Symbols on Fort Wood Are Not Masonic

There are a series of forts in NY harbor. Prior to the War of 1812, NY wanted to make sure that no one captured NYC so…. the southwest battery was built on Manhattan – later called Castle Clinton (where you take the ferry to Liberty Island), Castle William and Fort Jay on Governor’s Island, Fort Gibson on Ellis and the base of the Statue is Fort Wood. This fort is an eleven pointed star fort built on the French design named after a soldier, Eleazer Derby Wood. The idea was to have enough sides so that a cannon ball would ricochet rather than hit straight on. So any ships coming into the harbor would be under the guns of at least one fort. The fort system worked so well that no one bothered to attack NY during the War of 1812 or the Civil War.
Wood was killed during the fighting around Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada during the War of 1812. Wood (1783 – September 17, 1814) was born in New York City and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1806.
Later harbor forts moved closer to the Atlantic such as Fort Hamilton and Fort Wadsworth and then out to the Rockaways.

There are four parts to the Statue of Liberty on Bedloe’s Island, now know as Liberty Island. The base is Fort Wood. A concrete pouring or foundation is in the middle. The arrangement with France is that they will “gift” the statue as long as America provides a place to put it and some place for the “lady” to stand. So America has to raise the money for the pedestal. And, on top of the pedestal, place the statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World.” Enlighten meaning to eliminate darkness and therefore, fear.

The Symbols Scratched on the Walls of Fort Wood Are Not Masonic in Origin

Early in my posting as a Ranger on Liberty Island, I was shown graffiti on the walls near the rear or re-entry entrance of the pre-War of 1812 Fort Wood and was told that the Freemasons put the symbols there. A picture display in the front of the Statue showed Fort Wood during the 1930’s with several stars and moons embedded on the grass and concrete of the deck or promenade of the fort. These, too, were described to me—and our visitors—as being Masonic in origin.
As a Freemason I was sure from the initial viewing that this was not correct. No Mason would desecrate so important a National, nay, world Monument. There would be no reason to associate his fraternal membership in such a way.

Here at the Statue of Liberty the reasoning was entirely different. From having no idea what the symbols were, why they were there and who placed them, the conclusion reached was that they were emblematic of the “mysterious order” of Freemasons. After all, did not the Masons play an important part both here in America and in France in the fundraising and building of the Statue? Were not members of this ancient order associated with the Statue from the inception, the laying of the cornerstone of the pedestal, to even the dedication parade? Bartholdi was the sculpture and Eiffel was the engineer. Both were Masons. The Masonic Lodges of France contributed to the building of the Lady because of the symbolism of “light” and the “enlightenment.” The torch, unlike those carried by the ladies painted during the French Revolution that were meant to set fires, our torch was used to “enlighten,” to eliminate darkness. When darkness is removed, so is fear. Masonic thoughts.

At the Statue of Liberty, the symbols thought to be Masonic were in two different categories. There were symbols carved or etched into the granite walls of the Fort and, secondly, there were stars and crescent shaped moons on the deck of Fort Wood. (Later research showed these designs to be just a popular “lawn” decoration of the time.)

The fort served as part of the harbor defenses protecting New York City from whatever enemy we would fight in the first decade of the 1800s. Gun batteries were placed on the top of the walls of the fort and on the shore line. The forts within the harbor presented triangles of fire. Because of the strength of these harbor fortresses, the forts were never tested in battle.

There were a number of symbols found etched high on the walls. Among the most common were anchors.
The anchor as graffiti goes back to the walls of the Christian catacombs symbolizing a connection with God and a help to ride out the storms of daily life. St. Paul mentions that which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast. (Hebrews 6:19). Christ is sometimes referred to as the anchor in the sea of life.

This usage in Christianity can also be seen with anchors in pictures of Saints. This same meaning is also in the Endowment of the Latter Day Saints.

The anchor is mentioned in the third degree lecture of Freemasonry where the lesson is taught that it is a symbol of a well-grounded hope. As the anchor was often a seaman’s last resort in stormy weather, it was frequently connected, therefore, with hope. Being made of a solid body, the anchor was also identified with firmness, solidity, tranquility and faithfulness. The anchor remains firm and steady amidst the stormy waters, symbolizing the stable part of a human being, that quality which enables us to keep a clear mind amid the confusion of sensation, emotion and the general storms of life. Therefore the anchor keeps us steady in the storms of temptation, affliction, and persecution.

Maybe, just maybe, sometimes, as Freud said, a cigar is just a good smoke. Maybe the anchor is exactly the first thing you think of when you see an anchor, a symbol of sailors and the Navy. After all, we are in the middle of a harbor on an island fortress.

Other symbols found on the walls are single letters and, though less in number than the anchor, a symbol that may be described as a palmetto palm tree is frequently found. This symbol was strange. Certainly it was not as clear, symbolically, as the anchor. However, at a Masonic dinner the subject of the Statue came up and I showed the sketch of the palmetto tree around the table. An elderly gentleman promptly pointed out the resemblance to the crossed Signal Corps’ flags.

Pictures of Fort Wood and the Statue of Liberty in the 1930s, show a couple of radio towers about where the Information Center and the Interpretive staff house are today.

The August issue of the American magazine, “Short Wave Craft”, in the year 1935, tells a very interesting story about a unique radio broadcast from the Statue of Liberty and “signals.”

The French passenger liner “Normandie” began its maiden voyage from Le Havre in France on May 29, 1935. This luxury liner was the largest and most luxurious passenger ship afloat at the time, at more than 1,000 ft long. The “Normandie” crossed the Atlantic on its maiden voyage arriving in New York just five days later.

While out in the Atlantic the “Normandie” made several music broadcasts en route as was the custom of the day. And on its arrival in New York on June 3, 1935, there was another spectacular and historic radio broadcast.

A welcoming program for the arrival of this new ship was compiled in Washington, DC and this special broadcast was fed by telephone line to the Statue of Liberty on Bedloe’s Island in New York harbor. On the torch in the upheld hand of the Statue of Liberty was a special radio transmitter that modulated a beam of light.

This pulsating modulated light beam from the Statue of Liberty was picked up on a special receiver on the “Normandie” some five miles distant. The signal from this unique location was de-modulated on the moving passenger liner and fed into the public address system as well as into a 50 watt short-wave transmitter. This small and specially installed short-wave transmitter relayed this broadcast back to New York where it was received by medium wave station WEAF and fed into the NBC Red Network for a nationwide relay.

In addition, the General Electric short-wave station at Schenectady, station W2XAD, also carried the same programming which was picked up in France and re-broadcast throughout their country on their medium wave and long wave networks. The French short-wave service also broadcast this unique program as a relay to the world.

That spectacular radio broadcast was part of the elaborate welcome to the United States for the magnificent passenger liner “Normandie” at the time of its arrival at the end of its maiden voyage across the Atlantic. Interestingly, a radio broadcast was made at the birth of this ship, another at the time of its travels, and again at the time of its demise.
The Radio Heritage Collection at http://radiodx.com/spdxr/statue_liberty.htm

As I studied the pictures of Fort Wood, read a little more about earlier radio messages from the island, I noted the resemblance of both the tower and the palmetto tree to the beginning of old movies. Remember the RKO movie symbol or radio symbol? I was convinced that the symbols on the old fort’s walls were put there by the radio operators in our past making sure that they, too, were always remembered at the Statue of Liberty and on Fort Wood’s solid granite walls.

I lit up a cigar.

When the U.S. Army transferred Fort Wood to the National Park Service, these symbols were on the grounds for a very short time. A marker at the Statue of Liberty calls these “Masonic” symbols. These are now thought to be just popular garden ornamentals of the period. Note the several radio transmitter towers to the rear of the island.
This picture dates from the time that the NPS maintained the two acres of the Statue and the Army owned the other ten acres – circa 1933.

The “signal” tower chiseled into the stone walls of Fort Wood, Liberty Island, NY.

Just once is this design on the fort. This is the closest to a Masonic symbol.

The Anchor – the most numerous symbol on Fort Wood in the middle of NY harbor.