Freemasons have the jitters. They fear that the District of Columbia, rich in Masonic history and symbolism, will be in the cross hairs of the coming sequel to Dan Brown’s bestseller, The Da Vinci Code.
Washington has 36 lodges of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, along with the big House of the Temple of the Scottish Rite on 16th Street and the towering George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria.
Local Masons feel a strong bond to the area and to the history of the Republic, among whose Founding Fathers were many Masons, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and many Revolutionary War generals.
Members claim that most signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons—a claim echoed in the recent movie National Treasure. But modern historians, going over 18th-century records, find only nine signers. Still, Masonic symbols and philosophy are deeply rooted in local history—a connection Dan Brown is expected to exploit in his book.
The Masonic influence here begins with the configuration of the District of Columbia. It is also apparent in the shape of the Washington Monument, the eastern orientation of the Capitol building, and in many other structures and architectural embellishments.
Architect James Hoban, who designed the White House, Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the US Capitol, and Robert Mills, who was responsible for the Washington Monument, were all Masons.
Cornerstones for all these structures were laid after Masonic parades and dedication ceremonies. Masonic rites were used in the laying of cornerstones for the first Smithsonian building, the National Cathedral, and the Department of Labor and Department of Commerce buildings.
Except for publicizing their good works, the groups that comprise Freemasonry do not seek attention—one gets the impression that no matter how public they may be as individuals, they would like to be left alone as Masons.
A man with significant status in federal law enforcement and strong ties to his lodge in Virginia implored us over lunch as we prepared to write this article: “Please don’t hurt us. We do nothing but good.” Later he elaborated in an e-mail: “Though I am not Roman Catholic, the damage that they sustained from the other book [The Da Vinci Code] was terribly unfair.”
The Da Vinci Code’s Coattails
Our docent at DC’s Scottish Rite temple told us its library is ordering five copies of the next Dan Brown book, and he wondered aloud how much damage the book would do to the ancient order. The Masons are not the only ones locked in anticipation. Booksellers see it as another blockbuster.
The release of the sequel has been anticipated since The Da Vinci Code made its way onto the bestseller lists some 160 weeks ago. The film version of that book, starring Tom Hanks, is set to premiere May 17 at the Cannes Film Festival and open worldwide two days later.
The Da Vinci Code is a self-styled “symbology thriller.” Beginning with a murder in the Louvre, it follows Harvard religious-symbologist Robert Langdon as he exposes a centuries-old Vatican conspiracy to conceal the marriage and offspring of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. Dubbed “the novel that ate the world” by Time magazine, it has created an enormous wake. In bookstores the cover blurbs on hundreds of books invoke The Da Vinci Code, and there is a shelf full of books attacking or interpreting the premises of the book.
Though no publication date has been announced for the sequel, there are clues to its subject matter. In an online interview for Bookbrowse.com in 2003, Dan Brown said that the next book also would star Langdon, hero of The Da Vinci Code and its predecessor, Angels & Demons. “For the first time,” Brown said, “Langdon will find himself embroiled in a mystery on US soil. This new novel explores the hidden history of our nation’s capital.”
In May 2004, Brown, a resident of Exeter, New Hampshire, appeared in Concord, where, in the words of the New Hampshire Union Leader, he told “an adoring crowd of more than 800” that a sequel to The Da Vinci Code would be set in Washington and would focus on the Masons. Brown’s Web site at the time said its release was tentatively scheduled for 2005.
Brown said the Masons should be happy because there is so much misinformation about the group and that Christian rituals were “even weirder” than Masonic rituals. Brown added that the architecture of Washington would be a key part of the book and noted that clues about the sequel are embedded in The Da Vinci Code’s dust jacket.
The Concord session was the last time Brown talked publicly about the sequel. What seemed to have turned heads that night was his assertion that he had run across “intriguing and persuading” information that Jesus Christ survived the crucifixion, but the information was too controversial to put in his novel. “To me, that was three or four steps too far,” he told the crowd. He said people can’t rely totally on the historical record because history is written by the winners. “How historically accurate is history itself?” Brown asked.
In October 2004, Brown’s publisher held a background briefing: The title of the sequel would be The Solomon Key; it would focus on the Masons and be set in Washington. The Doubleday executive reminded those assembled that many of the Founding Fathers were Masons.
In early 2005 Brown’s publisher posted a “Web quest” on the Internet as part of its marketing strategy for the new book. The Web quest challenges code-breakers to unravel a series of puzzles starting with the ciphers and symbols that are “already in your possession.”
The publisher said on the Web quest: “Disguised on the jacket of The Da Vinci Code, numerous encrypted messages hint at the subject matter of Dan Brown’s next Robert Langdon novel.”
This game touched off a new round of interest in the dust jacket of The Da Vinci Code. The clues are clear to anyone with the book, a magnifying glass, and a mirror.