A Do-It-Yourself Lost Symbol Tour of Washington D.C.

Diane and I had already visited Washington D.C. on two previous occasions. When the opportunity arose for a third visit, we wanted to see a different side of the city. But how would we do this? Suddenly the answer dawned on us. Why not tour Washington D.C. through the mind of Dan Brown and The Lost Symbol which I had recently read?

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Washington D.C. is a vibrant city just over 220 years old. Many people want to believe that Pierre L'Enfant, the planner who laid out the grid pattern for the city streets, incorporated Masonic patterns into the design. While this cannot be definitively proven, it does add an air of mystery to a city that is usually known for its political secrets.

Popular culture has also become fascinated with secret societies and conspiracy theories as evidenced by the success of the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. Tourists regularly flock to sites mentioned in his books and vicariously relive the events that occurred.

Where should we begin this exciting visit to the nation's capital?

For Day One We chose to start at the Washington National Cathedral because it required the use of public transportation.

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The Washington National Cathedral

Day 1 starts with a visit to the massive neo-Gothic Washington National Cathedral -- the sixth largest cathedral in the world. Walking toward this Episcopal house of worship, your curiosity gets the better of you as you pass near a gray stone Norman arch doorway set in a high stone fence on the south side of the cathedral grounds.

Beyond the doorway lies the walled-in Bishop's Garden. Nestled with this peaceful urban oasis are two herb gardens, a rose garden, winding stone pathways and the octagonal Carderock Gazebo (Shadow House) lined with benches inside.

In the novel, the Lost Symbol, Reverend Colin Galloway, the dean of the cathedral and Freemason, was relaxing in the Shadow House when he was first notified of an important phone message from fellow Freemason Warren Bellamy, the Architect of the Capitol Building. We were not so lucky because a well-dressed tour group kept this garden from being the area of quiet contemplation for which it was designed.

Exit the Bishop's Garden and find your way to the main entrance on the west side of the cathedral. You will recognize the grand stairway set back within an eighty foot arch beneath the rose window. Robert Langdon and Katherine Solomon climbed these stairs and passed through the wooden doors to meet Reverend Galloway. You will not be able to do the same; you must use the Visitors Entrance and provide a donation in order to enter the cathedral.

Walking along the nave toward the great crossing where the dark brown wooden Rood screen partitions the sanctuary from the public area, you find the Space Window upward to your right. In the upper middle of the window is a reddish-black colored moon with an actual moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission set in its center.

Entering the sanctuary from the right side, your eyes are immediately drawn to the limestone carving of a seated Jesus in the apse. Set in front of the altar are ten stones taken from Mount Sinai. We were not able to see these at the time of our visit as they were covered by a carpet.

Upon entering the sanctuary, Langdon and Katherine Solomon were invited back into the administrative area but this is off-limits to you. Away from prying eyes, Galloway revealed that the 9 inch tall polished granite pyramid given to Langdon by Bellamy is in fact a map.

Exit the cathedral by way of the Visitors Entrance and walk along the North Side of the building. Ask the staff to point out where the bust of Darth Vader is located is on the North Tower. You can be absolutely sure that he is located on the "dark side" of the tower.

Continue along past the north transept to the Garth, a walled-in courtyard, on your right. The Garth has been fenced off since the August 23, 2011 earthquake so you cannot enjoy a few minutes of quiet contemplation while seated on one of the benches. No water has flowed from the post-modern fountain at the center of the courtyard since the earthquake.

Langdon and Katherine Solomon exited the cathedral by way of the Garth and quickly hid under the portico as a CIA helicopter was hovering overhead. From here they made their way to the College of Preachers just down the street.

Also known as the Cathedral College, this greenish roofed "castle" showcases a Norman-style tower. Langdon and Katherine Solomon found their way into the college kitchen where they submerged the pyramid in boiling water. The steam revealed a hidden message on the capstone. We were unable to confirm that there was a kitchen because the college was not open to the public.

Leave the National Cathedral grounds and travel to the Dupont Circle Metro Station. Dupont Circle is where the Director of the CIA's Office of Security, Inoue Sato, ordered the helicopter to land just south of the two-tiered fountain. From here you will proceed on foot unless you can commandeer your own transportation and tear up New Hampshire Avenue to the House of the Temple just like Langdon and company did.

The House of the Temple

The House of the Temple is a replica of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The exterior has 33 gray columns, each 33 feet high, representing the 33 levels of Scottish Rites Freemasonry. Arriving at the front door, you are sized up by only two sphinxes.

Inside the front door is the atrium with its eight reddish-brown columns and two sphinxes guarding the Grand Staircase. After watching a short video, you meet your tour guide.

Climb the Grand Staircase to the Temple Room on the third floor. At the top of the stairs opposite the leather covered doors, you find the Tyler's chair set into the stone railing. The Tyler guards the entrance to the Temple Room. The words "Know Thyself" are imprinted on the chair's back support.

Mal'akh brought Peter Solomon up to the Temple Room in a wheelchair by means of an elevator. Once inside, he demanded that Peter reveal the location of the secret staircase leading to the Lost Word. There is no secret staircase inside the House of the Temple.

The focal point of the Temple Room is a black granite altar gilded with gold. A passage in golden Hebrew letters reads GOD SAID, "LET THERE BE LIGHT" AND THERE WAS LIGHT. Six holy books are arranged on the altar representing five major world religions (there are two copies of the Quran for some reason): Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Mal'akh wished to have himself sacrificed upon this altar and be released from his body.

Above you is the massive 332 ton vaulted ceiling supported by dark green granite columns. A square oculus/skylight is situated directly over the altar. Thirty-three leather covered seats line the room and a 33 foot tall throne on the western wall faces a pipe organ hidden inside the opposite wall.

Your tour also includes stops at the Hall of Honor housing portraits of Freemasons like President Harry Truman, the library known as Washington's oldest reading room, the Hall of Regalia and Albert Pike's bust (this Masonic luminary is entombed in the wall just behind it). Gentleman can also visit the elegant bathroom on the ground floor described by Robert Langdon without your guide. After completing your visit to the House of the Temple, return to Dupont Circle and ride the Metro to Freedom Plaza.

Freedom Plaza

Robert Langdon and Katherine Solomon used their visit to Freedom Plaza as an opportunity to escape from their taxi driver who was in fact secretly communicating with the CIA. Even though their visit was brief they still had the opportunity to see the floor plan of the Capitol Building and the Great Seal of the United States, both set into the paving stones.

After you complete your visit to Freedom Plaza, escape the same way as Langdon and Katherine by way of the Metro Center Station. Unlike them however, you will be traveling to Franklin Square.

Franklin Square

Warren Bellamy agreed to meet Mal'akh at the park known as Franklin Square. Here Mal'akh would free Peter Solomon in exchange for the "secret number" of Franklin Square.

The CIA helicopter carrying Sato, Field Agent Turner Simkins and Warren Bellamy employed a touch hover maneuver on the roof of the double-spired building located at 1301 K Street across from Franklin Square. They planned to position themselves to intercept Mal'akh as he met with Bellamy.

Standing in the park, it is easy to locate the office building at 1301 K Street which Dan Brown describes as having golden spires. In reality these spires are off-white in color.

At one point, Agent Simkins peered out from the park bushes to discover the mosque-like Almas Temple across the street belonging to the Shriners. This building is striking with its red and blue facade and arched doorway and windows. After admiring this building, return to the Metro and travel to the Smithsonian Museum Support Center.

The Smithsonian Museum Support Center

The Smithsonian Museum Support Center is where Katherine Solomon works and where Mal'akh murders Trish Dunne. You are not permitted to enter this facility without an appointment; you can only take a picture of this yellow and gray concrete building from the street.

Day Two begins with the U.S. Capital Building. Information on the location and directions to these sites can be found at the end of the article.

The U.S. Capitol Building

Mal'akh was the taxi driver who drove Langdon to a stop near the Capitol Building upon his arrival in Washington D.C. After entering the Visitors Center, Langdon looked up through the glass ceiling and saw the nineteen-and-a-half foot bronze Statue of Freedom set on the summit of the dome.

Upon arrival, place your belongings inside the x-ray machine just like Langdon and pass through the security check. Descend to the lower floor by means of the escalator to arrange your free tour which begins with a short video.

The unescorted Langdon proceeded directly to the two story semi-circular Statuary Hall expecting to deliver a talk on the Masonic history of the building. He found the room empty except for the resident statues representing each state in the Union. Some of the many statues include Presidents Ford and Clinton but there are also other notables like Father Junipero Serra who established the California Mission system and King Kamehameha I of Hawaii.

Your tour includes the 180 foot tall Rotunda whose design, according to Langdon, was based on the Temple of Vesta in Ancient Rome. At one point, Mal'akh stealthily places the severed right hand of Peter Solomon in the exact center of the Rotunda floor. Standing on this spot and looking upward you find the fresco entitled "The Apotheosis (deification) of Washington". The nation's first president is draped in purple and flanked by the goddesses Victoria and Liberty on his left and right respectively.

A number of notable statues line the perimeter of the room including those of Washington, Lincoln, Reagan, Eisenhower and Martin Luther King. Fifty-three feet above them you find a frieze detailing significant events in American history. Begin with the landing of Columbus in the new world located directly above the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

Follow your tour guide to the circular crypt located directly beneath the Rotunda. This room was designed to be George Washington's tomb but our guide indicated the President had never rested here. The crypt now houses two statues from each of the original thirteen states including Sam Adams of Massachusetts, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and Robert E. Lee of Virginia as well as an original copy of the English Magna Carta. A four-pointed star set at the center of the crypt floor serves as mile zero for all streets within the city. Langdon points out that this star also marked the spot where an eternal flame once burned.

Langdon discovers the granite pyramid in a secret chamber below the Senate basement known as the Reflection Room. This room does not exist so your tour ends in the crypt. Exit the Capitol Building by way of the box-like underground tunnel leading to the Library of Congress across the street just like Langdon and Bellamy.

The Library of Congress

The Jefferson Building is one of three comprising the Library of Congress. Following in the footsteps of Langdon and Bellamy, exit the tunnel and enter the Jefferson Building through the great hall. The great hall is reminiscent of the Paris Opera House with its beaux art design. Eight pairs of statues all depicting the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva, judge your worthiness to enter this temple of enlightenment.

Above you are stained glass skylights adorned with aluminum leaf. While you might not be impressed with the use of aluminum today, this was in fact a rare and valuable metal at the time this building was constructed.

Flanking an elegant set of double doors are original copies of a Gutenberg Bible and the Bible of Mainz displayed inside bullet-proof cabinets on the left and right sides respectively. The double doors open into the reading room. While Bellamy and Langdon are able to enter without any problem, you will not be so lucky. Those wishing to enter the reading room must obtain a special pass which is not included with the tour.

Climb one of the two curved stairways leading to the mezzanine above. After allowing you to be overwhelmed by the elaborate decor and allegory of the American Renaissance style design of the mezzanine, your guide leads you to a doorway located just below a mosaic of Minerva. Beyond this doorway, you find yourself standing on a glassed-in balcony overlooking the reading room. Bronze statues of Moses and Isaac Newton keep you company.

The octagonal reading room, covered by a dome, is 160 feet tall from floor to ceiling at its center. Dan Brown describes the origin of the marble in the reading room in detail: chocolate brown Tennessee marble, cream-colored Siena marble and apple-red Algerian marble.

Langdon avoided his CIA pursuers by escaping to the Adams Building, the second of the three library buildings, by utilizing one of the book conveyor belts in the circulation room. Neither the circulation room nor the Adams Building is included in your tour and the conveyor system connecting the two buildings has been out-of-order for years. Therefore exit the Jefferson Building the same way that regular people do and proceed to the U.S. Botanical Garden.

The U.S. Botanical Garden

After Langdon had made his escape from the Jefferson Building, CIA agents capture Bellamy and transfer him to "the Jungle", one of several exhibits at the U.S. Botanical Garden. You can visit the glassed-in Botanical Garden building and look around at your leisure. Enter "the Jungle" and find yourself surrounded by a steamy tropical rainforest. When you finish your visit, walk to the Washington Monument.

The Washington Monument

Having been rescued, Peter Solomon brings Langdon to the secret stairway leading to the Lost Word. Langdon is blindfolded to prevent him from discovering the exact location of the site. The spiral staircase inside the Washington Monument is the secret stairway and the Lost Word is a bible that was set inside the hollow cornerstone at the base of the monument. You will not be able to see this cornerstone as it is buried underground.

Although closed to the pubic for three years in order to repair the damage sustained from the August 23, 2011 earthquake, this 555 foot tall obelisk opens in May, 2014.

Twelve years ago I first visited the observation room at the summit of the Washington Monument. I remembered the panoramic view of the area and such sites as the Capitol Building, the White House and the Pentagon.

This do-it-yourself Lost Symbol tour concludes after your visit to the Washington Monument.

A number of sites referenced in the story such as Peter Solomon's apartment in the Dorchester Arms and Mal'akh's house in the Kalorama Heights are fictitious while others such as the CIA Headquarters in Langley and The George Washington Masonic Memorial and the King Street Metro Station in Alexandria are of minor importance to the story. The George Washington Masonic Memorial is beautiful in its own right and tours are available is you choose to visit.

If You Go

  • You will get more out of your do-it-yourself tour of Washington D.C. if you first read the Lost Symbol.
  • Day 1 of your tour includes all of the sites where you will require public transportation. You can purchase a one day Metro pass for $14. The Metro pass does not include bus transportation however.
  • You will require bus transportation to and from the Washington National Cathedral so bring plenty of change for bus fare.
  • The Washington National Cathedral is located at 3101 Wisconsin Ave NW at the corner of Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues. Take the Metro Red Line to Dupont Circle Station then walk to the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue NW and 20th St NW where you board bus N6 to your destination. Admission to the Washington National Cathedral is a $5 donation.
  • Here is a link to help you find Darth Vader at the Washington National Cathedral. Remember to bring binoculars because even when you find where he is located, you will not be able to see him clearly.
  • The Cathedral College is located at 3510 Woodley Road NW.
  • The House of the Temple is located at 1733 16th St NW. Proceed from the Dupont Circle Metro Station along New Hampshire Ave NW and turn right on S St. NW. Guided tours are free.
  • Freedom Plaza is located at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 13th St NW. Take the Metro Blue or Orange line to Metro Centre Station and walk to Freedom Plaza.
  • Franklin Square is approximately 0.10 miles from the McPherson Square Metro Station (Orange Line).
  • The Almas Temple is located at 1315 K St. NW.
  • The Smithsonian Museum Support Center is located at 4210 Silver Hill Road. Take the Metro Green Line to Suitland Station and walk 0.23 miles.
  • Travel to the U.S. Capitol Building and the Library of Congress using the Blue or Orange Metro lines to the Capitol South Station. Tours of the Capitol Building and the Library of Congress are free.
  • The U.S. Botanical Garden is on the mall-side of the Capitol Building. Facing the Washington Monument, it is on your left. Admission is free.
  • The Washington Monument is located in the center of the National Mall between the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial. The nearest Metro stop is the Smithsonian Station on the Blue line. Exit the station and walk 0.39 miles to the Washington Monument.
  • The George Washington Masonic Memorial is clearly visible from the King Street Metro Station in Alexandria. Exit the station and walk up the hill.
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Troy Herrick

Troy Herrick, a freelance travel writer, has traveled extensively in North America, the Caribbean, Europe and parts of South America. His articles have appeared in Live Life Travel, International Living, Offbeat Travel and Travels Thru History Magazines.

Diane Gagnon, a freelance photographer, has traveled extensively in North America, the Caribbean, Europe and parts of South America. Her photographs have accompanied Troy Herrick's articles in Live Life Travel, Offbeat Travel and Travels Thru History Magazines.

All photos by Diane Gagnon

Published: March 29th, 2014

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