Once again I want to tell you about an unusual and secret New York.
A NY which gets its origins in the secrets of one among the most famous (or maybe I should say notorious) and ancient organizations in the world, the Freemasonry.
A sort of fraternity – with very remote origins, according to someone they date back even to the mythical King Salomon and the Templar Knights Order – made of and by free men, with a well precise moral code and a series of common purposes and projects to pursue in order to contribute to the mankind good.
A world itself, we could add.
Because of the secrecy of its members and of many rituals, it created unawares (at least so the followers say) a series of legends which in the collective imaginary made the Freemasonry a secret, mysterious and powerful organization. It would have ended in influencing over time the world remarkable historical importance events and choices.
Whether all this is true or not – I’m afraid we won’t be able to get the certainty in one way or the other – it is a fact that the stories and the places related to the Freemasonry (thanks also to the great number of books published and the successful movies produced) still today keep fascinating lovers and readers as well keep attracting onlookers and visitors.
In New York, on the 23rd Street between the 5th and the 6th Ave, the most ancient American Masonic Lodge is located. It dates back to 1776 and until 1930 it was considered the greatest one in the world.
I mean that one which “inspired” the two movies with Nicolas Cage (successful actor and a firm Freemason), “National Treasure” and “National treasure: Book of secrets”.
Among its members there are even 14 USA presidents – first among all George Washington – politicians, even actors and artists (like Buffalo Bill), the prestidigitator Harry Houdini, the great comic actors Stanlio and Ollio and a series of politic characters and entrepreneurs who marked by different ways the fate and the history of the entire American nation.
Try to think about an entire building with over 20 floors including even two blocks, and a series of corridors “opening” an indefinite number of doors taking to other doors, documents, rooms and very ancient lodges where still today the members of the Grand Lodge reunite.
A downright time machine catapulting directly from the chaos of Manhattan into a far, precious – in traits creepy, I confess – and secret place.
Once made the entrance procedures, the guide (usually a member of one among the lodges) will tell you about the story and the several episodes tied to this incredible site, not changed for centuries, which has seen passing even 64 Grand Lodge Masters.
The first thing he will tell you is that treasures and secret societies or world power masters don’t exist, like many people believe, and he’ll repeat it to you many times, really many times, as to calm you.
Then he’ll begin to lead you into a daedal of stairs, doors and rooms telling you about anecdotes and curious stories.
The tour – usually in small groups of 6/8 people max – develops on more stories and allows to see more lodges: they are the temples (divided according to the degrees of the affiliates) where ceremonies and reunions occur, each of them with different architecture styles related to the several historical eras when they were built.
Among the most beautiful ones there are the Gothic Room, the Renaissance Room and the Iconic Room.
The wonderful and huge Grand Lodge Room built at the beginning of the 1900s where still today ceremonies and concerts take place – thanks to a surprising acoustics.
If you notice the decorations on the ceiling and the continuation along the balcony on the second floor you’ll realize a stunning resemblance (actually they are practically the same) with those ones present on the big stairs of the Titanic Liner’s clock.
It seems the millionaire John Jacob Astor – he was a freemason, too, who died in the shipwreck on April 15th 1912 – suggested to the Titanic architects to put the same decorations in the rooms of the first class.
In fact here James Cameron’s art directors came to study the freries so then they will have been able to reconstruct them faithfully on the set of the famous movie in 1996.
The place where all the relics related to the foundation of the first freemason temple in the city are preserved, the proscenium (a sort of ceremonial apron used by the members of the fraternity during the reunion) belonged to the freemason George Washington included. Here are catalogued the names of all the Grand Masters and famous characters which joined the fraternity over history.
The great Library located on the 15th floor where it’s possible to look a section of 60.000 very ancient texts up and where the precious Washington Bible was located: it’s the holy text which on April 30th 1789 George Washington took the oath on as the First President of the United States of America, before to be moved to the Federal Hall National Hall Museum in Wall Street, Lower Manhattan.
People tell that few hours before the ceremony the holy text chosen to take the oath on couldn’t be found so the Grand Master Robert E. Livingston lent to “his freemason brother” George Washington the Bible of his Lodge, until that moment preserved inside the Masonic hall Library.
The Bible where then all the Masters of the Grand Lodge and several USA presidents took the oath on: in order Warren G. Harding in 1921, Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1853, Jimmy Carter in 1977 and George Bush Senior in 1989.
The Grand Lodge of the State of New York Free & Accepted Masons or simpler Masonic Hall NYC is in Midtown. The visitors entrance is located at 71W, 23rd Street between the 5th and the 6th Ave.
The guided tours – free, they last about 40 minutes – occur uninterruptedly Monday-Saturday 10:30am-3:15pm.
You are required to take with you an ID (if you are extra USA visitors you have to show obligatory your passports at the reception), give one’s personal particulars and let them to photograph you so you can receive a temporary pass.
Inside it’s possible to take photographs (no flash) and shoot videos but in the most ancient rooms is good manner always to ask the guide for the permission.
You can write an email to TourGuides@nymasons.org or look the Locations & Tours section up – directly on the official website of the Masonic Hall NYC – for further info or special tours requests for groups.