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Sandusky, OH (WTVG) --
Ohio's 115,000 Freemasons are celebrating the group's bicentennial in Ohio. Masonic symbols and history are all around us, but we rarely notice.
When you think about Sandusky, Ohio, most of us think about the thrills at Cedar Point. But this small community on Lake Erie's shore has another landmark. It can only be seen from hundreds of feet in the air or inside the private walls of the Masonic Temple.
We took a rare tour inside with Freemason Gary Miller. Back in 1818, it was another Freemason who designed the map of Sandusky, Ohio, in a manner so unique, his Mason brothers don't know why.
Masonic tools called the "square and compass" are built into the roads of Sandusky. It's the same symbol frequently seen next to George Washington, a Mason himself.
Countless world leaders and historical figures are connected to the fraternal brotherhood.
Conspiracy theorists believe the Masons had a secret influence over the construction of Washington D.C. and the country. The square and compass can be found on the Washington monument. Some say Freemason symbols even connect the national mall. While many debate what happened in our capital, there's no debate in Sandusky. Still, very few know its history.
Interest in the Freemasons has boomed since the blockbuster "National Treasure" hit the theaters. Harvey Keitel plays an FBI agent who is also a Mason. His name is Agent Sadusky. It even caught Gary off guard.
Gary Miller says, "You surprised me with that one. I hadn't picked up on that. I've seen it twice."
Many consider the Masons a secret society, but Miller says the Masons are out in the open. "We have our meetings and they're for our members only."
The group creates a large volunteer force for the Special Olympics. Gary says the masons' purpose is to make the world a better place. While people are fascinated with the masons' mysterious history and famous figures, for Gary and many other masons, it's about family.
"My grandfather was a Mason 64 years until he passed away. My dad was a Mason and I'm a Mason."
Within the Masonic circles, Sandusky's city map is a great source for tourism. The Sandusky lodge is frequently visited by people anxious to see the square and compass.
While researching "The Book of Fate," his novel about Masonic influences on the street layout of Washington, D.C., author Brad Meltzer realized that one other city was laid out in the form of a Masonic compass and square -- Sandusky. "Learning about Sandusky blew me away," said Meltzer, who mentions the city in his novel. "I have family in Ohio and have visited there many times. I doubt that few people in Ohio, or even Sandusky, realize why their streets run in such crazy directions." Sandusky officials agree. The Masonic design is acknowledged by a memorial in the center of the city, but the street layout may come as a surprise to many. "We have 27,000 residents and more than a million people come through here during the summer," Mayor Dan Kaman said. "I bet very few of them know why the streets are laid out as they are with all the angles." On the Fourth of July in 1818, the map of Sandusky was recorded as drawn by Hector Kilbourn, a Mason and the first master of Science Lodge No. 50, one of two Masonic lodges still in the city. "The streets form the compass and square, common Masonic symbols," said Dennis Claxton, a trustee of Science Lodge 50. "And yes, it does make driving terrible." Main city streets such as Central, Huron, Poplar and Elm cut in at an angle toward Sandusky Bay and Lake Erie, creating intersections that demand extra neck-turning. The two main arms of the compass, Central and Huron, don't actually meet at a point. Instead, they give way to a flowered, inner-city park. "That's one thing we can proudly say. The layout means there are a lot of small parks in the city on small, oddly angled pieces of land," said Claxton, who said it is a point of pride to be able to say that Sandusky and Washington are the only two cities in the country laid out around Masonic symbols. The Masonic lodge on Columbus Avenue is in the middle of the compass. The modest rooms of Science Lodge 50 look out over a monument to Kilbourn, which explains the city's layout. Nearby, the Masons keep up a flower garden in the design of the compass and square. "People in the city are pretty smart about avoiding the streets that get crowded because of the design," Kaman said. "Most of us know all the back routes." Kaman said in the "old days" -- up to the turn of the 20th century or so -- the Masons were a huge force in the city. "City officials were Masons; you couldn't get a job working for the city unless you were a member," he said. But as immigrants flooded the country, the influence of the Masonic lodges diminished, though they still have 500 members in the Science Lodge. The Masons are a fraternal organization, started in 18th-century London, whose members are joined together by shared ideals of both a moral and metaphysical nature and, in most cases, by a common belief in a supreme being. Many Freemasons are wealthy, educated professionals, and their lodges, spread around the world, are involved in local charity work. Meltzer noted that eight signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons, as were nine signers of the Constitution, 15 U.S. presidents and famous Americans including Benjamin Franklin, Benedict Arnold, Harry Houdini, Jesse Jackson and Bob Dole. Meltzer's book says Washington, D.C., was designed by Freemasons George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Pierre L'Enfant. "Washington is not only laid out to resemble a Masonic compass and square, but the whole city is a pentagram with the White House at the tip," he said. "When I asked why this was done, I was told it was to make it clear that the city is under the protection of the Freemasons. But you can only see the pattern from the air, so how farthinking were these guys?" Claxton said Sandusky's layout is a draw for tourists, especially Masonic tourists. "We get visitors from Masonic lodges all over the world who want to look at the layout," he said. "It makes us feel good to h