Brigantine Elks – The story of how the Elks began

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Elks Elks

If you recall, last week I explained what the Brigantine Elk Lodge has done over the years to help our community. Continuing in that vein, let us go nationwide. 

The Elks is a uniquely American organization. Today, there are over 2,000 Lodges, scattered throughout all 48 continental states, Alaska, Hawaii, and all of our territories and former territories, with a membership of around a million men and women of every race, creed, and color. 

Now for a little history so you can know us better. The Elks started back in 1868 as a small group of actor and musician friends in New York City, who met on Sundays in the parlor of one of the boarding houses in which one of them lived. In order to circumvent the Blue Laws, each would bring something to eat or drink, such as wine, whiskey, beer, cheese, bread or cold meats. Word got around, and as the group grew larger, they had to start renting halls for their weekly get-togethers (meetings). 

One day it was noticed that a member of the group was missing. It was because he was out of work and his wife was sick. They passed the hat to help them out. So began the tradition of charitable deeds. As I related, they were actors and musicians, and as such they had to tour with their troupes. As they went town to town, they continued their Sunday meetings and attracted new members to the group, now calling themselves the Jolly Corks. Huh? Well, back in those days when they performed, they wore blackface. Seems that the charred end of a cork from an empty wine bottle made cheap and easily applied makeup; voila, the Jolly Corks.

Around the turn of the century, the group had grown so large that it was decided that a constitution and by-laws were needed to bind the individual groups together. A convention was called to meet in San Francisco to determine such a document. During the course of business, it was suggested that they determine a more dignified name for their organization. ‘The Benevolent and Protective Order of…’ was determined, but what should the final word be?

Names were bandied about, something uniquely American. Turkeys, Raccoons (no Ralph Kramden), Bison, etc. Finally someone suggested the Wapiti. The what, they asked? Wapiti is the Native American name for the elk. Elks! Yes! From that day hence we became the B.P.O. Elks. 

The practice of charitable giving was written into the by-laws with the establishment of the Elks National Foundation, the ENF. A trust fund was begun with donations and it was mandated that only the interest be used for giving, none of the principal was ever to be touched. Well, that fund has grown over the years with wise management into our golden nest egg that we call the Great Heart of Elkdom. Since then, we have given away over $4 billion in scholarships, aid to our veterans, handicapped children and other causes.

Did you know that there is only one organization that gives away more money than the Elks annually? Care to guess? Yes, it is the Federal Government. The big difference though, is we ask and work for the money, we don't just take it. So, as Paul Harvey used to say, "Now you know the rest of the story."


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