Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks




Founded in New York City in 1868 by 15 entertainers. Membership embraced other professions in ensuing years.




This fraternal order was founded “To promote and practice the four cardinal virtues of Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity; to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its members; to quicken the spirit of American Patriotism and cultivate good fellowship.”




The Order of Elks is a non-political, non-sectarian and strictly American fraternity.  Membership in the Order is by invitation of a member in good standing. One must be an American citizen, believe in God, be of good moral character and at least 21 years old.  There are nearly a million members today in over 2,100 community Lodges.




The Order, along with our local Lodges, donates approximately $200 million every year in cash, gifts and time to make our communities better places to live.  The programs involve assistance to children with disabilities as well as physical and occupational therapy programs for adults.  We support Scouting, athletic teams and countless other youth programs.


Through the Elks National Foundation, established in 1928, we grant college scholarships, and administer the Elks National “Hoop Shoot” free throw contest involving 3.5 million children annually as well as a national “Soccer Shoot.”  The youth of our country have always been important to us. 


For this reason the Elks Drug Awareness Education Program was launched to warn primary grade students and their parents of the dangers of drug abuse.  Over 4 million pieces of free “drug awareness” literature are distributed each year.  One of the newest programs provides teachers and students in grades 4 through 8 with “SPIDER-MAN and the FANTASTIC FOUR” drug awareness comic books and lesson plans entitled “Hard Choices.”  The material has also been made available on-line via  This has been accomplished in partnership with MARVEL Comics.



Further, the Elks have adopted the Dictionary Program focused on the nations 3rd Graders by providing students in the classrooms with their own personalized students reference; for most their very first book.


We still honor America’s heroes as we continue serving our nation’s veterans.  Every Lodge observes Flag Day on June 14th.  This Elks tradition began in 1907 and was later adopted by the Congress of the United States as a national observance.


Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian

Most Elks know the story of the birth of the Elks – or at least the official story – but, in uncovering the actual facts, there’s a lesson to be learned on the true meaning of Elkdom.


Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian was an accomplished musical variety star when he landed in New York in 1867. He specialized in comic songs and funny stories and had begun to build a repertoire of stage roles from Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas. In the course of making new friends and contacts in and out of theatrical circles, Vivian introduced the “Cork Trick” to his latest acquaintances. All would be given a cork that each would place upon the bar. The last to pick up his cork, it was explained, would be stuck for the next round of drinks. At the signal, all hands would dart forward but only the one not in on the joke would actually pick up his cork making him the first but also the last to do so. The next round was on him as he would then look around for the newest mark to be initiated into the Brotherhood of the Jolly Corks. (B.P.O.E., p. 13)


When this group would gather to socialize, most often on Sundays when New York’s blue laws effectively closed the city down, they would often hear of one of their own being out of work or ill or having died. Vivian’s response to this was to suggest that the group meet more formally and regularly as a benevolent society. Thus, after meetings and discussions, was the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks born. Vivian was elected its first leader; Right Honorable Primo, presided over its earliest meetings, helped created its ritual, initiated a number of brothers into the First Degree of the Order and was presented a magnificent gold badge by the fledgling Order. (Detweiler, p. 15-18) (B.P.O.E., p. 24)


Soon after, however, a serious disagreement arose over eligibility for membership. Vivian felt strongly that all American males over the age of 21 years should be eligible; others felt that prospective members must be associated with the theatrical professions. When Vivian left New York to meet his theatrical obligations for a tour in Philadelphia, the matter had not been resolved but the date of the Order’s first fundraising benefit had been set for June 8, 1868. (Detweiler, p. 15)


Upon his return to New York and looking forward to performing, Vivian was infuriated to find that his name appeared nowhere in the program or posters for the benefit. Moreover, in dozens of advertisements in the New York Herald, the event was being called a “Colossal Minstrel Festival” (Vivian never appeared in blackface) offered by the “Performer’s Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.” (New York Herald – June 2-8, 1868) (B.P.O.E., p. 24,25)



At the June 14, 1868 meeting, Vivian made his objections known on the floor of the Lodge where an attempt was made to expel him from the Order. The protests of his friends and supporters were so strong that the meeting closed with no action having been taken on the question. (Detweiler, p. 16)


At the next week’s meeting, when Vivian’s closest friends and supporters attempted to enter the Lodge room, they found that the secret password for entry had been changed and that only those in opposition to Vivian had been given the new password. When questioned as to how this situation had come to pass, George F. McDonald, the newly elected Right Honorable Primo, replied that in the future none but theatrical professionals would be admitted into the Order. Soon thereafter, without notice of accusation; without trial or opportunity of defense, Vivian and eight of his closest allies were notified of their expulsion from the Order. (Detweiler, pp. 16-17)


Vivian, embarrassed and embittered, never sought admission to or associated with the Elks again – or so the story goes. (Detweiler, p. 16)


What would turn some of his former friends into such petty and vindictive enemies? Was it due to personal or professional jealousy? Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian was an incredibly attractive man. Never short of admirers among women, men had also sought his company. He had a well deserved reputation for being fun-loving and loyal. And it seemed to be so easy for him. His professional talents were such that, over the course of his career, his billing progressed from “Charlie Vivian” to “The Only Vivian” and “The Great Vivian.” Stores sold Vivian hats, Vivian collars and Vivian ties. His songsters, small bound collections of his most popular songs and stories, were available at all the best bookstalls. The sheet music for his most popular hits sold for .30 a piece or fans could purchase a copy with Vivian’s actual photo glued to the cover for .10 more. This at a time when a dime could buy three loaves of bread. In an obituary of Vivian, the Chicago Times of March 26, 1880, wrote, “No man in the profession had so wide a circle of admiring and warmly attached friends…..No man’s company was ever sought with more eagerness, or more thoroughly enjoyed….at once a brilliant humorist, a man of feeling, a scholar, a wit.” (Sketch - p. 71) Does this sound like a man who, when his feelings were hurt, would, embittered and angry, turn away from friends and principles long and lovingly held?


But with Vivian gone only one side of the story was making the rounds and soon there were those expressing doubts as to whether Vivian deserved the title of “Founder” of the Elks at all. Committees were formed and records combed to establish, once and for all, who deserved the title of “Founder” of the Elks. Most considered the matter settled when, in 1898, Meade D. Detweiler, Grand Exalted Ruler, presented for publication, his history of the Order of Elks which found in favor of Vivian. (Detweiler, pp. 18 - 19) 


His detractors had lost their battle to deny Vivian the title of Founder but, in the absence of proof to the contrary, the idea that Vivian, angry, embittered and alone, never associated with the Order or members of the Elks again, would become accepted as fact and repeated by all subsequent Elk histories. But now, we know, and can prove, that Vivian was a better man and Elk than that.


In 1878, one of Vivian’s best friends and fellow performer, Gus Williams (the American Star Comique) demitted from New York Lodge to found the Boston Lodge of Elks, No. 10. As the Lodge was being organized, the officers selected and degrees conferred, Williams knew that the first fundraising event of the Lodge would have to be something special. Something very special indeed.


On Thursday, January 23, 1879, the first annual performance to benefit the charities of the Boston Lodge of Elks, No. 10 was held at the Boston Theatre. The star of the event was the Founder of the Order of Elks, the Great Vivian. The event raised $1,962, which is equivalent to more than $39,000 dollars in 2005.  (Boston Theatre, p. 261) More than ten years had passed since he had been illegally expelled from the Order. But the pull of friendship and loyalty, his devotion to the principles of the Order he created caused him to waste no time in helping fellow Elks raise money to help those in need.


Nor was Boston Lodge the only example Vivian’s continued association with the Elks. In her memoir of married life with Vivian, Imogen Holbrook Vivian writes;


“I very particularly recall to mind one evening during that stay in Chicago after having devoted several hours each evening at the close of his professional duties for a number of successive nights to the Elks Club, which he had previously organized there, he decided to escort me directly home from the theatre and remain, saying nothing should call him away again that evening; but just as we were comfortably seated at our supper, which had been previously ordered, a messenger arrived with a hurry call from the Lodge, urging Mr. Vivian’s immediate appearance; to which he replied that he would remain at home that evening. We had just turned out attention to the reading aloud from a book in which we were mutually interested, when a second messenger was announced with a note from the lodge with this more forcible than elegant wording: “For Heaven’s sake, Vivian, come, come quick, for we are all dead, Come quick and bring us back to life again.” Mr. Vivian appealed to me to know how to settle the matter. I said very generously, “Go.” And thus ended our pleasant evening at home. Sketch - Pp. 68-69


Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian inspired the creation of this country’s foremost charitable fraternity. Now, in Elkdom’s 138th year, we have proof that Vivian put aside his ill treatment; forgot an insult; forgave his enemies and continued to work to help those less fortunate than himself. Can’t all Elks continue to learn from the Founder’s example?


The Jolly Corks

Compiled by Janneyne L. Gnacinski

Sometime around 1898


When any organization has attained national importance and celebrity, it is natural to conduct an investigation of all attainable facts in the annals of its origin and incipient stages. The unusual name given to one organization at its formation and the lifestyle of the founder have prompted me to share with AFRA readers the data about the organization’s early history, which was published in book form in March of 1898.


On a Friday, in the fall of 1867, Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian, the son of an English clergyman, who had been a comic singer in England, landed in New York from an English trading vessel. On the afternoon of the same day he found his way to the old “Star Hotel,” a celebrated free and easy, but very respectable chop-house, kept by John Ireland, on Lispenard Street, near Broadway. Richard Steirly was the pianist to this place, and whilst he was engaged for the singing of some parties who were present, Vivian volunteered to sing a song for the company. He sang “Jimmy Riddle, Who Played A Fiddle, with which the proprietorship was so much pleased that he pressed him to sing other songs. After Vivian had sung three additional songs, with great success, Ireland sent for Bob Butler, of the American Theater, No. 472 Broadway, who was so delighted with the very superior voice of the stranger that he immediately engaged him for a week.


Steirly invited Vivian to take dinner on Saturday at his boarding house, kept by Mrs. Giesman, at No. Elm 188 Elm Street. Having been introduced to Mrs.Geisman and also meeting W.L. Bowron, whom he knew in England, Vivian was so well impressed with the place that he remained there permanently. Mrs. Geisman’s house was at that time a favorite resort with a number of choice spirits, amongst whom were several musicians and others connected with the theatrical profession. At that time the excise laws of New York were very stringent, in consequence of which Vivian and a number of congenial associates were in the habit of assembling in the boarding house parlors on Sunday afternoon for the purpose of spending the time in social intercourse. On one of these occasions, Vivian suggested that their association be given a more permanent and tangible form, which proposition was enthusiastically received, the organization being made early in the winter of 1867-68.


The social society thus formed was termed the “Jolly Corksin allusion to a trick which Bros. Vivian and William Lloyd Bowron had learned in England, and which they had practiced, with infinite amusement to all concerned upon their associates in the social gatherings. Vivian was the first “Imperial Cork,as the presiding officer was designated. The organization was patterned largely after the “Buffaloes,a popular social and benevolent order in England, of which Vivian had been a member. The “Corkswere not a benevolent society.


Of the fifteen original “Jolly Corksthe following are not (1898) living. Their business vocations as well as present resident addresses are herewith appended for the information of the brotherhood.

Richard R. Steirly, pianist and teacher, No. 349 Hudson Avenue, West Hoboken, a member of

          Hoboken, No. 74.

John T. Kent, clerk, No,. 233 Montgomery St., Jersey City, a member of Jersey City No. 211.

Harry Vandermark, clerk, Mills Hotel, N.Y.

E.W. Platt, clerk, 610 East 138th Street, N.Y.

Harry Bosworth, clothing business, Fourth Avenue and Eighth Street, N.Y., residence, Hallett’s

          Point, Astoria, Long Island.

John H. Blume, who was a clerk in Pettingill’s Advertising Agency, residence, No. 411, North

          Twenty-seventh Street, N.Y.

Frank Langhorn, photographer, Plainfield, N.J.

William L. Bowron, leader of the Fourteenth Street Theater orchestra, N.Y.  A member of New                           York No. 1

Thomas G. Riggs, actor, now residing in Australia.

The deceased members are:

Charles Algernon Vivian, comic singer.

M.G. Ashe, Photographer, who died in New Orleans of yellow fever in 1868.

William Carlton, Irish comedian.

William Sheppard, Negro minstrel.

George F. McDonald, Actor

J.W. Wilton, wood-turner. In Wilton’s case there has never been any positive intelligence of

          death, but he has not been heard from for a period of fifteen years. It was he who made

          the original small ebony gavel, which is now in the possession of the G.E.R. for the

          purpose of being handed over, at New Orleans, to the Grand Lodge for perpetual



The popularity of the new organization soon caused it to overtax the capacity of the boarding house parlors. Accordingly new quarters were secured in a portion of the building, No. 17 Delancey Street. Continuing to grow in numbers and financial strength, steps were taken for placing the new society on a more enduring basis than that of the first crude beginning. It seemed necessary to secure a more dignified title than the one first adopted, and the proper selection became a matter of grave consideration. The members of the committee to select a new name were Charles Vivian, Richard Steirly, Thomas G. Riggs, Harry Vandermark and George F. McDonald.


Vivian, mindful of the English society of which he had been a member, favored the name of “Buffaloes,but the majority were desirous of a designation purely American in its suggestions, and finally, on Sunday, February 16,1868, the name of “Elkwas adopted by a vote of 6 to 7, whereupon Thomas Riggs arose and said, he was glad to be an Elk, as he had been born on Elk Street, in the city of Buffalo. (Note: One can’t help but wonder if the name Buffalo was not selected because of it’s use in England. If any animal was purely American in its suggestion, it was the Buffalo, whose numbers in America have been estimated to be from 30,000,000 to 60,000,000, and in 1870 were approximately 5,000,000.)

For BUFFALO :Charles A. Vivian; Richard Steirly; M.G. Ash; HenryVandermark; 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.

There can be no doubt but that the date given above is correct as the natal period of the B.P.O.E. This is shown both by the date upon the original Constitution and also upon the first banner carried by the Order. As a further and complete confirmation, the first certificate given to Devout Elders in 1871 contains this date, likewise the original charters of New York and Philadelphia Lodges.


The first printed copy of the Constitution, rules and regulations adopted (1868) is a little black book of twelve pages, 2 ½ x 3 inches in size…Photographed pages then taken were subsequently published in the Antler. It can be found in the latter publication on page 28 of Vol. 1, NO 3, August 1895.




The Death of Charles A. Vivian

Before passing from this branch of the resume of Elks History, it will not be inappropriate to mention the death of Brother Vivian. 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, and when he appeared for the second degree on 14 June 1886, the professionals who were in command ordered a ballot and he was rejected. At the same time a number of Vivian's friends were barred from the meeting and afterwards declared expelled. This incident ended Vivian's connection with the B.P.O. Elks. He died in Leadville, Colorado, March 20, 1880, twelve years later, of Pneumonia. On April 28, 1889, the remains of Charles Vivian were exhumed and taken to Boston, under the auspices of Boston Lodge # 10, where they rest in Mt. Hope Cemetery. As far as can be learned from personal friends, 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 he never took the degrees of the Order, and severed all connections with it a few months after it was born.