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Conspiracists try to decode Masonic symbols, like those in the temple's stained-glass window. (Regis Lefebure)

The Lost Symbol's Masonic Temple

Conspiracy buffs, including author Dan Brown, tour the lavish Washington, D.C. temple of the Freemasons

With its roster of power brokers, Masons have long been accused of political chicanery and undue influence, says Lynn Dumenil, history professor at Occidental College and author of Freemasonry and American Culture, 1880-1930. "Today, it's all pomp and circumstance. There are no deep dark secrets in the Scottish Rite building."

Yet visitors to the Washington temple pepper tour guides with skeptical questions. Were Masons involved in the Salem witch trials? Is there a secret tunnel connecting the building to the White House? During one recent tour, a guide pressed on a smudged spot on a stone wall just outside the sumptuous Temple Room. The wall gave way, revealing a spiral stairway that snaked up into darkness. A few visitors cautiously stepped forward. Surely, this is a secret passageway to some treasure! Indeed, the stairs lead to the loft for the great pipe organ.

David A. Taylor is a freelance writer and author of Ginseng, the Divine Root.

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