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The Secret (a treasure hunt) / Verse 01
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Verse 01

Page history last edited by Oregonian 3 months, 3 weeks ago

 

General notes on Verse 1

 

 

Interpretation

Lines Interpretation(s)
Fortress north

Cold as glass

- "Glass" suggest that this is not a literal fort, but some other (modern) building.  Most likely, it is just a general reference to downtown Houston and its many glass-covered skyscrapers.

 

- "Cold as glass" is a phrase in Ayn Rand's novel Anthem (published in 1938) and is used in that book to describe the steel rail of a subway train.  If these words really are a reference to that book, they might be directing us to train track.

 

- "Cold as glass" is also a phrase in Wilma Dykeman's nonfiction book The French Broad (published in 1955) and is used there to describe a still body of water.  If these words are a meant as a reference to that, they might be directing us to a lake.

 

- The Glassell School of Art in Houston was built in 1979 and used glass tiles to insulate the building and keep it cool.

 

Friendship south

- Houston's Hermann Park has a Taipei Friendship Pavilion that was a bicentennial gift from the City of Taipei to the City of Houston in 1976. As part of the redesign of that park, the pavilion was relocated to a new position in 2013/14.

 

- A YouTube video about the Houston pavilion shows detailed images and gives a little more history. In particular, it shows the original location before the move (at 0:13 and again at 6:38).

 

- Apparently Taipei gave two identical pavilions to U.S. cities in 1976.  Intriguingly, the other pavilion, in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, is now the focus of the search for the Image 1 / Verse 7 casque.

 

Take your task

To the number

Nine eight two

- An antique Southern Pacific steam engine numbered "982" was on display in Houston's Hermann Park for half a century, and these lines of the verse are almost certainly a reference to that.  The engine was moved around a few times before it left the park in 2007, but we know that in 1981 it was located at the southeast corner of the lake.  (For full details on how we reconstructed the locomotive's location, see the Hermann Park history page.)

 

 

This map shows the steps so far:

 

Through the wood

No lion fears

- These are arguably the most important lines in the verse, because they tell us which way to go around the lake.  Going clockwise (as viewed from above) would take us west, past the entrance to the zoo, which would make sense with a reference to lions.  Going counter-clockwise would take us north through a forested area, which would make sense with the reference to "a wood."  Either direction would take us to a place with tracks for the miniature train.

 

- "The wood no lion fears" might be a reference to the cowardly lion making it through the Haunted Forest in The Wizard of Oz, but it isn't clear how that reference would indicate a direction.

 

- The Houston Zoo had at least one water fountain shaped like a lion, but it isn't clear whether one would have been visible from outside the zoo.  (Both of the pictures below are apparently from the Houston Zoo in the 1970's.  Either the fountain got moved around, or there were multiple fountains.)

Lion Fountain

 

Houston Zoo Lion Head Fountain

 

In the sky the water veers

- This probably refers to a fountain that shoots water in the air.  In 1981 there was one on the western side of McGovern Lake in Hermann Park.  It probably would have been visible from anywhere on the perimeter of the lake.

 

Small of scale
Step across

- This line is one of the most direct and useful clues in the whole book.  "Small of scale" refers to something that has been miniaturized but has kept the same proportions (the same scale) so it looks realistic.  And, as any train enthusiast knows, smaller versions of trains have a variety of modelling scales to maintain the appearance of a full-size train.  Hermann Park has one such miniature railroad.

 

- If the line said "step over" or "step onto," it could refer to the train itself or to any small model.  But the word "across" generally refers to something that stretches out for a distance on either side, like a river or a street.  And the phrase "step across" means that whatever we are crossing is no wider than a single step.  When combined with the line above, about "small of scale," there can really be no doubt: This line is clearly telling us to step across the tracks for the Hermann Park miniature train.

 

- The power of this clue is that it substantially narrows the search area.  The current train route goes all around Hermann Park, but the route in 1981 was much shorter and was restricted to the northwest, north, and east shores of McGovern Lake.  (See map below.)  If we are only told to cross the tracks once, our destination must be somewhere within that 1981 loop.

 

Perspective should not be lost

- One of the distinctive things about Image 8 is that it's the only painting in the whole book to use one-point perspective, where lines that would be parallel in real life converge to a vanishing point in the distance.  (The other 11 paintings are all essentially flat and don't show any depth or distance.)

 

 

-  This line might be telling us to stand in a place where we can see a similar effect.  If so, this is a very powerful clue.  The interior of the 1981 train route consisted mostly of open woodlands and there were very few places where one could see parallel, straight lines.  Our options for where to stand are narrowed down to only a few spots.

 

- This line could also mean that we need to move into a place where we see columns or other objects positioned in the same perspective as in Image 8.  The two most likely features would be the two mentioned here in the verse: the steam locomotive ("number nine eight two") and the fountain in McGovern Lake ("the spout").  Perhaps not coincidentally, those two features appear to be shown overlapping in the image.  The whirlwind around the genie resembles a fountain, but it casts a shadow resembling the smokestack of a steam locomotive.

 

In the center of four alike

Small, split,

Three winged and slight

- This is possibly a reference to a group of four elm trees.  Observers have reported that Hermann Park contains a group of four elm trees, three of which are winged elms.  It isn't clear, however, whether the trees were present in the park in 1981.  Current views of the wooded areas near the obelisk appear to show mostly pines and cypresses.

 

- The reflection pool at the park used to contain four small fountains, as shown here

 

What we take to be
Our strongest tower of delight
Falls gently
In December night

- This is a modification of a sentence from Pierre, or, The Ambiguities, written by Herman Melville in 1852.  The original sentence is "What we take to be our strongest tower of delight, only stands at the caprice of the minutest event — the falling of a leaf, the hearing of a voice, or the receipt of one little bit of paper scratched over with a few small characters by a sharpened feather."  This might tell us that we should be standing in a grove of deciduous trees that lose their leaves in December.

 

- The use of a Herman Melville quote here might simply be a hint to steer readers to Hermann Park.

 

Looking back from treasure ground
There's the spout!

A whistle sounds.

- The final lines might describe what one can see and hear from the treasure spot.

 

- The line "there's the spout" could refer to the smokestack at the front of the train coming into view.  It's possible that it refers to the train coming out of a tunnel.

 

- The "whistle" could refer to the whistle on the park's miniature train.

 

 

 

Hermann Park

  Diagram of the lake area in Hermann Park as it was in 1981.  The round building directly south of the lake is the Visitor Services building of the Houston Zoo.  Steam Engine 982 is just east of that, pointing to the west.  Miller Outdoor Theater is the purple shape just barely visible in the upper right corner.  The Atropos Key is at the top of the hill just north of that.  If the "small of scale / step across" lines refer to the tracks of the miniature train, then our destination must be somewhere within the gray line showing the train's 1981 route.

 

 

Aerial view of McGovern Lake in 2015.  The Pioneer Memorial Obelisk has been moved 50 feet south to the middle of the path.  The area between the obelisk and the lake has been developed into a lawn for picnicking.  Engine 982 and the fountain on the west side of the lake are both gone.  The edge of the lake has been reshaped and a boat rental place has been added.  New paths have been added and the tree canopy has been thinned.  Most significantly, new paths, island, and waterways have been added on the western edge of the lake.

 

Here's a 2010 video that shows the view from the miniature train as it travels eastwards over the bridge and passes south of the obelisk.  (Click on photo to connect to video.)

.

 

 

 

Hints from Byron Preiss:

  Before he died in 2005, the publisher of The Secret had two significant e-mail exchanges with a member of the Q4T website who goes by the username of "wilhouse."  The first e-mail explicitly confirmed that there was a casque in Houston.  The second e-mail was more cryptic about whether the casque was buried at Hermann Park.  Both e-mail messages are reproduced in their entirety below.  (For the sake of clarity, the words written by Preiss are shown in bold, blue text.  The snippets he included from each original e-mail from wilhouse are inside the < and > brackets.)

 

  • Email 1

    ----- Original Message -----

    Subject: Re: verse 1 the secret

    Date: Tue, 18 May 2004 12:58:49 EDT

     

    In a message dated 5/18/04 12:06:52 PM, wilhouse writes:

    <thx wilhouse>

     

    there is a treasure in houston. that's all i can tell you.

     

     

  • Email 2

    ----- Original Message -----

    Subject: Re: A final plea before it's too late

    Date: Thu, 7 Jul 2005 10:24:32 EDT

     

    it might be there...it would not be a waste of time to dig there, but I cannot make any guarantees whatsoever

     

    <in the children's zoo, it will be destroyed and I will be heartbroken.

    Can you at least confirm whether I am in the right location or not? We found the original article on the casque found in chicago and noticed that you did originally advise the Chicago finders that they were right. If I am in the wrong location, then the clues to the casque are gone and the hunt is over anyways. Any information that you would be willing to give up would be greatly appreciated.

    regards,

    wilhouse>

 

 

Other Notes:

  • The three things that have kept this search focused on Hermann Park are 1) the reference to "Nine eight two" (meaning the locomotive), 2) the words  "Small of scale" (meaning the small-scale railroad), and 3) the quotation from a work by Herman Melville (as a hint at "Hermann").
  • The Houston Chronicle has an article online about the move of locomotive 982 from Hermann Park to Minute Maid Park in 2007.
  • For historical photographs of the Houston area, check out the University of Houston Digital Library.

 

 

Comments (27)

Guardian said

at 3:39 am on Nov 25, 2015

1. Here's how I came up with an almost exact spot for the Houston casque.

Each item has as many as FOUR meanings. I'll explain how I got that on the page for Image 8. Likewise, there are FOUR ways of finding the same location.

Translation 1: Directions

Fortress north

This indicates to start walking from the Sam Houston Memorial Statue, which looks like a miniature L'Arc du Triumphe with the General riding a steed on top. Someone who has never seen it could certainly equate it with a fortress.

Cold as glass

The first translation is that this area is out in the open, and the buildings create a wind that cools off the area. In winter, this is especially bad.

The other is two literary references. "Anthem" is analyzed above, but I think "Roots and Branches" by Wilma Dykeman is intended:

"He went and looked. The natural bowl of water, surrounded on three sides and above by a ledge of rock and tangled webs of roots and earth, stood clear and cold as glass. Around the stream and beside the spring that flowed from it were beds if moss and galax, a resonant winter green, and the lines of other carefully preserved plants that bloomed in summer."

Galax looks like an all-green African violet and used to be all over Hermann Park, confirming the location. The rock hanging over a pool may have been there in 1981, and is one thing I plan to look for when I go down there. There is also a reference to Houston and Charleston, SC (Image 2) in the same sentence along with the phrase "Houston's oil fields", which is the link between Houston and Arabia.

Friendship south

I haven't found this quoted anywhere, so I think it just directs us toward the reflecting pool.

Take your task
To the number Nine eight two

We know this is the Southern-Pacific train. We don't go all the way to it, but as far as we can before the lake. Note that this puts us on the SOUTH side of the tracks.

(continued)

Oregonian said

at 9:10 am on Nov 25, 2015

Holy cow! I love hearing about new hidden literary references in The Secret! In this case, I'm sure you've got it right... or close to right. "Roots and Branches" was only published in 2001, so the bit about "Houston's oil fields" is just a coincidence. But the "cold as glass" quotation originally comes from "The French Broad," which was Dykeman's first book and was published in 1955.

Interesting how Rand uses "cold as glass" in a reference to railroad tracks and Dykeman uses the same phrase in a reference to a still body of water, and both literary references are appropriate for this specific spot in Hermann Park!

Guardian said

at 10:32 am on Nov 25, 2015

I couldn't find the date on "Roots and Branches", but I knew of older works, so I figured that was older, too. The two references certainly look good, though!

Guardian said

at 3:41 am on Nov 25, 2015

Through the wood
No lion fears

This is a reference to the train going underground for a short distance. It is correlated with a walking tunnel with windows on both sides looking out at the lions' den in the zoo, which has always been there. Trees were on either side of the train's path as it emerged from the tunnel, which I later learned was a safety measure. I took the train several times as a kid, and that was one of my favorite parts!

In the sky the water veers

A fountain on the west side of Lake McGovern (no longer there). The wind always sent the water off to the side; the same happens today with the fountains at the reflecting pool.

Small of scale

This is agreed to be a reference to the miniature train, as well as being able to still see the 982.

Step across

Cross the train tracks, again. We are now moving NORTH. In fact, Prius would have been between two sets of tracks.

Perspective should not be lost

Train tracks are widely used in art classes to teach perspective. The implication is to stay near the tracks. The double-meaning is that the treasure is in a straight line with two other objects.

In the center of four alike

This has to have something to do with something there in 1981 I haven't found, yet.

Small split
Three winged and slight

This area is relatively untouched, and there is a group of four trees, three being the same, here, according to Google Maps.

What we take to be our strongest tower of delight

The source of this is described above, and is does, in fact, refer to the Atropos Key.

(continued)

Julian said

at 8:41 pm on Nov 25, 2015

I don't remember the train going through the zoo or even close to it in the early 80's. The lion enclosure with the underground portion was built in the late 80's, a worker was mauled to death down there after a lion broke through the glass. There was an old spooky tunnel that the train passed through near the station. But I am not in Houston anymore so take that for whatever my memory is worth.

I think perspective should not be lost refers to the burial site when we step across the train tracks. Notice that the jinn and the totems are facing west. The jinn is looking over the spot of the gem and has his arms crossed. The old concrete walking trail through the wooded area intersected the train tracks. You had to step across the tracks to continue on the trail. I think we are supposed to see the spot with the 4 trees when we step across the tracks.

Guardian said

at 10:26 am on Nov 26, 2015

My family took me to the zoo all the time, and the train went right by the path leading to the entrance, but for only a few feet. I remember the lion mauling, but I'm sure the tunnel was already there because we went through it when I was a little kid in the '70s. I think it was the gorilla exhibit that was built in the '80s because I remember the construction signs with a picture of a gorilla on them, and when he died earlier this, year, they said he'd been there since the '80s, though they could have gotten that wrong.. I'm probably remembering the tunnel wrong, but I'm sure there was something at the end, either when the train came out or just before. The tracks definitely have something to do with perspective because of the tracks at D10 in the image, but I'm convinced things have to line up.

Guardian said

at 3:42 am on Nov 25, 2015

Falls gently
In December night

December seems to refer back to the Dykeman quote ("a resonant winter green"), indicating an abundance of galax. There may even have been a flowerbed nearby in the past. This could be why Preiss mentioned that none if the casques are in a flowerbed. Sounds like a stretch, but feasible.

Looking back from treasure ground
There's the spout! A whistle sounds.

If you took the right path, you would turn around to see the fountain and the 982. You would have been moving NORTH, and he was very specific in where to stop.

As I show in Image 8, the "spout" is actually the Pioneer Obelisk at is location before being moved. The obelisk would have been in line with the Atropos Key from the vantage point Preiss had, but the Obelisk has been moved and the view to Miller Theatre is now blocked by trees.

The rest is given on the Image 8 page.

Guardian said

at 9:04 am on Nov 30, 2015

I remember the lion-shaped water fountain in the upper if the pictures above. It was near the pen for one of the larger animals, and the fence marked off zookeeper's territory. I don't remember for certain, but I think it was the elephants. I don't remember the other fountain, so it may have been outside the zoo, and it also looks like it may have been outside from the photo. I have no idea when they were taken out, but it was before 1991.

Guardian said

at 9:12 am on Nov 30, 2015

I take it back. The fence marked off a walkway that led into a round building where large animals were kept on display on a temporary basis. There's no way to know what was there when this photo was taken, but there was a white rhino sometime around 1980 I wanted to see desperately, but never did. The building was torn down during renovations, probably the installation of the gigantic primate exhibit in the mid-to late-2000s.

Diane said

at 12:28 pm on Sep 10, 2016

The four fountains around the obelisk...

Oregonian said

at 12:33 pm on Sep 10, 2016

... were not there in 1982. See the Hermann Park History Page for more information.

bestauntie said

at 10:39 pm on May 29, 2017

I would like to propose a "meetup" of all the Houston searchers. We can meet at Hermann Park one weekend or after 5pm and 'walk' the various solutions together. Obviously, there will not be any digging at the time because we will need to get permission but perhaps we can come to one solid conclusion (with various great minds offering solutions) before we maybe present a dig site to the COH for possible approval. If you would be interested in meeting as a group (in a public place!), please email me through here or via email at mkfireflyunit@gmail.com and I can send details for a date/time.

Moderators-I do not know if this is allowed, please let me know if not!

Fenix said

at 9:05 am on Aug 2, 2017

Just to add to the posted email dialogue between Preiss and Wilhouse, Email 2 was referring to a very specific spot in the old Children's Zoo. This was not a communication asking if Hermann Park was the correct location. All of their dialogue was in reference to a couple of spots in the old Children's Zoo. In addition, I am quite sure that Preiss mentioned at one point that he could not believe that Wilhouse could not find the cask.

Oregonian said

at 9:34 am on Aug 2, 2017

If you know of other emails and can document their source, please share them. But what is publicly known at this point is very clear: Preiss specifically avoided ever saying that the casque was inside the zoo. He only would say that there was a casque in Houston.

The theory that Preiss would expect the searchers to pay admission, smuggle a shovel past an entrance gate, and then dig a hole in a crowded tourist attraction (at a spot where there is underground wiring) does not pass the most basic test of plausibility.

Fenix said

at 12:28 pm on Aug 2, 2017

I can only give you my take on a community I was part of over a decade ago. I haven't run across any familiar names here from that time frame so I thought I would share.

Wilhouse communicated with Preiss for 2+ years. Preiss was brief and somewhat cryptic in his responses but iI always felt like he had a respect for the people on Q4T and how they interacted. Wilhouse was referring to a very specific location in the email labeled email 2.. Preiss knew how much time he had spent in this location in the Children's Zoo. He was also aware that he had help from zoo employees. They even helped him dig at one point with a backhoe.

I cannot believe that Preiss would have let him continue to mount such a large effort in a location that specific. I honestly do not believe most understand the amount of time Wilhouse spent in that zoo, researching and digging. Preiss stating that "it would not be a waste of time to dig there" after several previous digs. Call me a nice guy but that would seem a bit sadistic to string somebody along at that point.

Oregonian said

at 5:01 pm on Aug 2, 2017

The only emails you're describing are the ones that are already shown on this page. And those emails very clearly do not confirm the Children's Zoo or the Houston Zoo in any way.

We already know (for certain) that Preiss enjoyed a bit of playful misdirection in his communications with searchers. Most notably, he told one searcher that he/she was "right about St. Louis." But no serious searcher now believes that there was a casque in St. Louis, Missouri. Preiss was actually giving a sly nod to the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. The bit about "it would not be a waste of time to dig there" was undoubtedly something along the same lines. Most likely he meant that doing a dig would allow the searcher to eliminate an incorrect solution and move forward to a better one. Preiss was immune to Wilhouse's pleading because he knew that the construction at the zoo would not affect the hunt, and the casque could still be found.

Dane said

at 8:49 am on Aug 4, 2017

the "it would not be a waste of time to dig there" email was sent 2 days before Preiss died. It was in response to Wilhouse's plea about the zoo being renovated. I personally agree with Fenix, that would be a rude method of misleading a searcher. At the same time, Preiss never seemed concerned with the construction. For a while this information had me thinking it was near the walls separating the zoo from the rest of the park. The only thing that has me thinking otherwise now is that we need to be able to hear the whistle from the mini train. That only sounds when it goes over a bridge, and there are no bridges on the route near the children zoo.

Oregonian said

at 1:22 pm on Aug 4, 2017

True, but it's not just a matter of being able to hear the whistle. Look at two lines from earlier in the verse:

"In the sky the water veers" - The only feature that could shoot water into the sky would be a geyser or a fountain. And the only fountain that we know of that goes above eye level (into the sky) was the one in McGovern Lake. It was out there in plain view, clearly visible from Engine 982 and clearly leading the searcher in that direction. We even know from the old home movies that the water went slightly to one side (i.e., it veered). It would make no sense for a searcher to reach Engine 982 and then ignore this clue and turn into the zoo, out of sight of the fountain.

"Small of scale / Step across" - The only plausible interpretation of this line that has ever been advanced is that it applies to the small-scale tracks of the miniature railroad. And in 1981, those tracks made a short loop on the north side of the lake, within sight of the fountain and the locomotive. If these lines tell us to cross the tracks, it means that the final location must be somewhere inside the loop of the train route. And that makes sense, because it's a place where Preiss COULD bring a shovel and dig a hole (unlike the inside of the zoo).

I know people are hurt that Preiss didn't more explicitly steer Wilhouse away from his obsession with the Children's Zoo. Maybe Preiss meant to follow-up later on, after Wilhouse did an unsuccessful dig and ruled out the spot. Who knows? The car wreck certainly left some things unfinished. But logic and evidence both suggest that searchers were meant to dig a hole in a semi-secluded spot inside the loop of the miniature train.

doghousereiley said

at 6:13 pm on Aug 4, 2017

I think it is best to read the whole of the emails which I do not believe are available. as I review the St Louid email Johann asked Priess about an exact spot in Tower Grove Park in St Louis. In Priess reply he DOES SEEM Priess to confirm the City of St Louis as location just not Tower Grove park or just the exact spot. Why is St Louis not in consideration?
What else did Priess say? I think you need the whole conversation. I believe Wilhouse was asking about a specific spot in the Children's museum Where is the "there" priess mentions in his email

Oregonian said

at 6:30 pm on Aug 4, 2017

St. Louis isn't in consideration simply because there isn't any image remaining that could go there. All 12 paintings contain very strong hints that tie them to a particular city or, at the very least, a state. One would have to ignore a lot of very solid clues to put any image in St. Louis, Missouri.

doghousereiley said

at 6:32 pm on Aug 4, 2017

and ignore the Author and sole person of knowledge emails too
Can we start a thread called "Shit Priess said" where any and all first hand info can be conveyed and researched instead os second hand retelling

Oregonian said

at 11:14 am on Aug 5, 2017

There's a history page on this wiki where I've tried to collect all the known communications from the authors and illustrators. Feel free to add if you know of something that isn't there yet.

http://thesecret.pbworks.com/w/page/87278728/History

Jaeden said

at 11:11 pm on Jan 31, 2018

Has anyone considered the possibility that "In December night" might be a reference to "The Twelfth Night" by William Shakespeare (December's the 12th, "Twelfth" month of the year). I did some research and found that Houston has hosted its annual "Shakespeare Festival" at the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park since 1975. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houston_Shakespeare_Festival

Each year they put on 2 Shakespeare plays that people can come and watch for free.

According to the Wikipedia page they did a production of "The Twelfth Night" in 1979 with Brett Cullen being one of the actors. It was performed alongside "Much Ado About Nothing".

In 1980 the Shakespeare Festival put on productions of "King Lear" followed by "As You Like It"

In 1981 (the year the hunt started) the Festival did "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (which fits with the Fair Folk), followed by "The Merchant of Venice"

Guardian said

at 5:48 pm on Feb 13, 2018

Just so everyone knows, the Glassell School has been reconstructed and will reopen on May 20. The new design is reminiscent of the 1982 appearance.

https://www.mfah.org/blogs/futuremfah/save-the-date-glassell-schoolbrown-foundation-inc-plaza-may-20

amy sabel said

at 7:41 pm on May 30, 2018

Hi thought I would peep in here for a bit. I'm not sure if this was mentioned before, can't seam to locate, but I did notice in the painting, there are 3 pillars in hte background that are straight and no base or caps? Yet the 3 columns in the forefront the largest ones, each are different in structure, they each have different bases and the columns are obviously different as well as their caps. I have no idea what it means or leads to? Also I have noticed that each of the large columns has a shadow , along with whirly man, except the one with camel? Again not sure if it means anything just an observation. However, the sun star is directly north but the shadows are east?? Wondering if it has to do with Perspective should be lost?? Any thought?

Mister EZ said

at 8:15 am on May 31, 2018

Not sure about the shape of the pillars....or, why pillar with the camel has no shadow. Sorry, haven't looked into whether or not somebody like willhouse figured that out, in the distant past. Still, those are interesting observations that probably have some meaning.

But, if that's the North Star...and, it's dusk....then, the sun sets in the West and the shadows would be pointing East...ish....depending on the season, NE or NW.

(Don't know if these observations belong more with the image 8 thread or not....)

Guardian said

at 3:26 pm on May 31, 2018

I noticed the camel pillar lacks a shadow, too, but I haven’t been able to figure out anything, not even a clue.

The star is actually a peri, as in the book, to go with the jinn. If it’s taken as the north star, it indicates the figures are facing west, which is probably a clue.

The seven pillars may indicate The Stage, which is along the west side of the reflecting pool. It has two pairs of seven columns.

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