The Origin of the Order of Elks
Having been recently asked by more than one member, the question of how did this fraternal organization get its’ start? In answer to that question, I’ll try to set forth here a brief history of the BPOE.
Founded in 1868, The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is one of the oldest and largest fraternal organizations in the United States and American Countries. Strange as it may seem, credit for the founding of the Order of Elks really belongs to an Englishman who was never, himself, a member of the Order.
Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian, a professional vocalist, actor and comedian who came to New York City from London, England, was the central figure around whom gathered a few members of the theatrical profession.
Their first meeting place was a boarding house operated at 188 Elm Street, New York City, by a Mrs. Giesman; and it was a popular place. The male stars of the profession made it their rendezvous. Charles Vivian was an extremely colorful entertainer and attracted many friends who enjoyed hanging out with him.
It didn’t take long for those who regularly congregated at Mrs. Geisman’s on Sunday afternoons to resolve themselves into an organization, a loosely knit one, it is true, but nevertheless, an organization. According to all records I’ve studied, this occurred early in 1867.
Because a clever cork trick executed by Charles Vivian became the principal ritual in a hilarious initiatory program, the members, by mutual understanding but informally, named their entertaining order the “Jolly Corks.”
Soon the members found benevolence creeping into their activities and taking a more and more commanding part in their attitudes toward their fellow man and each other. About this time George W. Thompson, Thomas G. Riggs and G. F. McDonald became “Jolly Corks.” Brother McDonald offered a resolution that “we organize for benevolent purposes and that a committee be appointed to draft a constitution, by-laws, and a ritual, then to select a name for their organization.
After some opposition and debate, the resolution was adopted and Thompson, McDonald, Riggs, Billy Shepherd and L. Bowren were given the responsibility. From several suggested titles, they selected the “Elks” and on February 16, 1868, by a majority of a single vote, the name “Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks” was adopted. The ritual proposed by the committee was accepted and remained in force until 1893 when a new ritual was adopted by the Grand Lodge in session then assembled at Detroit, Michigan.
In spite of the new Benevolent organization, the “Jolly Corks” continued in active existence until at least 1869; probably longer, though there appears to be no record of its activities after that time.
Charles Vivian never claimed to be an Elk; never claimed to be the founder of the organization, and it was not until eight years after his death that the claim was made for him. He ended up in Leadville, Colorado, which was his final resting place.
On March 28, 1860, application was made to the State Legislature of New York for the issuance of a formal legal charter for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. It was refused. An application was then made to Supreme Court and was granted.
The Grand Lodge was created early in 1871. The first Grand Exalted Ruler was Brother George J. Green. Immediately afterward, New York Lodge asked for a charter. It was granted and New York Lodge became No. 1. Two days later Philadelphia asked for a charter. It became Lodge No. 2. In 1876, San Francisco was granted charter No. 3; Chicago No. 4; Cincinnati No. 5; and Sacramento No. 6. In 1898, Chico Lodge #423 was the 8th Lodge chartered in the State of California.
Hopefully this condensed history will be enlightening to our newer members as well as us old timers that may have forgotten.
Charlie Carroll, PDDGER, Lodge Historian