I've written a few articles here on the Midnight Freemasons blog about an incredible Brother who, in my opinion, was the 20th century's "Mason of the century." Most Worshipful Brother Ray V. Denslow was General Grand High Priest of the General Grand Chapter during the WWII years. He was the founder of the Royal Arch Mason magazine and served as its editor and publisher from 1942 until his death in 1960, at which time his son William, author of 10,000 Famous Freemasons, took over. Ray Denslow was also the world's foremost authority on international Freemasonry, and published the only complete account of the near-destruction of the Craft in Europe in the years leading up to WWII and its reconstruction following the war.
Those accomplishments are only the tip of the iceberg in Brother Denslow's Masonic resume. He was almost certainly the most famous Freemason in the world at the time, with the single exception of his good friend Harry Truman.
The shortcomings of each of us are borne out in the fact that our rough ashlars will remain so. We as Freemasons work daily toward the goal of the perfect ashlar, which seems always to lie just outside our grasp. The same was true even of a Mason of the stature of Ray Denslow. Immersed in human frailties, he had his share of doubts, conflicts, and battles… and one of those battles went supernova when the two most powerful Freemasons in the country went head-to-head. Their feud lasted for years, in an ugly fight in which Denslow was ultimately stripped of the 33°.
Denslow documents this brutal hostility in his memoirs, albeit from his own point of view; but he lays out the facts objectively enough that we can see both sides of the story. This account is spread over many pages as he tells of issues that cropped up over time. As a result, reading the books, it is difficult to see the intense impact of the story.
So I decided to take each of those incidents and compile them into an article. I intended it for the Freemason magazine here in Missouri and instead of just submitting it, I met personally with the editor and told him, "This is hot stuff. If you review it and decide it shouldn't go into the magazine, I will understand." So the editor reviewed and accepted the story. It was destined to be published for all the world to see.
A couple weeks later, I got a friendly phone call from the Grand Master. He said he liked the article. Then he said, "Steve… Steve… you know we can't publish this." I knew. And just as I had told the editor, I understood.
So I went to work on a revision. I toned some things down and threw in the standard disclaimer saying the article did not necessarily reflect the views of the Grand Lodge, the Missouri Lodge of Research, the Grand Line officers, the magazine, God or any individuals living or dead. By this time there was a new Grand Master. I met with him. He reviewed the article and gave it his blessing to be published. So the on-again-off-again publication of this hot potato was on again.
Then, I met with the Denslows themselves – Ray's granddaughter and grandson, and we talked about the issue. Not surprisingly, they saw things from Ray's point of view. I realized the publication of the article might embarrass or even alienate them after they had been so good in working with me as I edited his memoirs… and I didn't want that. In addition, let's face it, the whole episode was not Freemasonry's finest hour. So I called the new Grand Master and we once again decided not to publish the article. It's not like the story has never been told. I've just never heard it told correctly or completely.
So what to do with this thing? Well, here's what we're going to do. This September at Chicago Masonicon, I'll lay out the whole grisly story. What Denslow did that so offended the Scottish Rite that it yanked his 33°. Who his great and powerful nemesis was, and how this clash of the titans came to its imperfect resolution. I won't publish it, but at that meeting we'll sit down and talk about it… just you and me.
Bro. Steve Harrison, 33° , is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships are the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35 year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.