By David A. Shugarts
On occasion, Dan Brown has let slip a clue or two about his next novel. There are clues about "the widow's son" and other hidden codes on the dust jacket of Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code. In an appearance last year, Brown said the new novel will take place in Washington and will center on the fraternal order of Freemasons. And that the city's architecture will play a major role.
To find out what some of the Washington scenes might be, I launched a treasure hunt--a preview, if you will, of possible elements in the book that will be called The Solomon Key.
The list of Masonic buildings starts with the House of the Temple at 1733 16th Street NW, about 13 blocks north of the White House. This is the home of the Supreme Council 33° of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. With majestic pillars and two large sphinxes guarding the door, it is modeled after the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Inside, black marble columns support a soaring ceiling in a cavernous atrium, leading to a richly appointed lodge room. The library is full of books of Masonic and other historic import. The labyrinthine basement contains rooms dedicated to such famous Masons as the Founding Fathers, Burl Ives, J. Edgar Hoover, and a roster of astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin. In a special alcove are the remains of Albert Pike, editor, lawyer, judge, poet, author, and Confederate officer during his 81 years--and a revered Masonic leader. Pike completely rewrote the rituals of Scottish Rite Freemasonry.
Merlinesque. Today, Pike is still part of the Washington cityscape. His statue stands at 3rd and D streets NW. He is the only Confederate general to merit an outdoor statue in the nation's capital; his prominence as a Freemason earned him the honor. Pike's larger-than-life size (he was 6 foot 4 and weighed 300 pounds) and persona could make him a central figure in The Solomon Key . And with his shoulder-length hair and beard, he looked as if he could be Merlin's twin.
Since Dan Brown weaves religion into his plots, a religious setting will surely figure in his new book. The Washington National Cathedral has a rich collection of ornaments and stonework that can be interpreted in various ways, including Masonic ones. Gargoyles and grotesques abound--including one of Darth Vader (you can read more about it at the National Cathedral website).
I can envision scenes set at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, built in Alexandria, Va., to honor Freemasonry's most famous member. The structure stands 333 feet tall (some scholars surmise that in Masonic lore, the number 3 could be connected to the Trinity, among many meanings). The main hall, a masterpiece of marble columns and murals, houses a three-story bronze statue of Washington in full Masonic regalia, standing on a pedestal. His lodge room, Alexandria No. 22, is re-created; other symbolic rooms include one devoted to the Knights Templar and another with a replica of the ark of the covenant.
Our tour has concentrated on structures that rise from the earth, but my gut feeling leads me to think about buried treasure in Brown's next book. Lots of treasures could be conjured up--perhaps the rumored lost fortune of the Confederacy, or perhaps religious relics or secret documents of world-shaking importance. And Washington has many underground venues: the Metro system, the remains of a trolley tunnel, a new approach to the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial basement, complete with stalactites, to name a few. There are also tunnels between the House and Senate office buildings and all sorts of leftover Cold War-era fallout shelters and evacuation paths (and presumably, many new ones in the post-9/11 era).
In the 1980s, a tunnel was reportedly dug under the then Soviet Embassy in Washington, so the FBI and National Security Agency could spy on the Communists. A 2001 news report about this alleged tunnel led Vice President Dick Cheney to say, "If it were true . . . I couldn't talk about it anyway." But Robert Langdon--the stellar symbologist of The Da Vinci Code --might!
Reprinted with permission of Sterling Publishing Co. Inc., from Secrets of the Widow's Son by David A. Shugarts, edited and introduced by Dan Burstein (c) 2005 by Squibnocket Partners LLC.
This story appears in the September 5, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.