Words And Photos By Jonny Grave
I’m twelve years old, and my grandfather just died three weeks shy of turning 95. It’s raining, and they’re putting his corpse into the ground. At this funeral in Norfolk, VA, in this darkly-dressed, somber, eyes-down crowd, three men come forward to address the gathering.
Three old men, what little hair left on their heads turned white years ago, walking slow, single-file, wearing dark suits, white gloves, white aprons, a compass and square embroidered in gold thread on the front. One guy has a sword.
They speak in turns, explaining that Brother Reuben Lynwood Musgrave Sr. was an honorable member of their Lodge. They explained that they honor their brothers with a burial ritual when they die. I begin wondering what the hell my grandfather was into.
More than a decade after they buried him, I’m pacing around the grand, ornate foyer of a building where men wearing white aprons and gloves would have called my grandfather their “brother.”
Designed by famed architect John Russell Pope in 1911, and modeled after the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Masonic House of the Temple of the Scottish Rite is the meeting place of the Scottish Rite’s Southern Jurisdiction. And it’s open to the public for tours, Monday through Thursday. On one unbelievably bright afternoon, I decided to stop in with my camera. I was led through most corners of the building, peering into the secrets the Temple had to offer.
There’s a lot more than Masonic rituals taking place behind the towering walls at 16th and S. There are books. There are artifacts from all corners of American history. There is an abnormally large collection of Meerschaum pipes…
Throughout our hour-long tour, I had the distinct feeling that I was walking through the architectural embodiment of greatness, but that something was slightly “off.” These halls and these libraries are designed to hold a large gathering of people. Every room we visit, every cavernous foyer is empty– completely void of people. It felt like showing up to church on a Monday.
What makes this building special is not just its place in the District’s history, but the history that brought the building to life. Pope pulled from a vast array of sources to construct this truly wonderful temple, showing off his knowledge of classical Greek and Roman architecture. While he himself was not a Mason, Pope worked closely with members of the Craft to construct a living tribute to the founders of Freemasonry.
After a century in this city, this temple still has secrets to offer Masons and Non-Masons alike. It is, without a doubt, a hidden gem of the District, and certainly worth the trip.
Go check out some weird pipes.