1939 – 1940 Lester Dent, Master Mason

What is Freemasonry? A brief definition is an organization of men believing in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, using the builder’s tools as symbols to teach basic moral truths, thereby impressing upon the minds of its members the cardinal virtues of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth which they should apply to everyday activities.

Many persons have heard of Masons or Freemasons but to some it is a mysterious secret organization. It is true that there are Masonic rituals accessible only to members of the fraternity but it is not a secret organization. Masonic lodges are founded on the cornerstone of charity and sponsor many benevolent organizations including orphanages and hospitals. The fraternity descends from the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem (Knights of Malta) who helped and aided pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem during the Crusades. Many famous men have been masons such as President George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead, Union Captain Henry H. Bingham, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Harry S. Truman, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, and U.S. Luna Astronaut Edwin E. (Buzz) Aldrin.

What does all this have to do with Lester Dent and Doc Savage? Lester Dent was a Freemason and was a member of La Plata Lodge #237, F&AM of La Plata, Missouri.  Lester Dent petitioned for Membership on May 11, 1939. He received the Entered Apprentice Degree on June 8, 1939. On September 28, 1939, he received the Fellowcraft Degree. Finally on April 25, 1940 Dent completed his quest for enlightenment with the Master Mason Degree.

Aside from being a Mason, Dent was foremost a writer. He was contracted by Street & Smith Publications to be the chief writer for a new character they were coming out with Doc Savage. It would be an adventure magazine documenting the exploits of Clark Savage, Jr. or Doc Savage, as his fans came to know him. Throughout 181 adventures Doc Savage saved nations, foiled diabolical plots, and established himself as a shining example of the best of what mankind had to offer.

The Masonic influence in the Doc Savage novels is characterized in several ways. The enormous amount of charitable deeds Doc performed or sponsored is one example. Throughout his exploits Doc would often stop to help someone a small child who needed an eye operation, an old woman in need of assistance. Usually the individuals to whom Doc Savage stretched forth the hand of charity were women and children. This is another Masonic trait as Masonry promotes a strong belief in aiding widows and orphans.

There are many other clues to Doc Savage’s Masonic heritage. In The Land of Terror Doc Savage accepts a reward for thwarting a bank robbery. The money goes to soup kitchens throughout the city to feed the hungry. In Pirate of the Pacific Doc refuses a large reward, instead the money is used to build a large hospital and also to provide a trust fund for its operation.  Patients will only be charged what they can afford.

All throughout his career of righting wrongs and protecting the weak, Doc never accepts payment for personal gain. Instead, any rewards were used for the benefit of mankind. Doc frequently uses the term “brothers” when referring to his friends. This is a common form of address within a Masonic hall used by one member to another. Doc Savage has an enormous reluctance to take human life. Regularly he puts himself at risk due to this reluctance when it would have been relatively easy for him to kill the person attempting to cause him harm.

One story in particular, Resurrection Day, has some peculiar traits. In the story it is revealed that Doc Savage has refined just enough of a rare drug to bring one person back to life. Committees are formed to pick a worthy candidate. First we are led to believe the candidate for resurrection is Thomas Jefferson. The next name mentioned is George Washington. Finally, Thomas A. Edison is mentioned. It is notable that each of these three men was a mason. Finally Doc announces the committee’s decision: Solomon is the man to be resurrected. Solomon, King Solomon from the bible is the choice for resurrection. King Solomon is a central figure in Masonic lore, and freemasons, unlike most people of the time, would naturally think this a logical choice.

Early on in the story, two of Doc’s aides are arguing: Doc glanced at Monk, and the homely chemist at once declared, “Ham’s a liar, as usual! My conscience is as pure and white as as “. The statement remains unfinished but as pure and white as what one wonders. Perhaps a Lambskin or White Leather apron?

In fact, there is a written Masonic lecture about the white apron of which a portion is shown here – The Lambskin or White Leather apron is itself an emblem of innocence and the Badge of a Mason,…. Let its pure and spotless surface be to you an ever-present reminder of “purity of life and rectitude of conduct, a never-ending argument for nobler deeds, for higher thoughts, for greater achievements. This would seem to fit well with the statement Monk is making.

One of the dignitaries involved with the selection process is a United States Senator by the name of Gustall Moab Funston. The middle name is what got my attention since Moab was the son of Lot and his eldest daughter an imperfect union to say the least. Perhaps by using this name Dent is telling us here that what is happening in the story is not quiet legitimate from a moral point of view.

Resurrection Day is very interesting from a Masonic perspective as King Solomon is a central figure in Masonic lore. Likewise resurrection is another Masonic theme.

It is remarkable to note that this story and the other examples cited were written before Dent joined the Masonic Lodge in La Plata. The most likely scenario is that the young Dent had access to a Masonic book. It is reported that he was a voracious reader. Indeed, all of the Masonic characteristics depicted in the stories are of the sort that are known outside of the lodge hall and are often documented in Masonic handbooks. What is most noteworthy is the fact that Lester Dent did become a Master Mason.

Doc Savage resembles nothing so much as a Grand Master of the Knights Templars. Historically members of this order took vows of personal poverty and chastity and swore to hold all their property in common. Doc Savage certainly seems to fit this description. He never marries, and although he possesses the wealth of Midas, we never read of it being used for his own personal pleasure. Indeed, to all appearances, Doc seems to lead a rather austere life, foregoing many of its everyday delights. The fortune he controls is used for the exclusive benefit of the human family. His five aides are knights devoted to his service.

Special thanks to Brother Zel Eaton, Editor of The Missouri Freemason, and the Grand Lodge Staff for their assistance with Brother Dent’s Masonic history.