In a centuries old tradition, members of Alexandria-Washington Lodge 22, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, ceremoniously laid the cornerstone Tuesday morning of the new Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center at Mount Vernon Estate that will focus solely on educating future generations on the life and times of America's founding father.
Following in the footsteps of George Washington himself, when he laid the cornerstone for the U.S. Capitol on September 18, 1793, the Masonic ritual placed the stone in the northeast corner of the new structure which is one element of Mount Vernon's $100 million development campaign designed to enhance visitations and increase knowledge of Washington. That spot was picked because in Masonic ritual North represents darkness and East represents light -- the eternal struggle between good and evil.
"This stone has been tested by the instruments of free masonry. Therefore, I find it to be true and square," said Thomas Little, Worshipful Master of the Alexandria Lodge who lead the group of 20 Masons dressed in Masonic attire.
In performing the consecration of the stone, the Masons utilized four ceremonial instruments -- a square, level, plum and trowel. These were then presented to the building's architect, Alan Reed of the firm GWWO in Baltimore,MD.
Following that the stone was christened with corn, symbolizing nourishment; wine, symbolizing refreshment; and oil for peace and harmony. Little then tapped the stone with his mallet nine times followed by nine claps from the assembled Masons.
Upon completion of the ritual, Gay Hart Gaines, Regent, Mount Vernon Ladies' Association stated, "I receive this work of your hands as well and truly done." On display was also the trowel George Washington used in 1793 at the national Capitol.
In addition to their performance of the cornerstone consecration, James Rees, executive director, Mount Vernon Estate, announced that the Alexandria Lodge "is loaning the largest number of Washington artifacts to the new museum" other than those loaned by the Smithsonian and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
"This new facility will be entirely dedicated to education. Washington was a great supporter of education. And he believed that Americans should not continue to educate their children in Europe," Gaines told the nearly 50 people assembled for the ceremony.
THE NEW EDUCATION CENTER/MUSEUM was made possible by a $24 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. The Foundation is the single most generous donor to Mount Vernon and their gift for this building was the largest single gift in Mount Vernon history, according to Rees.
"Too many of our children don't even know who the father of our country was. The goal of this center and museum is to reintroduce George Washington to our youth," said Fred Smith, chairman of the Foundation.
In addition to featuring over 500 objects in six permanent galleries and a changing exhibit space, the new edifice will serve as Washington's presidential library. It will provide classroom space and computers to access more than 20,000 letters written by Washington during his lifetime.
With singular emphasis on educating visitors, the Center will employ computer imaging, LED map displays, Dynamic graphic, surround-sound audio programs, "immersion" videos, illusionist lighting effects, dramatic staging, and touch-screen computer monitors. It will tell Washington's entire life story, from the death of his father at age 11 to his precedent setting role as the nation's first chief executive.
The Museum portion will exhibit treasured artifacts associated with his life from teenage surveyor, to the Commanding General of the Revolutionary War, to his presidency, and finally his life as citizen farmer/entrepreneur at his Mount Vernon Estate. It will showcase the taste, style, and personalities of Martha and George, the couple. Some objects will be shown at Mount Vernon for the first time.
In total, the dual purpose Education Center/Museum will feature 23 gallery and theater experiences -- each with interactive components. One of the true highlights will be the life-size representations of Washington at different ages that were specially created for the Center. The first to greet visitors is Washington at 19 which was on display Tuesday at the cornerstone ceremony.
DECIDING THAT physical appearance is a crucial element to learning about and relating to Washington, Rees decided visitors needed to
see what Washington looked like in the various stages and roles of his life. But there were no true portraits that depict Washington under the age of 40.
Creating three life size figures called for uniting the field of art, science, and historical research. They depict Washington as the 19 year old surveyor, 45 year old general, and 57 year old president.
This was accomplished by a team of experts led by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, forensic anthropologist; Dr. Anshuman Razdan, computer scientist; and Ivan Schwartz, sculptor at StudioEIS. The end result is three lifelike wax heads with real hair atop plaster bodies outfitted with realistic clothing befitting each role. Those attending Tuesday's ceremony received a first glance at the finished products.
On October 27, 2006, the general public will enjoy the same thrill with the official opening of both the Education Center/Museum and the Ford Orientation Center. The keynote speaker at that event will be noted historical author David McCullough joined by 18th century-style musicians and military re-enactors.
All funds for the entire project have come from private contributions. As with everything at Mount Vernon Estate since it was originally acquired and totally restored by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association founded by Ann Pamela Cunningham in 1853, no public monies have ever been sought or used.