A Look Back at the Centennial
Washington was a member of the Freemasons, a secret and international fraternal society. He was inducted on November 24, 1752, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and he achieved the degree of Master Mason the following August. Many of the political and military leaders of Washington's era were Masons, including Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and the Marquis de Lafayette. At the time of his death, Washington was a member of Lodge No. 22, Alexandria, Virginia. It was appropriate, therefore, for a national assembly of Masons to convene at Mount Vernon in December 1899 to commemorate the Centennial of Washington's death.
The Masons first gathered on December 13th at Lannon's Opera House in Alexandria. On the next day, the members and their families sailed on the Potomac River to Mount Vernon where they conducted Masonic Ceremonies immediately after their arrival. Later that evening they attended receptions in Washington, D.C., at Willard's Hotel and at the Ebbitt House.
Freemasons, Alexandria-Washington Lodge, Number 22 (Alexandria, Virginia). Official Souvenir of the Centennial of the Death of Worshipful George Washington, Past Master Alexandria Lodge, no. 22, A. F. and A. M. , 1799–1899. Washington, D.C.: Published by George T. Parker & Co., 1899. Besides a brief account of Washington's life that focused on his Masonic activities, this book details the history of the centennial celebration. Correspondence, reports, speeches, and photographs of delegates are printed. It also includes a history of the Alexandria-Washington Lodge Museum with a list of its contents, many of which were connected with Washington, such as his military saddle and his funeral bier. [not pictured]
Freemasons, Grand Lodge of Virginia. Centennial Anniversary of the death of worshipful brother George Washington: The Grand Lodge of Virginia, December 13 and 14, 1899. Alexandria, Va.: Published by the Grand Lodge of Virginia, 1899. This pamphlet outlines the "Order of Procedure" for the centennial ceremonies. For out-of-town Masons, it lists various Washington, D.C., hotels and the special rates offered for this occasion. A room at the Ebbitt Hotel on 14th Street was available for a minimum of $3 per night on the American plan. [not pictured]
Masonic Medals commemorating the centennial of Washington's death, 1899. Lent by the Virginia Historical Society. [not pictured]
Medallion minted under a special act passed by Congress to commemorate the centennial of Washington's death. According to Government regulations, the plates were destroyed so that these souvenirs could not be duplicated. Lent by the Virginia Historical Society. [not pictured]
From the Diary of R. T. W. Duke, Jr., a Charlottesville lawyer and judge. As "Grand Master of Masons in Virginia," Duke presided over the Mason's centennial commemoration of Washington's death: "In 1899 I presided in the month of December over what was up to that time the largest assembly of Free Masons in America. It was on Decbr 13th 1899, when the Grand Lodge met at Alexandria & went to Mount Vernon the next day where we commemorated the one hundredth Anniversary of the death of Geo: Washington. We had Grand Masters from every State in the Union, except Pennsylvania—representation from Canada Belgium &c &c. It was a wonderful meeting. At Mount Vernon Bishop Randolph prayed & President McKinley & I made addresses—It was a cold, raw, day & McKinley seemed to be very tired.
My Darling wife was ill in the Hospital & could not be with us. But Mary & Mamie Slaughter, Willie & his wife & Cornie Burleson went & we had a suite at the Ebbitt & were splendidly taken care of. We went to Mount Vernon in a special car with the President: John Hay: Senator Clarke, who had been Grand Master of Wyoming, Senators Daniel & Martin, Bishop Randolph—my own family & several others I do not now remember—Revd Harry B. Lee being with the Bishop—who was the most absent minded man on the earth. We kept the car waiting for him & finally Lee found him walking along the Avenue. When he saw Lee he ran up to him. 'My Dear Harry', he said, 'I have a very important engagement today, but to save my life I cannot tell where it is'. Harry seized him by the arm & hurrying him along to the car said 'I've been hunting you, so you could keep it, Bishop' & so they joined us. That night we had a big banquet at the old Willard & a reception, at which I believe I shook hands with a thousand people. My hand was sore for days. It was a very beautiful affair & I have always felt proud of the fact that I was privileged to be at the head of the craft on the occasion."