By Ed Snow
When the 20th President of the United States James A. Garfield was felled by an assassin’s bullet on September 19, 1880 the American composer and band director John Phillip Souza composed a dirge, In Memoriam.
And one of the most prestigious sculptors of the day, John Quincy Adams Ward, sculpted a statue of Garfield that was placed on an ornate pedestal on the road island to the southwest of the Capital.
Perhaps only a few in the immense crowd gathered for the Garfield statute dedication noticed what appears to be an entire horoscope cast in bronze and depicting planets in astrological signs on the northwest side of the statue’s plinth or base.
David Ovason, author of The Secret Architecture of Our Nation’s Capital, believes this may be the only such astrological figure on any public statuary in the U.S. But, inexplicably, astrological symbolism is everywhere on display in public buildings and elsewhere in the nation’s capital.
The city is teeming with zodiacs and zodiacal images. Many are in official buildings, including the Capitol Building itself where one would never expect to find such symbols of the spiritual world.
In Ovason’s 1999 book he says, “There are 23 important zodiacs in the city and at least 1,000 zodiacal and planetary symbols.”
Kenneth McGhee, an Arlington, Va., astrologer who lectures on the subject, suggests the number of important zodiacs in the city is higher. By his count there are 30 zodiacs with 12 of these located in the Library of Congress Building alone.
A tour of this building turns up a zodiac dome and zodiac clock in the main reading room. There’s a floor zodiac in the Great Hall and zodiacs also are found in marble columns, in a granite arch, on the arm rail of the main staircase and in a hallway painting of Urania, who in mythology is the muse of astrology.
“There is even a zodiac in the wallpaper of a meeting room,” he says.
The Library of Congress Building was completed in 1860. But there also are zodiacs in buildings completed much later in the 20th century, such as the ceiling zodiac found in the Senate Dirksen Building, completed in 1958, and a light fixture at the Ariel Rios Building, built in the 30’s.
McGhee says astrological zodiacs are visually prominent on armillary spheres located throughout the city in such diverse locations as the Air and Space museum, the Reston Town Center, Friendship Heights, Montrose Park in Georgetown and U.S. National Arboretum. These spherical sculptures are modeled after the instruments used by ancient astrologers to determine the location of celestial objects before telescopes were invented.
According to McGhee, the staid Federal Reserve Building and the Freer Art Gallery have zodiac light fixtures. And there are zodiacs on the Mellon Fountain and in the Hillwood Museum garden.
“But nothing is more bizarre than the arch zodiac above the alter at the Catholic Church’s National Basilica on Michigan Avenue. Or the zodiac symbols embedded in an entry door at the National Academy of Sciences,” he said.
So why do we find so much astrological symbolism in the nation’s capital city today?
In his book, Ovason addresses the issue:
“The more I have explored the city and the more I have been touched by the many zodiacs it contains, the more I have marveled that so little research has been done into the arcane aspects of its design. One consequence of the scholarly silence is that the majority of my questions have remained unanswered,” he writes.
But Ovason describes the Founding Fathers’ flirtation with the esoteric ideals of the Freemason movement in the late 18th century. And he suggests this may somehow be connected with the proliferation of astrological symbols we find in the capital city today.
The city itself was planned by George Washington and was initially surveyed using stars as guides. The nation’s first President was also leader of a Masonic Lodge, and Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and many of the nation’s other founding fathers were part of the Freemason movement.
In this era Masonic elders used astrology to time the laying of foundation or corner stones for every significant new structure rising in the district, including the White House and Capitol Building, he points out.
McGhee thinks the birth chart or horoscope he uses for the capital city provides some clues to the mystery.
“The city’s birth chart has a lineup of planets (including the Sun) all clustered in that section of the horoscope astrologers identify with mysteries and the occult. Which fits with all the secret symbols found in the city today,” he said.
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