Needless to say, Meltzer’s team puts the Freemasons high on the suspect list for what happened to the cornerstone. They explore a conspiracy theory that at some point, the Freemasons stole back the cornerstone after it’s ground-laying presentation. Another potential theory is that Harry Truman may have found it during renovations, using a WW2 mine detector, and chopped up the cornerstone, sending pieces to several Masonic Lodges across America.
Brad Meltzer assembles a team to help investigate. Christine McKinley has a background in mechanical engineering, Scott Rolle is a former prosecuting attorney and Buddy Levy, a researcher who can think ‘outside the box’. Levy makes an initial breakthrough, finding only one document in the entire Library of Congress pertaining to the White House cornerstone. A Philadelphia newspaper reprinted a letter from an anonymous writer who claims to have witnessed the ceremony in 1792. The letter describes how the Freemasons laid the cornerstone in what would be the Southwest corner of the White House, then drank sixteen toasts.
McKinley is puzzled by this news. Her father was a Freemason, and to her understanding, they usually lay cornerstones at the Northeast corner of a new building. Rolle believes the Freemasons may have laid it at the Southwest corner to confuse people and to be able to steal it later. Meltzer arranges for his team to visit the Masonic Lodge in Washington, DC, the headquarters for the Scottish Rite and it’s Supreme Council.
There, the team meets Arturo De Hoyos, historian for the Supreme Council and a 33rd Degree Freemason himself. A quick tour of the Masonic Lodge finds a piece of stone from the White House with Masonic markings on it. This piece came from Truman during the renovations in 1952. President Harry S. Truman was a member and a 33rd Degree Freemason himself. The plot thickens!
Another Freemason historian shows Buddy Levy photos taken during the Truman renovations. The story about Truman using a mine detector, presumably to locate the cornerstone, which had a bronze plaque laid under it, was not disputed. But the new spin on the origin of the piece of stone displayed at the Lodges is that they are not the actual cornerstone, but from other stones used to build the foundation of the White House. The theory the Freemasons offer is that the cornerstone is still where it was laid, but is just deep underground. The team then learns that another cornerstone is also ‘missing’, that of the Capitol Building!
Levy heads to the Capitol Building and learns that a rogue excavation was performed when the building was renovated for air conditioning. Some attention was paid initially to an area deep below the Senate wing, then abruptly shifted to the Southeast corner of the House wing. But, again, the investigation leads to the conclusion that the cornerstone is not ‘stolen’, just ‘missing’. It is still probably where it was originally laid. But now, it lies deep under the Capitol Building as part of it’s foundation. It’s exact location not known.
Obviously, this is the most plausible explanation. A typical cornerstone of the time for such construction would have weighed several tons and not have been easy to steal. Still, the news TV show was fun to watch and did reveal some interesting historical trivia. So kudos to the History Channel for bring this new, ten-part series by Brad Meltzer to us. I know next week, I’ll be watching ‘Decoded’ again, if for no other reason to see if they have more fun with Freemasonry. I’ve never met a conspiracy theory that I didn’t like. I’ll be curious to see if Meltzer’s view of the Statue of Liberty is similar to that of Glenn Beck’s Colossus of Rhodes theory?