February 16th, 2003 was the 135th birthday of the BPOE. The Elks have an interesting History that started in 1868. I know many of you aren't real familiar with the early history of the Elks so this is something I thought you might be interested in reading about the Elks history.
An Englishman, actor and comedian by the name of Charles Vivian was the founder of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Many of the Elks philosophies and traditions can be traced as far back as the year 1010. You see, before coming to the United States Charlie was a member of a fraternal organization in England called the Royal and Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. The Buffaloes started around 1010, and there is considerable evidence that Charlie introduced many of their beliefs to the Elks including the 11 o'clock toast.
On Friday, November 15th, 1867, 22 year old Charlie Vivian arrived in New York on an English trading vessel coming from Southampton England. Being thirsty one of Charlie's first stops was a bar, or a "free and easy" as they were called back in those days. Being a friendly sort Charlie soon befriended the piano player, Richard Steirly, who invited him to sing along and help entertain the guests. At the end of the evening Steirly took Charlie around the corner to the boarding house where he was staying. There Charlie was introduced to a collection of congenial fellows including William Bowrun that he had known in England.
Charlie was a good performer and with-in days had a job working as a singer at the American Theatre on Broadway. Eight days later on November 23rd his piano player friend Richard Steirly came to watch his performance. After the matinee Charlie took Richard to Sandy Spencer's place, another " Free and Easy" located near by. At Sandy's someone suggested they roll the dice to see who would buy the next round. Charlie said he wasn't familiar with the dice but he would show them a new game. He quietly filled his friend Steirly in on the procedure and got three corks from the bartender. He got an acquaintance, Henry Vandemark to join them. They each had a cork. The object to the game was, at the command from the bartender, to drop your cork and quickly pick it up again. The last one to pick up his cork would be the loser and have to buy a round for the bar. They practiced this several times letting Vandemark win each time. Eventually when ready they called the bartender over to start the contest. When the bartender counted to three they each dropped their cork. Vandemark quickly snatched up the cork while both Charlie and Steirly left theirs lay. This meant that not only was Vandemark the first to pick up his cork but also the last and consequently the loser. This cork trick became a routine the group would play on anyone new. When they played it on a George McDonald he was so amused by it he called the coterie "Jolly Corks".
About this time the excise law was being strictly enforced and Sunday in New York was a very dry day. Devotees of the cork trick formed a habit of congregating at Mrs. Giesman's on this day to hold social convention under the inspiring influence of a stock of beer laid in the night before. This little coterie of 15 members styled itself the "Corks", with Charlie as the "Imperial Cork".
After attending a funeral together as the "Corks", George McDonnald suggested that the group become a "fraternal and benevolent society". Charlie agreed and called for a meeting to be held on February 2nd. 1868. At that meeting McDonnald offered a motion to organize the "Jolly Corks" as a lodge along benevolent and fraternal lines and that a committee be appointed to formulate rules and regulations for it's government, prepare a suitable ritual, and select a new name. This kind of an organization was not new to Charlie. In England he had belonged to the Royal and Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. They to were a fraternal organization along the same lines. Charlie offered up the Buffalo name but the group decided they wanted to find their own American name for their new organization. The committee worked diligently on a charter and by-laws. In their search for a name the committee visited the Cooper Institute Library, where the brothers found an Elk described as an animal fleet of foot, timorous of wrong, but ever ready to combat in defense of self or the female of the species. Thus the word Protective. The description appealed to the committee as it contained admirable qualities for emulation by members of a benevolent fraternity and the title "Elk" was incorporated in its report.
On February 16th, 1868, a meeting was held and the committee reported back to the group, recommending that the "Jolly Corks" be merged into the Benevolent and Protective order of Elks. There was considerable debate whether of not the group was to be called the Elks or the Buffaloes but after a 8 to 7 vote Elks won and the rest is history. At that same meeting the charter was read and by-laws endorsed approved and adopted. That night in a small room in New York 15 men gave birth to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. The BPOE was born.
It wasn't long before the social activities and benefit performances increased the popularity of the new Order. Membership grew rapidly. Elks traveling to other cities spread the word of the Brotherhood of Elks. Soon there were requests for Elks Lodges in cities other than New York. In response to these appeals, the Elks asked the New York State legislature for a charter authorizing the establishment of a Grand Lodge with the power to establish local Lodges anywhere in the United States. When the Grand Lodge Charter was issued, the founders then received the first local charter as New York Lodge No. 1 on March 10, 1871.
Over the years, the mission has been consistent, and the membership has become more inclusive. Today's guidelines for membership are that the candidate be invited to join, be a citizen of the United States, and believe in God.
The legacy of Charles Vivian continues to this day. As long as there are those who need help, the Elks will be there to give aid and comfort.
Unfortunately, early on there was a controversy within the new Elks order that I find it sad to report but it is part of the Elks history and therefore needs to be mentioned.
Although Charlie was the acting Exalted Ruler, then referred to as "Primo" the official election of officers for the BPOE was to take place at a meeting two months later in May 1868. Charlie was acting Primo and it was expected that would be elected to carry on as Primo. Many of the new Elks, including some former "Corks" thought Charlie's primary ambition was for the New Elks to be more of a social group, like the "Corks" had been rather than the benevolent group they thought it should be. Charlie was working out of town and unable to attend the elections held at their May 17th meeting. At that meeting the election was held and former 'Cork" George Thompson was elected to be Primo and not Charlie.
At the next meeting in June an attempt was made to summarily expel Charlie from the newly formed group but his friends objected. So vigorous were their protests that the meeting was adjourned and no further attempt was ever made in regard to expel Charlie, as he never afterwards sought admission.
One-week later Charlie's friends that protested so loudly were denied admission to the next meeting. Shortly there after, with out trial, notice of accusation, or any opportunity for defense Charley and eight others, six of which were former "Corks" were expelled from the order.
Although there is a fairly accurate account of this conflict in the Elk history books it is hard to get a true feeling of the controversy, not having been there. While I tend to be sympathetic to Charlie Vivian and his close friends one would have to wonder what the order would be like today if Charlie had been re-elected on that May night and he and his friends never expelled. When Charlie's friends were denied admission to the meeting they were told that only professional type people were allowed and they were undesirable. This makes one wonder what the differences between professionals and undesirables were in 1868.
I would suspect and conclude, reading between the lines in the Elks history, that 22-year-old Charles Vivian and his close friends were fairly heavy drinkers that liked to party. Even though they were responsible for the start of the BPOE, it is my thought that it was probably best that the starting days of the order were left in the hands of the "Professionals" of the day.
At any rate, to put a quick end to this part, in 1893 the Grand Lodge addressed the so-called expulsion of Charles Vivian and the others as illegal and void. It is not known if Charlie ever attended another Elks meeting before he died from pneumonia in Colorado on March 20th 1880 at the age of 34. He was buried there. Although there was still some reluctance by some to actually refer to Charlie Vivian the Elks Founder, in 1889 his remains were exhumed and moved to the 'Elk Rest' section of the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Boston and Charlie was given an appropriate burial as the Elks founder.
One of Charlie Vivian contributions to the order was the Elks' 11 O'clock toast. The following is what is written about that.
In regard to the Elks' 11 O'clock Toast and its origin, we have to go back long before the BPOE came into existence. One of the main contributions of Charles Richardson -- in stage name of Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian and founder of the American branch of the Jolly Corks -- was to deliver into the hands of newborn Elks the rituals and traditions of a fraternal organization started in England around 1010 A.D., the Royal and Antedeluvian Order of Buffaloes, to which he belonged prior to coming to New York.
The RAOB, or Buffaloes as we shall henceforth refer to them, also practiced an 11 o'clock toast in remembrance of the Battle of Hastings in October of 1066. Following his victory, William of Normandy imported a set of rules, both martial and civil in nature, to keep control of a seething Norman-Saxon population always on the edge of a revolution.
Among those rules was a curfew law requiring all watch fires, bonfires (basically all lights controlled by private citizens that could serve as signals) to be extinguished at 11 each night. From strategically placed watchtowers that also served as early fire-alarm posts, the call would go out to douse or shutter all lights and bank all fires. This also served to discourage secret and treasonous meetings, as chimney sparks stood out against the black sky. A person away from his home and out on the darkened streets, when all doors were barred for the night, risked great peril from either evildoers or patrolling militia.
The hour of 11 quickly acquired a somber meaning, and in the centuries that followed, became the synonym throughout Europe for someone on his deathbed or about to go into battle: i.e. "His family gathered about his bed at the 11th hour," or "The troops in the trenches hastily wrote notes to their families as the 11th hour approached when they must charge over the top."
Thus, when the 15 Jolly Corks (of whom seven were not native-born Americans) voted on February 16, 1868, to start a more formal and official organization, they were already aware of an almost universally prevalent sentiment about the mystic and haunting aura connected with the nightly hour of 11, and it took no great eloquence by Vivian to establish a ritual toast similar to that of the Buffaloes at the next-to-last hour each day.
The great variety of 11 o'clock Toasts, including the Jolly Corks Toast, makes it clear that there was no fixed and official version until 1906-10. Given our theatrical origins, it was almost mandatory that the pre-1900 Elks would be expected to compose a beautiful toast extemporaneously at will. Regardless of the form, however, the custom is as old as the Elks.
This is the original Elks 11 o'clock Toast thought to be composed by Charlie Vivian for the Jolly Corks and modified for the Elks.
The Original Jolly Corks Toast Now is the hour when Elkdom's tower is darkened by the shroud of night, And father time on his silver chime Tolls off each moment's flight. In Cloistered halls each Elk recalls His Brothers where'er they be, And traces their faces to well-known places Whether they stand on a foreign land Or lie in an earthen bed, Whether they be on the boundless sea With the breakers of death ahead. Whate'er their plight on this eerie night Whate'er their fate may be Where ever they are be it near or far They are thinking of you and me. So drink from the fountain of fellowship To the Brother who clasped your hand And wrote your worth in the rock of earth And your faults upon the sand.