David Ovason, working from the fact that there are some twenty-three depictions of zodiacs incorporated into the architecture of Washington DC, and that many of the citys architects and sculptors were either freemasons or knowledgeable in astronomy, has created a foundation of supposition and imaginative wishful thinking to prop up his belief that the city was designed for a specific astrological purpose. He provides an entertaining read but no concrete proof.
David Ovason, zodiacs and Washington, DC
David Ovason cannot be labeled an anti-mason. In fact he is careful to disassociate himself from those who hold a negative opinion of Freemasonry and has, since publishing this book, become a freemason. But he is an astrologer by trade and inclination, and his perspective is strongly influenced by his own beliefs. This leads him to conclusions about Freemasonry and freemasons that are not contained within the rituals and teachings of Freemasonry. Unfortunately a number of his unsubstantiated claims can be used by those who do wish to condemn Freemasonry. For that reason a brief overview of his book is included here.
He peppers his claims with such expressions as: "one suspects," "I feel," "my impression," "it is clear," "cannot be without significance," "dare we ask," "without doubt," "it is my guess," "it is quite evident," "I am left with the conviction" and a litany of would have, could have, must have beens. But no documented proof.
Ovasons premise, if not belief, is that Pierre Charles L'Enfant (b. 1754/08/02, d. 1825/06/14) and Major Ellicott (b. 1754/01/24, d. 1820) intended Pennsylvania Avenue to provide a view of the setting sun from the Capitol building annually on August 10th. The reason for this was because on that day the sun is in 17 degrees of Leo and the star Regalus sets over the White House just over half an hour after sunset, leaving the stars "Spica, in Virgo, and Arcturus in Bootes." "They are the three stars which Masons such as Pike and Brunet recognized as enclosing the constellation of Virgo." [p. 346] This, he asserts, proves "the city was intended to celebrate the mystery of Virgo of the Egyptian Isis, the Grecian Ceres and the Christian Virgin." [p. 349]
Ovason asserts his belief that Freemasonry is replete with astrological lore spilling into the cornerstone rituals and implies without proof or documentation that astrology charts were consulted before setting the several dates for cornerstone laying ceremonies. Yet he has to admit, "the zodiac appears in Masonic symbolism with surprising infrequency." [p. 171]
Although he admits that "not a single documented horoscope has survived from this early period" [p. 381], he goes on to cast horoscopes for the dates of a number of cornerstone dedications and believes, from their similarity, that they prove that the dates must have been originally decided on by casting horoscopes. Ovason presumes to know the minds of the city planners and claims that they were esotericists who believed that the physical representations of symbols contained real power.
Ovason poses the question, "...can it be true that such esoteric bodies as the Masons regard these ancient gods and goddesses of the steller pantheon as living beings, with the power to exude benefices and virues on certain parts of the Earth?" [p. 168-69] He doesn't answer the question, but in context it can be viewed as rhetorical, and misleading.
Later he writes: "By means of the Masonic art, appropriate spiritual beings could be invited to participate in the life of a building or city with extreme precision." [p. 374] Although in context he refers to mediaeval stonemasons, the implication could be that this is a current belief.
He disavowes any overtly masonic influence: "I am not suggesting for one moment that it was 'the Masons who built Washington DC', or that Masons' Lodges ever had a coordinated, formulated plan to influence the growth of the city in any way." [p. 355] But much is made of the real and imagined Masonic membership of the citys planners and architects, and much is made of an assumed Masonic significance to symbols found in the architecture of the citys buildings.
Of L'Enfant, he claims proof of him "...almost certainly being a Mason" [p. 45] and later claims "What is not so well known, because it has only recently come to light, is that L'Enfant, who is reputed to have been the original designer of Washington DC, was probably a Mason." [p. 336]. He repeats this later: "It is very likely that L'Enfant was a Mason" [p. 405]. Then, in an endnote, he reveals: "The discovery of the manuscript revealing this information has not yet been reported in the Masonic literature, consequently I do not feel free to reveal the source of this information, which came to me by way of private conversation." [p. 456 n58].
Ovason claims that Ellicott was "now revealed in the ritual as a Masonic brother of George Washington...." [p. 47] and later asserts: "Perhaps this tie [to Washington and Franklin] was strengthened by communal Masonic interests" [p. 44], and reasserts his claim that "Even the man who drew the version of the map on which the painted map [the 1793 oil painting Washington Family by Edward Savage] was based Andrew Ellicott was a Mason." [p. 336] No documentation is cited.
He admits in an endnote: "Although I do not doubt that Ellicott was a Mason, I have not been able to discover to which Lodge he belonged." [p. 456 n59]
The only documentation associating Ellicott with the freemasons appeared shortly after Elisha Cullen Dick, Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22, dedicated the cornerstone marker at Jones Point on April 15, 1791.
Ovason quotes an unidentified newspaper account "published 13 days afterwards" [p. 48] may possibly have been Dunlops American Daily Advertisor, Philadelphia 28 April 1791, but the endnotes [p. 406] are unclear:
...Stewart [sic] at his right, and the Rev. James Muir at his left, followed by the reft of the fraternity, in their ufual form of proceffion, a laftly, the citizens, two by two.
When Mr. Ellicott had afcertained the precife point from which the firft line of the diftrict was to proceed, the Mafter of the Lodge and Dr. Stewart, affifted by others of their brethren, placed the Stone ; after which a depofit of corn, wine and oil was made upon it, and the following obfervations were delivered by the Rev. James Muir:
"Of America it may be faid, as it was of Judea of old, that it is a good land, and....
What Ovason omits is the beginning half of the paragraph which details the order of the parade, placing "Mr. Ellicott and the Recorder" in the third row, several rows ahead of the Master of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 of Alexandria, Virginia, and the procession of Freemasons.1
This press clipping does not identify Ellicott as a freemason. Note that Ellicott came from a long line of Quakers [p. 355] who do not approve of Freemasonry.
Ovason mentions several key figures in the construction of the citys architecture such as John Lenthall"in charge of the construction of the US Capitol" [p. 2]; Franklin Webster Smith (b. 1826c) , whose "highly original architectural ideas would help revolutionize the appearance of the city." [p. 4] ; self-taught mathematician and astronomer Benjamin Banneker--who "worked on the project for only a few months: it seems that his age told against him..." [p. 6]; and influential architect Adulf Cluss who, moving to the USA in 1845 from Germany, designed the Smithsonians first separate museum in 1881 [p. 14], designed vaulted culverts on Tiber Creek, and oversaw the paving of avenues and planting of trees. [p. 400] He doesn't claim they were freemasons.
Ovason notes that the following were freemasons but fails to demonstrate what significance their membership might have to his main premise.
History of the Grand Lodge and of Freemasonry in the District of Columbia. p. 1.|
Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi: sculptor of Statue of Liberty, member of Lodge Alsace-Lorraine, Paris
William A. Brodie: Grand Master New York, 1884
Benjamin B. French; Grand Master 1847. Laid the cornerstone of the Smithstonian in 1847 by courtesy of Potomac Lodge No. 5, Washington DC
James Garfield: i. 1861/11/22, p. 1861/12/23 Magnoloia Lodge No. 20, Columbus Ohio. Charter member Pentalpha Lodge No. 23
Theodore Roosevelt: i. 1901/01/02 Matinecock Lodge No. 806; honourary member Pentalpha Lodge 1904/04/04
Casper Buberl: Bohemian sculptor
John Philip Sousa: Hiram Lodge No. 10 Washington DC petitioned: 1881/06/03.
Sousas The Crusader premiering in 1888, incorporates Masonic music, according to John Philip Sousa, A Descriptive Catalogue of His Works by Paul E. Brierley. [p. 398]
Ebenezer Sibley, English astrologer who cast USA horoscope. i. 1784 Lodge No. 79. Ancients, Portsmouth; first Master No. 253, London
James Hoban: the architect who designed the Presidents House, Master Georgetown Lodge No. 9, Federal Lodge No. 15 in 1793.
Benjamin Henry Latrobe
John H. B Latrobe (b. 1764/04/01) [p. 217] was elected Grand Master 22 November 1870 [p. 437]
James Hoban, architect of the Presidents House, Master of Georgetown Lodge No. 9, and Federal Lodge No. 15 in 1793.
John Marshall, Supreme Court Justice
Andrew Mellon, (d. 1937) secretary of the Treasury under Coolidge and Hoover, donated 15 million dollars to build a national gallery of art; he was made a freemason 1928, and Raised in 1931 [p. 448]
Ovason refers to a number of men as freemasons without citation. Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument and Thomas Lincoln Casey, Chief of Engineers, astronomer, architect of Washington Monument and in charge of construction of the new Library of Congress is referred to as freemason without citation. The same for astronomer, Simon Newcomb (1835-1909) and architect, Charles Bulfinch. [p. 218] Denslow makes no mention of Casey or Bulfinch but notes that there is no evidence that Mills was a freemason.
Although Lieutenant Commander Henry Honeyman Gorringe [1841-1885] was a freemason, Lieutenant Richard Loveridge Hoxie is also claimed to be a freemason without citation. Gorringe transported an ancient egyptian obelisk from Egypt to New York in 1881. Of the inscriptions found under the obelisk, "...Pike came to the conclusion that they did not bear any resemblance to symbols used in Freemasonry." [p. 32] Hoxie (d. April 1930) undertook the building of underground aquaducts. [p. 37]
[John Quincy Adams] "Ward [sculptor of Garfields' memorial statue] had been a personal friend of Garfield, and was almost certainly a Mason, although I have not been able to identify his Lodge." [p. 435]
Architect Arthur Brown is defined as a freemason because the sculptor of a statuary on the Departmental Auditorium used his face in a representation of freemason Nathanael Greene. "This implies that Brown is revealed as a Mason." [p. 302]
Interestingly enough, John Russell Pope, the architect of the House of the Temple 1733 16th street, [old temple at 433 3rd street NW - p. 320] was not a freemason [p. 223] His design was submitted 6 May 1911.
Ovason is convinced that it was "Ellicott who laid out the important direction of Pennsylvania Avenue." [p. 382] The second map published on March 1792 was amended by Ellicott from L'Enfants original August 1791 map, changing the angles of avenues and location of squares and circles to accomodate topographical requirements [p. 59] L"Enfants plan had been for 15 radial avenues, one for each state. The three commissioners determined the name of the city and that the grid streets be numbered and lettered. [p. 60] Ovason notes that city commissioners Daniel Carroll and Dr. David Stuart were freemasons [p. 406] while the third commissioner, Thomas Johnson, was not.
Ovason makes a number of errors about Freemasonry. He claims that the Year of Masonry is "symbolically denoting the era following the supposed foundation of the Temple of Solomon [p. 76] but later correctly notes the abbreviation A.L. refers to a creation date. The many assertians of the masonic significance of pyramids ignore the complete lack of references in masonic ritual. He perpetuates the myth that "higher degrees" are somehow more powerful or important than the Craft degrees. [p. 171] He appears unaware of the actual masonic significance of a sheaf of corn or wheat but sees references to the goddess Virgo in almost every architectural representation of agriculture or industry. Ovason defines this Virgo as the "Beautiful Virgin" in masonic iconography. He cites several illustrations of Time and the Virgin, the monument to a Master Mason, as proof that this is a key symbol or metaphor in Freemasonry, again while ignoring the complete lack of usage in masonic ritual. This leads to Ovasons claim of a masonic significance for the virgo star-goddess without citing any reference to ritual or lectures. He claims that "Freemasons insist on calling [it] the Problem of Euclid" [p. 300] when in fact most masonic literature and ritual refers to Euclids 47th proposition. Equating the cornerstone laying ceremony with a banishing ritual [p. 89], and the blazing star with Sirius, Anubis, the dog star [p. 118] is simply specious.
Ovasons theory stands or falls on the assumptions that L'Enfant and Ellicott were freemasons, that freemasons held similar views about astrology that he does, and that Freemasonry places any significance in Virgo. All his assumptions are unproven and his theory fails to pass any reasonable examination.
The Secret Zodiacs of Washington DC, Was the City of Stars Planned by Masons? David Ovason. Random House UK Ltd, London: 1999. ISBN: 0 7126 7909 X
1. History of the Grand Lodge and of Freemasonry in the District of Columbia. Kenton N. Harper. Grand Lodge, Washington, D.C.: 1911. p. 12.^