Secret Manhattan: The Headstone of Brother James Leeson, and the Masonic Cipher.
By Laetitia Barbier July 29, 2013
As Published on AltaObscura.com
Squeezed between towering skyscrapers, Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan and its adjacent cemetery is a one-of-a-kind sanctuary, a curious contrast reminding us of the city’s past.
The grave of James Leeson, is a discreet, but peculiar, monument to esoteric Americana. Born in 1756, Leeson died 38 years later, and nothing much is known of his life, even if it seems his grave has made him one of the more fascinating interments in Trinity.
In fact, Leeson seems to enjoy a second existence through the attention he draws from a small gathering of curiosity enthusiasts, funeral art amateurs, and even… secret codes freaks. Nowadays half-damaged, the carved stone memorial still bears a few visual elements that gives us clues on our mystery man. Not much, but enough to puzzle the viewer.
Nowadays half-damaged, the carved stone memorial still bears a few visual elements that gives us clues on our mystery man. Not much, but enough to puzzle the viewer. With what did Leeson choose to decorate his last home? A winged hourglass, a classic in terms of funeral iconography, which stands for “Tempus Fugit” — time literally flees.
Leeson wanted to remind the next generation that life is short. The flaming urn is here to inform us about the immortality of the soul, as the faithful Leeson believed. Finally, on the right side, are carved Masonic paraphernalia: a compass, a square, and a level, entangled together. Leeson was indeed a Mason. But unlike the many other Masons buried in Trinity Churchyard, Leeson’s grave has a cryptic bonus.
Bowing on the superior side of the tombstone is a suite of bizarre-looking pictograms, made out of dots and dashes. Is it some Venusian language, a black magic spell, or even a secret warning to prevent potential body snatchers?
The answer would be published a century later, in 1899, in the publication of the Trinity Record. The square-like markings are in fact an example of a FreeMason cipher, pretty unique since the cuneiform code appears usually in esoteric manuals, to prevent profane access to information and keep rituals in secrecy.
Understood only by a minority at the time, the insoluble epitaph translates to something you can decipher, if you use the Freemasons Cipher below.
Can you figure it out?
A simple, but still striking, message left behind. Leeson could be remembered as the man warning the Masons, in the privacy of their own language, that even they will take part in the great dance of death.
What does the top of this gravestone inscription say?