Photodiary — The Masonic Temple of Philadelphia

“The Masonic Temple of Philadelphia, or as it’s properly known “The Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging,” is an astonishingly lavish building. In 1873, the New York Times described it as “the largest, costliest, and most magnificent structure consecrated to Masonry in the World.”

(from Atlas Obscura)

Last Thursday, I walked to the Masonic Temple of Philadelphia for a tour of this amazing building. Whilst living in Philadelphia for a year, I never made it to the temple despite having known about it for years. In the middle of the afternoon, after a long stroll down Market Street in Philadelphia, after visiting The Dream Garden, I came upon the temple, walked inside and spoke to the man at the desk about taking a tour. He gave me a deal, telling me I looked “studious” and sent me down a long hall to the left to wait for the 3pm tour. I sat in a lavish waiting room whose walls were lined with portraits of Grand Masters, old and current, leather couches, leather chairs and paintings of family life gilded in gold. At 3pm, a young man with a dark beard walked in and told me I was the only one in the tour group. His named was Seamus, and later I learned that he had graduated from U Arts the year before with a degree in film, was more interested in writing poetry, and since he was a mason from the age of 18, the temple hired him when no one else would. He is a docent and general helper around the temple.

Following are many photos of the temple, which, to date, is one of the most amazing, weird, tacky, beautiful, stunning, overwhelming and bizarrely decorated places I have ever been. You should know that one commercial artist (a Mr. Herzog) was responsible for almost all of the design of the building, and himself painted all the paintings while commissioning others to do the plaster work. When he started decorating the building around the turn of the 20th century, all the walls were bare plaster. As you can see, by the time he was finished, not an inch had been neglected of fanciful, precisely-themed decorations.

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Waiting Area – paintings depicting the honors of family life

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This room was modeled after Spanish-Moorish temples. The artisans who decorated the temple traveled for three months to various locations and learned how to reproduce elements of specific, themed designs.

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All the electric chandeliers were originally gaslights

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Ceiling in a hallway between rooms.

Up to 50,000 lightbulbs are used in the temple at any one time.

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The Egypt Room

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The ceiling of the Egypt room comes complete with the Sun

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The Norman Room

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Modeled after Norman cathedrals in England

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Room whose name I have forgotten

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Corinthian Room

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The Corinthian Room’s color scheme of teal and turquoise was my favorite

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Plasterwork Detail from one stairway showing Masonic symbols

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My favorite aspect of the temple was in the center, on the 3rd floor. These circles were painted just before the temple’s completion, and each person who worked on the decoration of the temple dipped his thumb into gold paint and fingerprinted his thumb onto the wall.

Philadelphia may have its faults, but one of its greatest attractions are the many beautiful, old buildings that dot Center City. Philadelphia’s history is fascinating, while its contemporary status is nothing short of tragic. If you find yourself wandering the streets of Philadelphia, be sure to add the Masonic Temple to your itinerary. And say hi to Seamus, from me.

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Age & Aging

The Dream Garden – A Glass Mosaic Mural by Maxfield Parrish & Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1915

I left Maine six days ago to start this journey across the country.  It feels so far away: like I am drifting. Me and my purple suitcase are attached together, detached from all other things. I feel as if I am floating through time and space, tethered only by the places in which I sleep at night, and the writings here and in my paper-and-pen journal.
As I have been traveling these last six days, I have realized a few things. The first is that I need stability and my own place to live. I moved out of my old house in the middle of May, and since then have been staying with friends and family or house sitting. At first, this was an adventure that I was ready for. I sold all my belongings save the 12 boxes of prized possessions, and was thrilled by feeling freer and lighter than I had for years. I still feel free and light but my understanding of what that means has changed from a relative position vis-a-vis possessions to desiring lightness inside my heart and mind. Part of that is the attempt to cultivate a sense of peace within myself that has nothing to do with objects: just being observant of the passing of time and place around me. However, it has come to my attention that I am ready to have keys again. I have no idea where I put my keys as it has been so many months since I have needed to use one. I am ready to settle into my winter house and create a little, temporary home there and reflect on the changing seasons and my new place.

Maxfield Parrish lived in rural Vermont in a beautiful house.

He loved theatre, and often staged beautiful plays at his home that starred his friends and family.

The next thing that I have been thinking about is age and aging. Lately, I have been feeling my age. I looked in the mirror yesterday and started making funny faces at myself, as usual, and noticed these large wrinkles that stretch across my forehead. Now, when I am not making funny faces, those wrinkles are invisible. But how often am I not making funny faces? I noticed the permanent wrinkle between my eyebrows. I noticed the grey hair that is everywhere now, especially since I haven’t colored my hair in four months. I notice the way I feel around younger people. I feel like I am counting my experiences with more importance. I feel like I am more contemplative than before, and that I am less likely to try to foist my opinion on to others. I feel like I have learned a lot but also have just lived through a lot. I feel tired and reflective, as if I am spending many hours of each day reaching and looking back into the parts of my life that have been neglected for a long time, trying to suss out meaning where I have usually neglected an analysis.

Louis Comfort Tiffany created new forms of glasswork for this mural. It is the largest glass mural in the world.

One of the things I keep coming back to is the experiential gulf between people. Someone you know and even love can be so similar in age to you but yet have not shared even a handful of the experiences that really carved out the person that you may be at the present moment. That isn’t to say that you can’t share experiences and learn from each other, but I think a sense of perspective may only be created through multiple experiences, good and bad, that provide you with an understanding of what is important, what is doable, what is a waste of time.

The Dream Garden – Detail

I turn 32 on this birthday, this Christmas Eve. When I think about my birthday this year, my dream is to spend it in my little house with a friend or two. I hope to have candles and lamps burning (I hate overhead light especially in the coziness of winter) and to drink a glass or two of wine. I hope that it snows, and that I can watch the snow falling and later, go walking in it when it is dark and everyone is asleep. I hope to walk down to the harbor and look out at the water, at the few boats that will remain in the water at the end of December, and walk home. I hope to have a cozy blanket on my couch and be able to stay there until Christmas is born the next morning. That is what I wish for, nothing more and nothing less.

I do not feel old, far from it. I feel very young most of the time and people tell me almost constantly that they are surprised that I am almost 32. I blame the hair dye, crazy outfits and desire to smile at everyone and everything. People often tell me that they notice my smile first. I count this as a win. When I say that, however, I realize that now I have been on the planet for 1/3 of the time I will get to be here, if I am very lucky. I plan to not leave till I am about 97, as long as I have all my faculties and can walk around and knit. Now that I know that I have been here for 1/3 of my life, and I look at all the experiences that I have had, the hardships endured, the beautiful things that I have seen and felt and appreciate every day, I feel older than some of the people who are around me.

The reality is that I lived life to the absolute fullest until about a month ago, when I decided to stop. When I say lived life to the fullest, I mean running around like the proverbial chicken with her head cut off, running from this to that. Pressured by a desire to succeed, I did. I succeeded, and I did not understand the meaning of the word no. I did everything I could all the time. And that, in a lot of ways, is a great thing. I know my capabilities and strengths and weaknesses and know now that I will always be ok; I will always be able to take care of myself. But I am tired. Tired, tired, tired. I have to stop rushing; there is no rush. All we have is time, granted it passes very quickly, but it is, really, all that we have. Time to stop and think, time to drink tea and eat soup, time to walk and listen to music, time to create beautiful things and tell people that we love having them around.

The Dream Garden – Detail

Since the age of 28, when this process of realization began, I have seen myself rush headlong into many things. I have seen myself make a decision that was absolutely critical to my happiness, despite the social rejection of that decision. I have seen myself take on everything that was thrown at me. I have seen myself adapt and change even when I shouldn’t have. I have seen myself dedicate my life to others while neglecting myself. I have seen myself run, run, run, desperately afraid that I would miss something, or something would miss me, if I didn’t. Desperately afraid that “it” wouldn’t happen, while not even knowing what “it” was.

The Curtis Center at 6th and Walnut in Philadelphia – Home to The Dream Garden

When I got shingles this summer and was forced to stop, I started thinking about age. I started thinking about all the things that I have done and wished I had done, and about all the things that I thought I would have had at this point. And then I realized, wherever you is, there you are. And all of a sudden, all the madness, the running around, began to slow down. The spinning began to slow and eventually stop. Friends helped me with this, helping me understand that I was still rushing around, still making plans where none needed to be made.

The Dream Garden was designed to inspire wonder at nature and a sense of solitude in the viewer.

This tour of my country is so beautiful because I get to see lots of people who I love, I get to do whatever I want to do in some of my favorite cities, and I get to spend some serious time thinking about this and other subjects. By the time I go home in a few weeks, hopefully I will be ready to stretch and unfurl this new me, the one that will be slow and dedicated instead of rushing around scared. The one who will spend time every morning appreciating instead of stressing. The one who will age gracefully, quietly. The one who will not look too far in the future for plans, but try to stay in the present and notice people, places, and things of beauty. I feel like this trip is my last for a while, because the task at hand is to practice being still for a while and watching the world by walking within it, instead of running, driving, and doing all the time.