Saturday, August 18, 2018

Old Masonic College Memorial

On May 18, 1934, I dedicated the replica quarter scale of the original building of the Masonic College of Missouri at Lexington, and the Memorial Columns erected at the four corners of the original site of that building, the replica occupying the middle of the site. This event took place on the eighty-seventh anniversary of the laying of the original cornerstone of the building in 1847.

Earlier in the year I had been notified that this replica was being erected as part of the Civil Works Administration program in Lafayette County by R. W. Brother Henry C. Chiles, who was Chairman of the C. W. A. for that county, and I had authorized the marking of the site by a suitable bronze memorial tablet in the name of the Grand Lodge, pursuant to the resolution adopted by the Grand Lodge in 1932 at the suggestion of M. W. Brother Denslow.

The Memorial at the northeast corner, consisting of three steps of stone surrounded by a brick column, capped with stone, was erected by Lexington Lodge No. 149 and on its east side the Grand Lodge Memorial Tablet was placed; on the north side is another memorial tablet placed by Lexington Lodge. The two tablets fully commemorate the Masonic College of Missouri.

The other Memorial Columns were erected by the City of Lexington, which had cooperated with the C. W. A. as the old College Campus is now a City Park. The one at the northwest corner commemorates the Battle of Lexington, September 12 to 20, 1861; the one at the southwest corner the Central College for Women, and the one at the southeast corner the Presidents and former students of the Masonic College of Missouri. Appropriate memorial tablets and pictures provided by the city, ornament these columns.

Following a luncheon in my honor, I opened a specific Grand Lodge in the Hall of Lexington Lodge No. 149 and the Masons in attendance marched in a body to the old College Campus. The dedication program was so arranged that the various addresses unfolded the history of the Masonic College of Missouri, the Battle of Lexington, of the Central College for Women and of the plan for the erection of the replica, etc. The occasion was a most interesting one and the Grand Lodge is to be congratulated upon the fact that all of the important and historic activities and events so intimately connected with the 6.47 acres of ground which were the campus of its College have been suitably memorialized. It is worth the while of any Freemason to make the trip to Lexington and see these things for himself.

Dr. Arthur Mather, and Dr. Z. M. Williams were in attendance and took their places on the dedication program.

Reprinted from 1934 Proceedings, Grand Lodge of Missouri; Frank C. Barnhill, Grand Master.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Thoughts Become Things

On a recent high-school tour, I saw a sign inside a classroom that read, "Thoughts become things." I like that idea.  I had heard it before, but I wasn't sure where.  I thought it might be a quote from an unknown person or something from a book or play.  I decided to research it and maybe use it in an article.

So I went where we always go these days to find out — straight to the Internet.  The first thing I ran into was this, from a Metaphysics site:

"Thoughts become things when they are given substance with feelings in the Mind."


It is true that thoughts can become things but it takes a whole lot more than "feelings in the mind" to make a thought — some might call it an idea — become a reality.
Good ideas are a dime a dozen; they really are.  World peace — there's a good idea.  Well, we've been rolling out "Visualize World Peace" bumper stickers for decades and we're still visualizing, aren't we?  

Every Master or even Grand Master comes into his term filled with good ideas and the intention to make Freemasonry in general or his Lodge in particular better by the time he leaves.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.
What are the secret ingredients that make things work?

Think about that… because you and I both I'll bet have sat through many meetings, in the fraternity and in business, where great ideas are kicked around. Those meetings can produce a gold mine of things we can do. Those are the meetings we walk out of feeling energized, but if the ideas are not put into practice nothing gets done.

John Ruark of the Masonic Roundtable and Robert Johnson, host of this podcast, have written a book that, like those meetings, is bursting with ideas.  You may have read the book. You may have told John and Robert it's the greatest thing you've ever read; but then, if you put it on the shelf and do nothing, they have wasted their time writing the book and you have wasted your time reading it.

You see, Brothers, the secret ingredients that make things work… that make thoughts become things… are action, dedication and hard work.  If we take the ideas from that inspiring meeting and do nothing or take the book It's Business Time and put it on the shelf, what have we accomplished?

Let's challenge ourselves to take a single idea from that great meeting, or just one of the chapters from John and Robert's book and put it into practice. That might not solve all our problems, but it would be a great start. Full disclosure: I'm doing this for Robert's podcast, but neither he nor John knew I was going to talk about their book.

Steve Jobs, you may recall, had a lot of good ideas; and he knew how to turn those ideas into a lot of good things.  I like his take about thoughts becoming things: "Most people," he said, "have a disease: they think once they've had a good idea they've done 90% of the work.  Coming up with the idea is easy. Working to make it a reality is the hard part."

Friday, July 27, 2018

Four Large Brown Dusty Binders

Jim Williams

Illustrious Brother James Williams was a Masonic Scholar. Missouri's representative to the renowned Quatuor Coronati Research Lodge, he maintained one of the finest private Masonic Literary collections anywhere.  Upon his passing in 2011, he left that collection to his Brothers in Missouri.  Sorting through the volumes, Brothers found four large brown dusty binders bulging with typewritten pages. Upon inspecting the material in them, the Brothers realized they had discovered a Masonic treasure.

Ray V. Denslow was arguably the most prolific Masonic author of the 20th century. Among his books were Territorial Masonry – the Story of Freemasonry and the Louisiana Purchase 1804-21; Civil War and Masonry in Missouri; History of Cryptic Masonry; The Masonic Fraternity, Its Aims and Goals; The Masonic Conservators; the History of Cryptic Masonry and on, and on. Not only does that list not scratch the surface, but it also does not include any of the dozens of pamphlets he authored.

Most Worshipful Brother Denslow served as Missouri's Grand Master in 1931-32, was a founding member and Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research, had a close friendship with President Harry Truman and served as Truman's emissary on Masonic missions around the world.  From 1942-1945 he served as General Grand High Priest of the General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, International.

 To that impressive Masonic resume we can add what he considered his crowning achievement — the founding of the Royal Arch Mason magazine in 1943. You may have heard of it. You might, in fact, have a copy of it sitting in your living room.

He passed his passion for writing on to his son, William R. Denslow,  best known for his iconic work, 10,000 Famous Freemasons.  He also passed something else along to his son: those four large, brown binders bulging with typewritten pages.

Brother Denslow, it seems, was a compulsive man.  At home, he lived at his typewriter and pounded out every minute of his Masonic journey — the good, the bad and, yes, the ugly. He left those binders with his son and his son, in turn, handed them to Jim Williams with the strict caveat that they were not to be published until everyone mentioned in them had passed away; and for good reason — Ray Denslow pulled no punches. 

The pages in this memoir record in detail his experiences as an author, a leader and Truman's personal representative as he operated at the zenith of the craft.  It is a study in Masonic politics at the highest level. It is a rewarding story of how Denslow made friends across the globe and worked to unify Masonry at the close of World War II. It is also a record of how he crossed swords with a few of the most powerful and influential Masons of his time.

Work on compiling and editing this material has been in process for over a year.  Now, over a half-century after his death, the Fraternity is about to see a new book — not about, but by this great Masonic author.

The Missouri Lodge of Research did not strictly adhere to the stipulation that everyone mentioned in the book must have passed away prior to its publication.  His granddaughter, Judith Denslow Ericson, and his grandson, William R. Denslow, Jr., are not only still around, but each contributed to the book.  His grandson Bill, in fact, helped with the editing process and is the Executive Editor of the manuscript, bringing the Denslow name to a third generation of significant Masonic works.

The first volume of this two-volume set, Ray V. Denslow's Masonic Journey, is now hot off the presses. The Missouri Lodge of Research will distribute a hardbound copy, free of charge, to each of its members at the Grand Lodge of Missouri's annual communication in September. Frankly, the best way to ensure getting a copy will be to join the Missouri Lodge of Research. Volume 2, as well as softcover and Kindle editions, will follow in 2019. It's a must-read for serious students of Masonic history.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


A fraternity that performs so many charitable acts is bound to be the target of fraud. Those impersonating Masons for financial gain and those appealing to Masonic charities under false pretenses have been around almost as long as the order itself. Today, with the Internet and mass media, word can spread quickly when a charlatan surfaces. In times past, such communication was slower and more difficult. In 1859, Rob Morris, founder of the Eastern Star, published "The Prudence Book." Updated annually, it was an attempt to publish information about impostors, but was discontinued after a short run. It was found easier to print and distribute "broadsides" as Lodges discovered impostors. Here is an example of one notice warning Lodges of an impostor from the 19th century. It reads (sic):

CAUTION! MASONIC Lodge OF RELIEF, MASONIC TEMPLE, Baltimore, July 24, 1877. A man calling himself "HERBERT SYDNEY," professing to hail from Langthorne Lodge, Stratford, Essex, England is an IMPOSTER. Information has been received from Langthorne Lodge that no such person is known there. DESCRIPTION. Height about 5 feet 6 or 7 inches: complexion dark: black hair and eyes: bald patch on top of head; hair somewhat thin: black mustache. Professes to be a portrait painter, and ruined by the fire at St. John's, Canada, in June 1876. Reports from Masonic Lodge at St. John's, say that no portrait painter of that name ever lived there, but there had been one named Sydney Herbert Gadsen. The Fraternity is hereby warned against this person, and is furthermore advised to have him arrested, if possible, for obtaining, or attempting to obtain money under false pretenses. He was in Baltimore about a month ago, and succeeded in swindling the Fraternity to a small extent. He then went to Washington, DC. He is believed to be now tramping about, victimizing Masonic Lodges, and the St. Georges Societies. ALBERT LYMAN., M. D., Secretary.

Even with the instant communication we have today, we can still encounter such deception. And I might add, that can work both ways — the Internet isn't exactly a fraud-free zone. I haven't heard many cases of men running around posing as Freemasons. There are, however other forms of deception. How many times have I heard the Almoner in my Scottish Rite valley say, "I denied the request for assistance. I'm certain it was fraudulent." Keep on your toes, Brothers, and guard the gates.

Monday, July 2, 2018

A Life-Saving Gift From The Freemasons

The port closest to London, Clacton-on-Sea, served as a major shipping channel in 19th century England. Weather, rocks and shifting conditions made it an especially treacherous place to navigate and, as might be expected, the waters there claimed many ships and human lives. In 1875, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England and later King Edward VII (1901-10), voyaged to India. Thankful for his safe return eight months later at Clacton-on-Sea, the Grand Lodge of England decided to make the port safer by donating a lifeboat in his name. With more than 4,000 spectators in attendance, they dedicated and launched the Albert Edward Lifeboat on July 10, 1878, amidst pomp and circumstance fit for the future King. An unknown poet immortalized the event with an official poem which said, in part:

Built from henceforth life to save,
Manned by crew so strong and brave-
Launch the boat with ringing cheer!
Honour the name to all now dear!
Honour the dead in the living son!
Honour the love so justly won!
ALBERT EDWARD," aye to be
The sailor’s friend on this Eastern Sea!

Honour “the Craft,” whose generous thought
So much of sterling good has wrought!
Honour the gift that they have given,
To save man’s life, if willed by Heaven!
Honour the true hearts ever found,
When storms and tempests rage around,
To leave their homes, where loved ones weep,
And brave the perils of the deep!

By the day of the dedication, the Albert Edward had already proven its worth. Delivered to Clacton prior to the official launching, the lifeboat saw its first action on May 23, when the ship Garland, on a voyage from Shields to London, ran aground and broke up. The crew rowed for three grueling hours to reach the stranded vessel and saved the lives of six men and three boys on board.

No one will ever know how many crewmen, most of whom were likely Freemasons, lost their lives in this dangerous service. However, the 1884 proceedings of the United Grand Lodge of England made note of the following:

"That the sum of 50 guineas (about $5,000 today) be granted to the family of the late James Cross and a similar sum to the family of Thomas Cattermole, two of the crew of the Albert Edward lifeboat at Clacton-on-Sea, which boat was presented to the National Life Boat Institution by Grand Lodge.

These two men, after having assisted, the first in saving 116 and the second 33 lives, having lost their own in the discharge of their duty on the night of the 23rd January last, whilst in their boat endeavouring to rescue the crew of a vessel in distress, leaving their families consisting of a widow and six children and a widow and three children entirely destitute."

For over a half century, from 1878-1929, the Albert Edward and its two successors of the same name, guarded the port of Clacton-on-Sea and saved countless lives. Today, Freemasons still take part in rescues there and at other ports. In addition the Fraternity regularly donates funds to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which oversees the lifesaving operations throughout Great Britain.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Suspended NPD — for Twenty-Five Years!

Over the years I've seen my Lodge and other Masonic bodies deal with members who don't pay their dues in a variety of ways. It seems there has been a progression of sorts requiring less and less of a financial effort for a Brother to return. Years ago I recall the NPD Brother had to pay the dues for each year missed, plus the current year's dues, to become a member in good standing once again. Then there was a period when the member in arrears had to pay just last year's and current year's dues. Now, for one of the bodies where I am a member, a Brother can re-join just by paying the current year's dues. If things keep going this way I guess we'll have to pay them to come back.

Of course, these men are our Brothers and we do, in fact, want them back; and there are good reasons why some don't pay — hardship and illness being at the top of the list. Every Masonic body I belong to always takes that into consideration and I have seen many meetings where understanding members remit the dues of a Brother who simply cannot pay.

Still, I think we're pretty lenient with NPD. My personal opinion is we probably should be. I mean, how many times have we heard it... "It's easier to keep the members you have than to go out and get new ones."

With all that in mind, I ran across something that really made me do a double-take — make that a triple-take.

I was going through records kept by a 19th century Grand Secretary in Missouri when I came across a list of suspensions for Missouri Lodge No. 1. The first half dozen entries were for a group of Brothers suspended July 2, 1868, for non-payment of dues. The first line made note that Brother William Stewart was suspended NPD for a period of five years.

"Wow," I thought, "five years — that's pretty stiff."

No, it turns out Brother Stewart got off easy. The next four entries were for members suspended for periods of 20 or 25 years. Twenty-five years for NPD! Now, that sends a message.

The sixth entry was for Brother Maximilian Eller, suspended for a period of 10 years. This line also contained a note that Brother Eller came back after the 10-year suspension ended and paid his dues.

In those records there were other Brothers suspended for 25 years, which seemed to be more or less the standard; but beginning in 1872, with only two exceptions, NPD suspension penalties were: "until paid."

So apparently, "until paid" became the new standard. One of those original six Brothers, Charles Eager, may have heard about this. Originally suspended for 20 years, the records indicate he returned in 1876 and made restitution. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine he went back to Missouri No. 1 and said, "Hey, look, I got a pretty harsh suspension for NPD but today you're letting guys off the hook if they just pay up. How about cutting me a little slack, too?"

I doubt he used that exact phraseology but they did, in fact, let him back in.

I have to conclude somewhere along the way Missouri No. 1 decided its penalties for NPD were excessive, and backed off. It's also possible the Grand Lodge somehow stepped in with different standards. Whatever the case, at that point those standards became more closely aligned with those we have today. We may never know why they made that change but it's possible they, too, discovered "it's easier to keep the members you have than to go out and get new ones." 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Little Get-Together

Each year in May when I make my annual pilgrimage to the Indianapolis 500 – a near-religious experience – my journey takes me through the Champagne-Urbana, Illinois region. There, in recent years, I've taken that opportunity to meet with friends from the area. We have lunch, share the experiences of the past year, exchange ideas and maybe even tell a tall tale or two. Freemasons all, the conversation usually has a lot to do with the state of the Craft, whether in our local lodges or with other Masonic issues in general.

Our small group consists of Todd Creason, Greg Knott, yours truly and this year, for the first time, Darrin Lahners joined us. While Freemasonry struggles with membership issues, our exclusive “order” has grown by 33%.

Todd is the founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He has written a slew of books on Freemasonry including three novels where some of the characters are Brothers, and has been named a Fellow in the Missouri Lodge of Research. Greg is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge 970 in St. Joseph, Illinois and is a director of the prestigious Masonic Society. Darrin just served as Master of St. Joseph Lodge 970 and this coming year will be Master of Homer Lodge 199. Darrin has written about some tough issues he faced as Master this year and the fact he's out to do it again at Homer emphasizes his dedication to the fraternity. That doesn't even serve as a “Reader's Digest” version of what these men have accomplished. Their full biographies can be found at

These Brothers are so dynamic, enthusiastic and have had so many successes I'm sometimes surprised to find they run into the same issues I encounter; but they do. We share those issues and try to work out what solutions and suggestions we can in the space of an hour or so.

I really look forward to this little get-together. It's nothing earthshaking. We're not going to solve the problems of the world in the small amount of time we have. Maybe its greatest significance is there are three – make that four guys – different ages, different backgrounds, different geographical regions getting together. If not for the bond of Freemasonry this wouldn't happen. I wouldn't know any of them and, although Darrin, Greg and Todd work at the same place they wouldn't know each other as well or perhaps at all.

I've seen this kind of thing happen a lot. We are a band of Brothers with common experiences and obligations. Knowing we share the tenets of Freemasonry brings us together like magnets. Just seeing that square and compasses pin on a lapel makes us want to know more about the man wearing it. It's not just a conversation piece; it represents the strong bond of Brotherhood.

This year's meeting came and went all too quickly. We finished our meal, posed for our mandatory photo and went our separate ways. Across the parking lot from the others, I barely could hear one of them say, “Meeting adjourned.”

That is until next year, God willing.