Bizarre Story: Anti-Masonic Party Leader William Wirt’s Skull Stolen.
UNITED STATES HISTORY
Anti-Masonic Movement, in the history of the United States, popular movement based on public indignation at and suspicion of the secret fraternal order known as the Masons, or Freemasons. Opponents of this society seized upon the uproar to create the Anti-Masonic Party. It was the first American third party, the first political party to hold a national nominating convention, and the first to offer the electorate a platform of party principles.
The movement was ignited in 1826 by the mysterious disappearance of William Morgan, a bricklayer in western New York who supposedly had broken his vow of secrecy as a Freemason by preparing a book revealing the organization’s secrets. When no trace of Morgan could be discovered, rumours of his murder at the hands of Masons swept through New York and then into New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.
As Anti-Masonic candidates proved successful in state and local elections, politicians saw the issue’s vote-catching possibilities. Anti-Masonic newspapers flourished in the heated political atmosphere. In September 1831, the Anti-Masonic Party held a national convention in Baltimore, Md., nominated William Wirt for president, and announced a party platform condemning Masonry for its secrecy, exclusivity, and undemocratic character.
Wirt won only the state of Vermont (seven electoral votes) in the 1832 election, and the party went into decline after that. By the late 1830s much of its reform impulse had been taken over by antislavery agitation, and most of its politicians had joined the newly formed Whig Party.
|Forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley and the mystery skull turned over to him by D.C. Council member Jim Graham. (Gerald Martineau — The Washington Post)|
|Photo From Library Of Congress Of William Wirt|
By Peter Carlson
Thursday, October 20, 2005When the stone was pulled off the tomb, Douglas Owsley peered down into the burial vault. He could see rotted coffins that had been dragged off a shelf and bones strewn around the floor.”It’s a mess,” he said. Then he climbed down into the grave.
Owsley is a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian, a bone expert so famous that he is regularly summoned to inspect bodies from Guatemala to Croatia to the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex.
Yesterday he drove to Congressional Cemetery in Southeast Washington and climbed into the family crypt of William Wirt, who was U.S. attorney general from 1817 to 1829, the presidential candidate of the Anti-Masonic Party in 1832, and a prosecutor in Aaron Burr’s treason trial. Owsley was hoping to determine whether a skull that had been sitting on a shelf in D.C. Council member Jim Graham’s office for a year and half is Wirt’s stolen head.
Down in the burial vault, where Wirt and seven relatives were laid to rest, Owsley, 54, hung a lantern on a root that crept through the crypt. He looked around. The lead liners of long-rotted coffins littered the floor, along with the bones they once held. Other coffins sat on three shelves in various stages of decay.
“There is evidence of vandalism,” Owsley said. “The three coffins on the lower shelf have been pulled off the shelf. On this lower shelf there’s a coffin pulled halfway out.”
He studied the bones in that coffin for a few moments.
“That’s a female,” he said.
* * *
It all began around Christmas of 2003, when Bill Fecke, then manager of Washington’s Congressional Cemetery, got a phone call from a man who wouldn’t identify himself.
“What do you know about William Wirt’s skull?” the mysterious caller asked.