the Senate depicting the cornerstone ceremony, Washington wearing his apron.

(Speaking of official and quasi-official art, what's the deal with the Great Seal? On the back is an unfinished pyramid topped by the all-seeing eye, as on the back of a $1 bill. Masonic, right? No, says Morris. The final seal design came from a committee of non-Masons. The unfinished pyramid is not Masonic. The all-seeing eye is a Masonic symbol for the creator, but is used beyond Masonry as well, he says.)

Brown also loves a crypt. There's one in the Capitol, of course, beneath the Rotunda. At the center of the crypt is a star. The star marks the spot from which the capital's four quadrants of streets fan out -- the very heart of the L'Enfant street plan with its mysterious meanings.

What else is down there?

5. George Washington Masonic National Memorial

On to Virginia, via the Key Bridge -- not because it's the most direct route to Alexandria, but because it's called the Key Bridge, and that might be key, in a Solomon's Key sense of the word. Also, the Key Bridge leads to Rosslyn, which, well, you know.

Now heading south on the George Washington (!) Memorial Parkway, past Theodore Roosevelt Island, named after another presidential Mason.

The tall lighthouse-like tower of the Masonic memorial dominates Alexandria. Inside is a gigantic bronze statue of Washington in his Masonic apron. It is also the modern home of a still-active Alexandria Masonic Lodge, where Washington was once the worshipful master.

Also in Alexandria is Jones Point, where in 1791, during yet another Masonic ceremony, the first stone marking the outline of the District of Columbia was laid.

6. Kryptos, Central Intelligence Agency, Langley

The perfect Brownian object: A work of art that embodies secrecy and ciphers, designed to adorn the headquarters of a spy agency.

The public can't visit, but the agency has a little Web tour we can call up on our laptops.

Created in 1990 by sculptor James Sanborn, the copper and stone Kryptos has four panels inscribed with letters, concealing four coded messages. Three have been solved. Still encrypted is a message with about 97 characters. What does it say?

Shugarts was among those who spotted the almost-exact coordinates of Kryptos's location on the jacket of "The Da Vinci Code." Shugarts also found on the jacket the phrase "only WW knows," which is part of one of the decoded messages of Kryptos. WW is generally believed to refer to former spy chief William Webster.

Kryptos is seemingly a big step from the Masons -- unless WW stands for William Wirt, who ran on the Anti-Masonic Party ticket in 1832, and whose skull was supposedly stolen from his grave. The skull and bones were reunited by Smithsonian anthropologists. "Who stole William Wirt's skull?" was another pre-publication clue.

Meanwhile, they are ransacking Washington for other coded art. Some say artist Albrecht Durer figured in a Twitter clue. "Lost Symbol" hunters say his "Melencolia" -- which is at the National Gallery of Art -- contains Mason-like symbols, even though Durer predated the Masons. "Melencolia" also contains a "magic square" -- a puzzle, believed to have mystical meaning, where rows of numbers add up to the same sum.

Prediction: Somewhere in "The Lost Symbol," a guy in a raincoat wearing a Masonic ring is going to be sitting on the Metro at the L'Enfant Plaza station working a very strange Sudoku puzzle.

This can go on and on, which is what keeps us turning the pages, until it ends.


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