It’s hard to miss the George Washington Masonic Memorial when flying into Washington. It’s often mistaken for the region’s other tall structure - the Washington Monument. But it’s actually a tribute to George Washington’s life as a Freemason. And it’s not in Washington but in Alexandria, Va. (The Freemasonry, by the way, is a fraternity started in the late 16th century for self and community improvement.)
WHAT YOU SEE: The first thing you’ll notice about the memorial, often referred to by locals as the Masonic Temple, is a beautiful example of neoclassical architecture with its large granite columns and archways. You’ll also see a beautiful view of Old Town Alexandria, the Potomac River, and the Maryland border from the steps of the memorial.
The main doors will take you to Memorial Hall where you’ll see a 7-ton solid bronze statute of George Washington. Murals on two walls of the hall depict Washington and his officers attending a St. John’s Day Observance and the other is of Washington laying the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol. Above the murals are beautiful stained glass windows of various important figures from Washington’s life, including his personal physician.
The memorial includes nine floors with exhibits on most reflecting different segments of Freemason history and life, as well as Washington’s life. Some of the objects include the clock that was at Washington’s bedside when he died. The time is stopped at the hour of his death, which was 10:20 PM on Dec. 14, 1799. Other pieces include a desk he owned and used, a wooden goblet made from his casket, a rare photo of President Roosevelt showing his leg braces when he visited a Freemason lodge, Washington’s will, and a piece of his hair.
The top floor features an outdoor wraparound balcony for viewing and picture taking. (For those who are squeamish about heights, there are lots of metal bars wrapped completely around the top and bottom of the walkway.) From the 333-foot perch, you’ll see mostly Alexandria, the Potomac River, and the Maryland border, as well as a distant view of the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol dome.
Taking a tour is highly recommended. It cost $5 per person and takes about an hour. It’s the only way to take the elevator, which travels at a 7 1/2 degree angle, to the top floors. Plus the tour guides can break down the highlights of the memorial and point out the interesting artifacts.
GOOD FOR KIDS: The memorial is probably not the best place for young kids. Although they probably would get a kick out of the view from the top. But many of the exhibits are not touchable. High school age kids may appreciate the memorial a bit more.
GIFT SHOP: There’s a small gift shop to the left of the front entrance with small souvenirs related to Washington and the colonial era.
WHERE: 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, Va.
HOURS OF OPERATION: From October 1 through March 31 the memorial is open 10 AM to 4 PM Monday through Friday and 12 PM to 4 PM on Sundays. From April 1 to September 30, the memorial is open 9 AM to 4 PM Monday through Friday and 12 PM to 4 PM on Sundays. The memorial is closed on major holidays.
COST: First and second floor exhibits are free. Guided tours, which include tower exhibits and the observation deck cost $5 per person or $20 for families of five people or more. Children 12 and younger are free.
PARKING: The memorial has a free parking lot.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: The memorial is walking distance to the King Street Metro stop.
WEBSITE/TELEPHONE NUMBER: http://gwmemorial.org/index.php; 703-683-2007
SPECIAL EVENTS: The memorial holds a black tie gala annually on George Washington’s birthday. Tickets run about $100 and reservations are taken on a first come, first served basis.
WHAT’S CLOSE BY: Old Town Alexandria (lots of shops, restaurants, and cobble stone streets), George Washington’s Mt. Vernon (about 10 miles away), National Harbor (just over the Wilson Bridge in Maryland).