Have you ever wondered what the largest Masonic gathering in the United States was? Had the weather cooperated, the dedication of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial on May 12, 1932, would have set that record.
On November 29, 1931, the National Bicentennial Commission decided that second week of May in 1932 would be set aside as Masonic Week, and the 12th day of May would be the dedication of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. The date was originally going to be Friday, May 13—but it was changed because that day was considered bad luck.
Invitations were sent to thousands of American citizens and to regular Freemasons around the world. Preeminent among them was President Herbert Hoover, who was one of the first to accept the invitation. Among the local citizens were all members of Congress, the Justices of the Supreme Court and members of President Hoover’s cabinet. The mayor of Alexandria, the governor of Virginia, and many other government, military, religious and civic leaders joined the celebration.
The Memorial’s special committee expected a crowd of 50,000 people to attend the day’s events. The community built stands along the parade route as well as comfort stations and first aid areas.
The dedication day’s itinerary was planned as:
While these were the plans of the Freemasons, Nature had her own. Five days before the ceremony, it began to steadily rain. From May 8th on, the downpour was so heavy at times that work had to stop. By the morning of the 12th, the streets were so flooded that the great parade was largely viewed from indoors, while some stalwarts under their umbrellas did use the otherwise empty grandstands. Those visitors who came by the shuttle trains from the capital generally remained on board, where they watched from their carriages.
The ceremonies that were planned for the outside had to be moved into the Memorial’s auditorium. Some 1,500 soaking-wet Masons and dignitaries crammed into venue that can only seat just over 400.
Rather than a 21 gun salute and a cheering journey through the front portico, the President and Mrs. Hoover arrived by car under umbrellas through the north side door. Welcoming the Hoovers, President of the Memorial Association Louis Watres presided over the ceremonies and addressed the assembly.
At the request of Grand Master Harry Kennedy Green, the Grand Lodge of Virginia’s dedication ceremony was conducted by Past Grand Master Charles H. Callahan. Callahan is the Father of the Memorial for it was he who organized the Memorial Association in 1910 and had worked tirelessly for 20 years for this day and this dedication. Today, the Memorial sits on Callahan Drive so named for him.
For the dedication a five-foot Memorial replica was presented on the stage by Grand Lodge Stewarts. The Memorial’s architect, Bro. Harvey Wiley Corbett presented Callahan with a square, level and plumb. Corbett in turn was commended for his skills and fidelity in the execution of the Memorial.
Grand Junior Warden Thomas Hooper presented a silver pitcher of corn to acting Grand Master Callahan who poured it over the model dedicating the Memorial in the name of the Great Architect of the Universe. Grand Masonic honors were given once.
Grand Senior Warden William Mosely Brown presented a silver pitcher of wine to Callahan who poured it over model dedicating the Memorial to Virtue and in name of the Holy Saints John. Grand Masonic honors were given twice.
Deputy Grand Master James C. Padgett presented a third silver pitcher of oil to Callahan who pour it over the model dedicating the Memorial to universal benevolence in the name of Freemasonry. Grand Masonic Honors were given for the third time.
After the consecration prayer by the Grand Chaplain, the assembled 49 U.S. Grand Masters gave responses of loyalty and affection for Brother George Washington, the Father of the Nation. Finally, Acting Grand Master Callahan dedicated the Memorial to the memory of George Washington in the name of Universal Masonry.
With the ceremony concluded and the President and Mrs. Hoover and other government dignitaries safely on their way home, the tightly-packed crowd slowly dispersed through Alexandria and back to Washington, D.C.
As one story goes, while a group of grand masters stood in the rain waiting at the railway station at the bottom of the Memorial’s, one of them remarked, “We should give Grand Honors once more? Look, the Lord is dedicating our Memorial as He pours the heavenly waters of life over it.”
The following day, which had been the original day proposed by Alexandria-Washington Lodge № 22 and the Grand Lodge of Virginia, the weather broke clear, and the sun shone in all its glory. The Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Virginia held its opening session in the Memorial as the first grand body to meet in the Memorial after its dedication.
Had the original date been kept, the dedication events would have been witnessed by tens of thousands of visitors. Instead, perhaps as many as 5,000, mostly the steadfast and loyal Masons, with the strong-willed general public, withstood the torrential rains. In the end, not even so powerful a downpour could stop the Craft. As Alexandria-Washington Lodge No.22 Secretary Page Waller wrote in the closing minutes, “All’s well that ends well.”
For further reading, please enjoy:
The History of The George Washington Masonic National Memorial: 1922–1974, A Half Century of Construction by William A. Brown, 1980.
Minutes of the Twenty-Second Annual Convention of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association, 1932.