And now I'm following S. Brent Morris
down the marble staircase, deeper into the bowels of the Washington headquarters of the Scottish Rite
of Freemasonry -- the building known as the House of the Temple.
The place is as hushed as a cathedral, as silent as a sarcophagus.
The only sound is the crisp clicking of Morris's heels on the marble stairs.
is 51, a balding, gray-haired man in a gray suit.
He's a mathematician who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the science of card shuffling.
For 25 years, he worked as a cryptographer for the National Security Agency.
can't talk about that.
also a Freemason.
is a Royal Arch Mason and a Cryptic Mason and a Knight Templar.
is a Perfect Elu, a Grand Pontiff, a Knight of the Brazen Serpent and a Master of the Royal Secret.
is a 33rd-degree Mason, and there is no 34th degree.
He's also a Masonic historian and the Scottish Rite's director of membership development.
leads me down the Hall of the Scottish Rite Regalia, where the walls are lined with photo-realistic oil paintings of the garb worn for each of the 33 degrees -- the aprons, the caps, the cordons, the baldrics, the jewels, the rings, the gloves.
heads down another hallway and stops at the threshold of a room.
"This is the Burl Ives Room," he
passed away, his
family gave his
personal collection to us."
The room is dark but when Morris steps into it, lights automatically pop on, revealing walls covered with the folk singer's pictures, and an Ives song begins to play.
"It senses our presence," Morris
"There's J. Edgar Hoover's picture," Morris
"We have a picture of him in his
"There's the picture of him in his
Soon, there were literally thousands of higher degrees, says Brent Morris, the Masonic historian who took me on that tour of the House of the Temple.
And some of the new rituals were very bizarre.
In one ceremony, for instance, the initiate carried a human skull while watching a depiction of Christ's death and resurrection.
drank wine from the skull, symbolizing "the bitter cup of death, of which we must all, sooner or later, drink."
"When it got back on its feet, it was a much more circumspect organization," says Morris
Way down, far below the two-headed eagles that perch on the roof, below the sphinxes that peer out at 16th Street, below the Sovereign Grand Commander's purple throne, way down in the basement of the House of the Temple, past the Hall of Honor, past the Burl Ives Room, past the J. Edgar Hoover Room, sits Brent Morris's
It's very quiet down here, as quiet as a crypt.
is the Mason who took me on a tour of this place, who fooled me with his
joke about Hoover's dress.
But giving tours is just a sideline.
spends most of his
time on his
job as director of membership development for the Scottish Rite