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Friday, October 13, 2017

Happy Friday October 13th

Happy Friday, October 13th to all you friggatriskaidekaphobics!

Templar mavens all know today is the 710th anniversary of France's King Philip IV's mass arrest in 1307 of more than 600 members of the Knights Templar throughout France, leading to the eventual dissolution of the Order and the brutal torture and burning at the stake of countless Knights. 

Okay, that's not so happy, I admit.

On a brighter note, today is also the 225th anniversary of the cornerstone ceremony for the White House, known originally as the President's House in 1792. The Masonic connection between the White House, its Irish inspiration and the Freemasons is a curious one. Built in 1745, Leinster House was originally the Dublin residence of the 20th Earl of Kildare, James Fitzgerald. The earl had married well, and was rewarded for his auspicious coupling with the title of Duke of Leinster by King George III in 1766. As it turns out, the Duke was also the founding Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. Curiously, there is a legend that the Knights Templar had been asked in 1204 to organize banking houses in Dublin from their commandery at Templemore on Ireland's southern coast. They had been invited by James Fitzgerald’s ancestor, Maurice Fitz-Gerald. 

On Saturday, October 13th, 1792, a procession of Masons formed at the Fountain Inn in Georgetown and marched through the woods to the site of the excavated foundation of the new President’s House in the Federal City. It was 485 years to the day that King Phillip IV had the Knights Templar arrested simultaneously all over France, marking the beginning of the excommunication and dissolving of the Templar order.

The barest outlines of roads were still being cleared through the dense forest when the Freemasons laid the cornerstone of the first federal building in town without much public fanfare. The mansion's architect, James Hoban himself was an Irish Catholic and a member of Georgetown Lodge No. 9. He took part in the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone, and became the founding Master of Federal Lodge No. 15 the following year. 

The cornerstone of the President’s House was placed in the southwest corner of the foundation. The traditional Masonic ceremony was used, and it was presided over by Maryland Lodge No. 9’s Master, Peter Casanave. A brass plate was placed under the stone, which read,
"This first stone of the President's House was laid the 12th day of October1792, and in the 17th Year of the Independence of the United States of America."
George Washington, PresidentThomas Johnson,Doctor Stewart, Daniel Carroll, CommissionersJames Hoban, ArchitectCollen Williamson, Master MasonVivat Respublica.
Brother Chris Ruli of D.C.'s Potomac Lodge 5 has an article today about the event on the GL of DC website, and he reprints the only newspaper account of the day's doings, from the Charlestown Gazette from November 15, 1792, concentrating mostly on the various toasts given by the assembled men afterwards back at the tavern.

James Hoban would work in the Federal City for another forty years. When the British burned the President’s House in 1814, he assisted in its reconstruction. In addition, he would go on to help establish the first Catholic church in the city – St. Patrick's, in 1792 – and in 1820 served on the committee to erect St. Peter's Church on Capitol Hill. (It was a curious dichotomy, since Pope Clement XII had issued an encyclical, "In Eminenti," in 1738 threatening Catholics who became Masons with excommunication. Hoban didn't seem to be bothered by it, perhaps beginning the longstanding American tradition of what we like to call practising "cafeteria Catholicism.")

In spite of what has been claimed elsewhere, Washington himself was not present at the cornerstone ceremony, nor did he ever live in the house. John and Abigail Adams were the first “First Couple” to inhabit the President’s House. They lived there for only four months before Thomas Jefferson took office. 

The White House has seen many other additions and remodelings over the last two centuries. When Thomas Jefferson moved in, he was still jealous over his own design being snubbed by the original committee, so he sent Hoban packing to another office across town, and brought in his own favored architect, Freemason Benjamin Latrobe, to make changes. Latrobe altered the interior (including the addition of a wine cellar) and planned the addition of the north and south porticos. After the building was burned by British troops in 1814, it was James Hoban who supervised its reconstruction, faithful to Jefferson’s changes (above).

And of course there was the most famous alteration of all, when Harry S Truman had the entire interior gutted and rebuilt from the inside to the outer walls starting in 1948. Today, there is not a single interior room older than that project that ended in 1952. During that enormous undertaking, Truman (Past Grand Master of Missouri, 33° Scottish Rite Mason, and the 33rd President) sent White House foundation stones discovered with "Mason's marks" to every U.S. Grand Lodge.

* * *

I'm off to the Ohio 15th Masonic District Fundraiser at Bellefontaine Lodge 209 in Bellefontaine, Ohio tonight. If you're in the neighborhood, please come out.

1 comment:

  1. Recently young American architectural students from Washington helped to build an extraordinary memorial to Hoban near his birthplace at Desart in rural Ireland. At night it is particularly remarkable:



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