Elk History


 The History of the The History of the Benevolent and Protective Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks 

The Origins of the BPOE: E. W. Platt, William Carleton, Richard R. Steirly, Charles A. Vivian, Henry Vandermark, M. G. Ash Frank Langhorne, William Sheppard, John T. Kent, Harry Bosworth, G. F. McDonald, W. l. Bowron, Thomas G. Riggs, J. G. Wilson, John H. Blume

 It was Friday, November 15th, 1867, when Charles A. Vivian, an English comic singer, landed in New York via an English trading  vessel from South Hampton. On the night of his arrival he dropped into the Star Hotel, a, Free and Easy kept by John Ireland on Lispenard street near Broadway. Richard R. Steirly, also of English birth, was a piano player at the Star Hotel. Vivian struck up an acquaintance with him and volunteered to sing a few songs. He made such an impression on John Ireland that the latter sent for his friend, Robert Butler, manager of the American Theater on Broadway. Vivian sang for Butler, making such a hit one each to Steirly and Vandemark, keeping the other for himself, He asked Cool Burgess to be the judge and Dougherty to count to three. They rehearsed the trick of each dropping his cork on the bar and picking it up as rapidly as possible, several times, the idea conveyed to initiated being that the last man to lift his cork was to buy. Vivian then gave the word of command, Dougherty counted, He and Steirly passed their hands over their corks while Vandemark, eager to lift his cork from the bar, was both first and last to pick it up, and consequently was stuck for the round. This was the first introduction of a delectable form of amusement which became popular.


 At about this time the Excise Law was being strictly enforced and wishing to continue their social gatherings on Sundays, when New York's blue laws prevented the opening of public establishments, devotees of the cork trick formed the habit of congregating at Mrs. Giesman’s on this day to hold social conventions under the inspiring influences of a stock of beer laid in the night before. This little coterie styled itself the Corks, with Vivian as the Imperial Cork. The revels of the Jolly crew meeting at Mrs. Giesman’s became disturbing to the other boarders and she finally required them to forego their Sunday gatherings in her house. Quarters were found at 17 Delancy Street, over a saloon kept by Paul Sommers, where the meetings were continued. The object of the Corks at this time was entirely convivial. It’s membership was composed of professional and semi-professional entertainers with a sprinkling of legitimate actors. Among the latter were Thomas Riggs, George McDonald, William Sheppard and George Thompson, a theatrical agent. When the cork trick was tried on McDonald it amused him so that he called the coterie the JOLLY CORKS, and as they began to meet regularly as the "Jolly Corks," it has gone down upon the pages of history. While the meetings were held with regularity, apparently no form nor substance resulted, except for the adoption of a toast to members of the group not in attendance. In the latter part of December just before the holidays, they were returning from a funeral of a friend, Ted Quinn, one of their number who had died, leaving his wife and  children destitute. This event gave rise to the notion that, in addition to good fellowship, the Jolly Corks needed a more noble purpose in order to endure, and serving not only their own in need, but others as well, would be appropriate. McDonald made the suggestion that the Jolly Corks become a protective and benevolent society. At the meeting held on the 2nd of February, 1868, presided over by Charles A. Vivian, George McDonald offered a motion to organize the Jolly Corks as a lodge along benevolent and fraternal lines and providing a committee be appointed to formulate rules and regulations for it’s government, prepare a suitable ritual, and select a new name. Vivian had in mind an English organization, The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalos, of which he was a member, but the majority were desirous of bestowing a distinctively American title upon the new organization. A committee visited Cooper Institute Library, where the Brothers found the ELK described in a work on Natural History as an animal, fleet of foot, timorous of doing wrong, but ever ready to combat in defense of self or of the female of the species. This description appealed to the committee as containing admirable qualities for emulation by members of a benevolent fraternity and the title ELK was incorporated in its report. 



  Two months after the death of Ted Quinn, on February 16, 1868, with a statement of serious purpose, an impressive set of rituals, a symbol of strength and majesty and such other elaborate trappings that might be expected of a group of actors and musicians, the new fraternal order was launched. On February 16, 1868, the committee reported, recommending that the Jolly Corks be merged into the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and the recommendation was adopted by a vote of eight (8) to seven (7). Listed below are those who voted for what name. 


For BUFFALO: Charles A. Vivian; Richard Steirly; M.G. Ash; Henry Vandermark; Harry Bosworth; Frank Langhorne; E. W. Platt. 

For ELK: George McDonald; George Thompson; Thomas Riggs; William Carleton; William Sheppard; George Guy; Hugh Dougherty; William Bowron. 

According to “A Biographical Sketch of Charles A.S. Vivian” by Imogen Hollbrook Vivian, some historians say, "W. L. Bowron was inclined at first to favor `Buffalo' but changed his mind and became the decisive factor in the final selection of the name `Elk'. Other historians say that the vote was a tie and that Vivian was finally brought around to favor the name `Elk' and cast the deciding vote from the chair." 

The Death of Charles A. Vivian

 This may sound familiar the age old division, are we a Lodge or a Club a fraternal society or a social gathering. It seems that was decided in June of 1868. With the beginnings of the B.P.O.E. a breech was opened between two factions within the ranks, which rapidly developed into a feud. On one hand were the legitimate actors, endeavoring to invest the new organization with principals and ideas in keeping with a benevolent and fraternal institution, while on the other were the semi-professional entertainers more in sympathy with the original purposes of the convivial Jolly Corks.  Charles Vivian was the leader of the latter faction. Although Charles 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. Charles 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. Charles 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 Charles 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 there is a tendency 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. It is reasonable to 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 thought by many that it was probably best that the starting days of the order were left in the hands of the "Professionals" of the day.  As far as can be learned from personal friends, Charles Vivian never claimed to have been an ELK. He did claim to have been one of the organizers of the Elks, which he was, but never took the degrees of the Order, and severed all connections with it a few months after it was born. Vivian continued, after his expulsion from the Order, to enchant audiences across the country. He starred with some of the largest road companies of the time. Together with his actress wife, the former Imogene Holbrook, Vivian set up a repertoire theater in Leadville, Colorado. 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. After the Order rectified this illegal act, a controversy arose as to whether Vivian was actually the founder of the Order. In 1897, a formal inquiry firmly established his right to this honored title. It is not known if Charlie ever attended another Elks meeting before he died from pneumonia in Leadville, 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 Charles Vivian as the Elks Founder, in 1889, under the auspices of Boston Lodge # 10 his remains were exhumed and moved to the 'Elk Rest' section of the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Boston, where he was given an appropriate burial as the Elks founder.

 Charles Vivian is credited with contributing the 11 O'clock toast to the Order of Elks.