Masons played a large part in celebrating George Washington’s laying of the United States Capitol’s cornerstone. On September 18, 1793, attended by the cadence of a marching band and spectators’ cheers, President Washington and Masonic Lodge members from Maryland, Virginia, and Federal City (Washington, D.C.) proceeded across the Potomac to the site of the new Capitol, where Washington called the celebration to order and laid the building’s cornerstone. In 1932, When President Herbert Hoover, a Mason, announced opening ceremonies at the laying of cornerstone of the George Washington Masonic Memorial, Alexandria, Virginia, he used the same trowel Washington used in 1793.
Capitol Rotunda Paintings
Dan Brown discusses “The Apotheosis of Washington,” the spectacular painting by Constantino Brumidi that seemingly floats above the Capitol Rotunda, at some length in THE LOST SYMBOL. He does so to suggest Washington’s possession of Masonic secrets, truth, and power. Although the Apotheosis is not depicted on a stamp, other artwork from the Rotunda does appear on stamps, for instance, “Landing of Columbus” by John Vanderlyn and “Surrender of General Burgoyne” and “Declaration of Independence” by John Trumbull.
Capitol Rotunda Sculpture
Statuary in the Rotunda includes George Washington by Antoine Houdon and Susan B. Anthony by Adelaide Johnson, which is one bust of three in the Portrait Monument that honors leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
The original U.S. Capitol dome, completed in 1824, overlooked the city for barely a quarter century. Disproportionately small relative to the expanding Capitol building and constructed of copper-sheaved wood, by mid-century officials considered it inappropriate and also a fire hazard. Construction of a more fitting dome, its primary building material being cast iron, began in 1856 and continued during the Civil War. Laborers set the final exterior adornment, the Statue of Freedom, on December 2, 1863, and the interior space, the Rotunda, opened in 1866 upon the completion of Constantino Brumidi’s “Apotheosis of Washington.”
Statue of Freedom
Thomas Crawford’s bronze Statue of Freedom stands atop the Capitol dome, the structure’s final exterior adornment. Crawford, who maintained a studio in Rome, cast the 19’6” statue in several plaster molds, which finally arrived by boat in Washington, DC, in 1859.