Fringeworthy

Mason Jarred: Was a Piece About Freemasons Too Fringey for Capital Fringe?

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Andy Baroch had a pencil sharpener shaped like the Washington Monument in one hand, and a hammer in the other.

As he pummeled the tiny obelisk into the grass by the Capitol Reflecting Pool, the hammer’s head flew off. The mini-monument stayed intact, though covered in dirt. “This gives me no pleasure,” he said, as the remaining audience dissipated.

Baroch was concluding his Capital Fringe Festival show Secrets of the National Mall, which was classified as “storytelling” in the 2014 festival guide (although within the larger “drama” section) and described thusly: “Radio news reporter reveals the secrets of the Freemasons, the underground fraternal organization which designed the National Mall. Join his walking tour to hear the shocking truth!”

Few audiences would get to. After the first weekend, tickets for Secrets of the National Mall were no longer available for purchase on the Fringe website, even though it had originally been scheduled for 22 performances, more than any other show in the festival. Was it simply too fringe for Fringe?

Thirteen people, myself included, assembled at the Capitol Reflecting Pool at 7 p.m. on the first Friday of the festival. They’d paid $17 for the privilege, in addition to the mandatory $7 button required for entry to any Fringe venue ($5 if you bought it early enough). I got to go for free, because I was reviewing it for Fringeworthy. Baroch, our ostensible tour guide, had us sit in the grass with a clear view of the Washington Monument. It was time to explain why the National Mall is actually the largest hieroglyph in the world.

“What is it?” he asked us in a deep baritone, gesturing at the Washington Monument. “What is it?”

The audience threw out ideas—an obelisk? No. A penis? Nope.

“It’s a dildo,” said Baroch.

Over 90 minutes, we learned that this isn’t just any dildo, but one that represents the ancient procreation myth of Isis, the Egyptian goddess, whose husband Osiris was cut into 14 pieces. A fish ate his phallus, and Isis had to create a dildo to reproduce and restore the natural order.

Baroch has a problem with this giant dildo at the National Mall. It means our monument is actually a lie—an ode to a pagan goddess dressed up as an edifice to a Founding Father. Baroch found the whole charade unconstitutional to boot, because our tax dollars paid for it despite our separation of church and state.

We never got up from that spot by the Capitol Reflecting Pool. This walking tour would not include any walking. (Baroch later told me that this was Fringe’s suggestion, because audience members might prefer sitting down to walking in the July heat. Fringe wouldn’t comment. And on the official website, the description’s “walking tour” was changed to “storytelling.”)

Baroch instead turned the pages in a big black book of clippings, as old articles, pictures, and maps fell into the grass. He scribbled designs on a well-worn pad of paper, and at times on the back of his hand. He cited from memory the height of different buildings and monuments, adding up each of the numerals: “One and one and one is three, two and four and seven is one, one.” In the end, all of the heights added up to one, one, one, which is three, the natural order divined by the Freemasons—the sacred triangle.

The Freemason Fraternal Order counts some of America’s most famous historical figures as members—including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Monroe, Paul Revere, and Andrew Jackson, among others.The Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, the order of Masons in Washington, boasts on its website that “the Masonic stamp is visible throughout the city of Washington, DC, the surrounding metropolitan area, and the entire country.”

Baroch’s journey into Mason iconography began when he looked at a map of the U.S. Capitol property around four years ago and noticed that it resembled an owl. Suddenly he was seeing owls all over D.C. He acknowledges he had read the novel The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown, a more common entrance point into the world of Freemasonry, but “it didn’t do anything for me,” because while it featured Masons, it didn’t explain them.

Baroch showed the audience a map of the Mall and, indeed, it has the same shape as an owl, if you look at it a certain way. The owl, according to Baroch, is another sign of Isis. A tourist map of the Mall cuts off the owl at its eyes.

Baroch has a background as a journalist, most recently working at Voice of America for more than two decades. He was eager to share the many sources he used to piece together his findings. But after Baroch flipped through the big black book for about 35 minutes, the audience started to turn.

“He gave the impression he wanted questions,” one attendee, Dan Kreske, told me later. “But he didn’t want any questions.” And, Kreske recalls, Baroch accused one of the other audience members of being a Mason.

“I kept thinking he was gonna say, ‘Just kidding,’ that he was antagonizing the audience on purpose and had people planted in the audience as Masons,” Kreske said. “That’s why I didn’t leave.”

Ultimately, five members of the crowd exited early, including the alleged Mason. Two of them explicitly stormed off, accusing Baroch of cafeteria-picking evidence to support his theories.

The issue seemed to me like a disconnect—Baroch thought people didn’t believe his many researched facts about Freemasons and owls. Audience members wanted to know why it mattered.

“The issue at hand is the secrecy of it,” Baroch maintained. “Why don’t they tell us about this?”

When it all ended, Baroch asked how I thought he did. I told him it was “captivating and compelling.” I meant it. I had never experienced anything like that. The tour was clearly not for everyone, and my Fringeworthy review, posted the next day, was a pretty straightforward if cynical recounting of what happened during those 90 minutes. I concluded that the performance “is not a tour of the National Mall so much as it is a tour of Baroch’s mind. As the crowd dwindles, it becomes clear that not everyone is up for the journey.”

That Monday, I received a note from City Paper’s editor, Mike Madden. Baroch had read my review, and he was not pleased. In a number of emails and voicemails to City Paper, he expressed concerns that I didn’t show proper reverence for history (and also that I’d egged him on when he asked whether he should hammer the obelisk into the grass—a moment that didn’t make it into the review). He also had a factual problem with one paragraph, in which I wrote, “It’s clear also that he has a scab to pick with the Library of Congress, which wouldn’t let him become a tour guide after he focused too much on the imagery of the Sacred Eye. ‘Do I think the Masons are running the Library of Congress?’ he ponders. ‘No. I just think all of these coincidences are awfully strange.’”

According to Baroch, he had a disagreement with one educator at the Library of Congress docent program, which he detailed during the tour. But he wanted to clarify that the head of volunteer services called him afterward to apologize and invite him back. While he graduated the docent course in December 2013, he declined a position as a guide there because he needed a paying job, he says.

I called the Library of Congress, though the head of volunteer services was in Europe for the week. A week later, Library of Congress spokeswoman Gayle Osterberg told me, “We do not comment on personnel matters related to either staff or volunteers.”

* * *

barochAround the time Baroch was waging a battle against my review, he was also fighting the Fringe Festival itself.

The Secrets of the National Mall page on the Fringe website had a note saying, “Tickets are no longer available through Capital Fringe for this event.” The July 13 evening performance had been the final one with tickets sold through Fringe. The tour didn’t make it past the first weekend. “The show was canceled...just canceled,” said Laura Gross, the festival’s spokeswoman. She didn’t elaborate.

I wrote to Baroch, who emailed that a representative of Fringe told him that “‘a lot of people wanted refunds.’ After five presentations, well, that isn’t a lot of people. Also, she said people were upset that it wasn’t a walking tour.”

He went on, “There were Masons in the audiences. Did they ask for refunds? Did they pressure her?”

You don’t hear about many shows getting cut from the massive Fringe festival, even though it’s largely uncurated. Fringe accepts participants on a first-come, first-served basis. As long as would-be presenters can pay an application fee and then the participation fee (for Baroch, who found his own venue, $475), they’re in. The name of the festival says it all: These are works at the edge—of form, of production, and, sometimes, of ideas. You go to Fringe to take a risk. If audiences are disappointed, isn’t that on them?

A week later, at a “How to Fringe” workshop at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, Capital Fringe CEO Julianne Brienza was asked by an attendee why a show might be cancelled. “Death of family or friends, illness, people didn’t get their visas, basically stuff outside of our control,” she said. “Most shows are canceled because of cast members dropping out.” After the workshop, I pointed out that Secrets of the National Mall fit none of these reasons. All she said was, “We just had to cancel it.” When I told her the explanation Baroch had related to me, she said, “With the tenor of the discussion, we’re just saying it was canceled.”

Talking to fellow audience members, it was clear some of them walked away pissed off. “It was hostile,” said Michelle (she asked that I not use her last name), who was also at the show I saw. “Even though we were sitting in a very open space, it started to feel very claustrophobic”

In fact, I found no one who felt neutral about their time with Baroch. Though they were weirded out by the experience, he had struck a nerve. Days later, they were still thinking about dildos and Masons and the Sacred Triangle, and wondering if he was serious or if the whole thing was a performance.

It’s too bad his show wasn’t actually a drama like the plays it was grouped with, because it did exactly what a good drama is supposed to do. It lingered.

* * *

When I tell Baroch I’m looking into his show’s cancellation, he invites me on another tour. We meet again at the Capitol Reflecting Pool. This time he dresses up, in a checkered blazer and pants. He brings me a flower, which he later tells me was another symbol for Isis. After walking around the Peace Monument, we sit on a bench right by the street. Instead of a big black book of clippings, he has a medium-sized red book.

I tell him I had called up the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia. Grand Master, Most Worshipful Brother James T. Feezell was unavailable, so I spoke with Grand Secretary Joseph Crociata. “Any imputations of underground or conspiratorial influence is completely bogus,” Crociata said. “We’re a fraternity who also does charity work.”

I asked Crociata if the symbol of the owl meant anything to him. “Not at all.”

Baroch isn’t surprised. “I was at the docent class with an elderly Mason who was very sweet,” he says. “When the evaluator mentioned that there was an Egyptian root to Freemasonry he shot out of his chair, suddenly defensive.”

Freemasons don’t even tell some of their own about their connection to Egyptian mythology, Baroch says, but their secret is hidden in plain sight.

He shows me an aerial map of Southwest D.C., and then draws lines from the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Building to the White House and the Jefferson Memorial. He’s right—with the highlighting from his permanent markers, it looks like a fish.

“It’s really supposed to be a fish that harkens back to the ancient mysteries of ancient Egypt and the doctrine of the Master Masons. That omission from the average person is deception,” he says. “We haven’t lived up to our promise to make this an open society. Hidden among everything is a secret Masonic theme park.”

At the end of our conversation, we walk toward Independence Avenue. “See these triangles?” he says. He’s referring to three small, flat black triangles in the grass. “Why are they there?”

I ask if he would wonder about them if they were squares.

“No,” he says.

Press photo of Andy Baroch via Capital Fringe

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  • imtheone

    Interesting point. Masonic Laws ( http://www.masterplaques.com/ ) are the most respectable by all means.

  • Andrew Baroch

    Absolutely right...The City Paper version was. My tour continues to be available and attended -- and contains so many irrefutable, documented facts omitted in the Paper's version. The Paper's reporting astonished me, but confirmed one thing. The reporter, Rachel Kurzius, is 26. A new breed apparently. They fail to read history and locally, do not know or don't care the Masons designed this city. Washingtonians blithely walk past the tallest Egyptian obelisk in the world with no curiosity, no questions -- and all they have to do is Google. Passivity.

  • Larry R. Herron

    What a crock!

  • Andrew Baroch

    Hi, Andrew Baroch here...
    I presented an expose of the National Mall at the Fringe Festival, noting "the too coincidental evidence to be a cincidence." -- that Masonic symbols are all over the place, that the Mall itself is the largest Masonic..or any... hieroglyphic in the world -- founded as a national park in 1933, 309 acres, including the Tidal Basin, which is 111 acres. All of these and many more numbers -- through the pseudo-magical science of numerology, adding the digits -- add up to the Masonic-significant number THREE. The number honors pagan fabled goddess Isis who through magic restored the "natural order" of Egypt --what? 10,000 BCE? -- so that male, female through intercourse could once again have offspring. One, two, three. That is the cult of Isis, paid tribute by an Egyptian obelisk -- and Washingtonians look at the tallest Egyptian obelisk every day, which honors Isis and the cult of Freemasonry, which built it from July 4, 1848 [lapse in construction due to Civil War] to 1884.
    Astonishingly, Freemasons deny their devotion to Isis -- though they were in charge of construction the whole time.
    [No transition] I can not understand how a Middle Eastern terrorist group calling itself ISIS has suddenly appeared from nowhere causing worldwide alarm. While it is beyond the purview of City Paper, some news organization should find out who or what is funding these killers. Follow the money trail. I can't believe it, but in this world anything is possible...follow the money trail.
    Best, Andrew

  • Andrew Baroch

    Andrew again,
    I based my Fringe presentation on the 1977 movie "Network" character -- Peter Finch, the actor -- who exhorted audiences to "go to their windows and yell,'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!'"
    I received instant reaction, publicity, and lifted the curtain on the National Mall -- a Masonic Oz, where so much is placed there hidden in plain sight -- by a radical, racist cult that is a city and national disgrace.
    Best, Andrew

  • http://dchistory-mysterytours.com Andrew Baroch

    Hi,
    Thanks for your comments. I've been a tour guide five years and a member of the Guild. Before that, 30 years a reporter. Rachel's article tells only bits and pieces of "hidden in plain sight" Masonic symbols I found all around the city -- from statuary to an ancient form of geometry known as "sacred geometry" -- all of it making our National Mall and D.C. a Masons' tribute to themselves. Another bit of information not in the article -- but I told the reporter -- is the Masons' streak of racism. Their 19th century scholar, Albert Pike, was a white supremacist. There's a statue in his honor at 4th and Indiana Ave. in the city judicial center. Finally, see: Manly Hall's "Freemasonry of the Ancient Egyptians," 1937. Hall explains.

    Best, Andrew Baroch

  • James

    Another avenue to this show's cancelation might have been its venue. I know there was a recent change, but until recently, it was illegal to charge people for tours of public spaces or buildings unless the guide was a member of the professional guide guild of D.C. They have to get licensed, pay fees, and pass tests before they're allowed to operate. I doubt Mr. Baroch is a member and with the publicity, someone of stature may have happened upon a review and contacted Fringe about it. I'm not saying that with any certainty, just that there's a chance it could've been a contributing factor.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/PeterJOrvetti Peter Orvetti

    I'm curious about "Insider"'s comments. My experiences with Ms. Brienza have all been positive, and as both a performer and an attendee, I've found Fringe very well-run given how chaotic it is to mount 150+ shows in nearly a dozen venues within such a short period.

  • http://www.facebook.com/PeterJOrvetti Peter Orvetti

    From everything I read about this "show", I get the impression it was cancelled because the presenter failed to provide paying customers with anything approximating what was listed in the Fringe guide, and was hostile and rude with audiences. Yes, it's a "fringe" festival, but one that has built a certain reputation, and letting someone who sounds like he should be wrapped in tinfoil raving outside the White House gates rant for an hour is not a show.

  • Insider

    Dude, Capital Fringe is run like a fucking joke; Julianne is the worst. And this isn't the only show that was too fringe for Fringe...

  • Bob Credle

    There are varying opinions of the Fraternal Masonic Order. Much of it comes from those who have never experienced the Order. This being the case, there has been a huge tendency to "fill in the Blanks."

    Even high ranking members of the Religeous Society, again, not having been an integral part of the Masonic Order, fill their parishoners with unsupported stories of Devil Worshiping. In the final analysis, Masonry remains no more mysterious than any other Fraternal organization. All of which, are not secret organizations, but orgnaiozations with secrets. A very interpretive statement, to say the least.

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