The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE), often known as the Elks Lodge or simply The Elks, is an American fraternal order founded by Charles Vivian and friends in 1868. It was originally started as a social club designed to elude New York City laws governing the opening hours of public taverns. The social club was the Jolly Corks! There is so much more to being an Elk than socializing. Arguably, it is the people that make the difference! And so our amazing tale begins.
As we travel across the country, we as Elks members, try to stop into as many Elks Lodges as we possibly can. We always feel welcome once inside a lodge. What we have found is that not all lodges are as active as others. So I call ahead to make sure they will be open before we venture out. I like to collect a lodge pin from each lodge as they tell a story of the area the lodge is located in. Chief Paduke is on this lodge pin.
Well, this particular call I made to the Paducah Kentucky Elks Lodge took me by surprise! I called to inquire if they would be open as we were Elks visiting from out of state. I happened to get Andrew Harris, the Exalted Ruler himself, and he enthusiastically invited us to stop by.
After dinner in our RV, we happened to get caught up watching a documentary on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which was excellent, and it caused us to run late. We jumped in the car and headed out to Elks Lodge #217. When we were almost there, I got a call from Andrew asking if we were still planning to stop by? He said it was a slow evening and they were thinking of closing early but didn’t want to miss us.
Oh my gosh! How incredibly considerate and welcoming was this! We pulled in a minute later, explained about the captivating Kentucky Bourbon Trail documentary we were watching. That set Andrew off on sharing his bourbon experience, which is vast, with us. He lined up the best of the best bourbons he had and then opened each for us to smell. Each maker has their own style and it is evident in the very first sniff.
We learned “All bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon.” That is because of the percentage of corn required in the making of bourbon. It must be made from 51% corn in the recipe to be called bourbon. There are blends, single barrels and cask strength. Cask strength being the least diluted and the most true flavor you can get from a bourbon.
We narrowed down our sipping choices, from the sniff test we did, to these two bourbons. Both were excellent but we were in agreement ~ Four Roses was most pleasing to us.
Now that we had been educated on Bourbon the Jolly Cork way, Andrew took us on a tour of the lodge. All lodges have an interesting history but when you are in an older lodge (You can tell by the lodge number. The lower the number, the older the lodge) that’s when the history starts to take on a whole different level of interesting! The Paducah, Kentucky Elks Lodge is in it’s 125th year!
The lodge walls are covered with so much history that it is almost like an Elks Museum which transports you back in time. From the ceiling today hangs the original chandelier from the lodge in 1906.
They have quite an impressive collection of Elks Lodge pins from over the years for viewing.
There have been many famous members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks throughout history. Men like John F Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Clint Eastwood, Harry S Truman, Jack Benny, George S Patton, Will Rogers, Vince Lombardi, Bobby Jones, Mickey Mantle and Lawrence Welk.
The Paducah Lodge lays claim to their most famous member, Alben William Barkley. Barkley was a lawyer and politician from Kentucky who served in both houses of Congress and as the 35th Vice President of the United States from 1949 to 1953 under Harry S Truman. This lodge, like many others, has a memorial wall for all members who have passed away, our absent brothers.
In the Archives ~ Dusty books with pages curling hold the minutes of past Lodge meetings. We happened to open this one up to a meeting from 1915. The gavel and jewels are 125 years old and original to the Paducah Elks Lodge.
The Elks originally borrowed a number of rituals, traditions, and regalia from the Freemasons. The wearing of apron above, part of the wonderful historic collection in Paducah, is one of these traditions which has long since been discontinued.
The Missing Man Table can be found in the dining area of Elks Lodges and an MIA flag flies from the staff outside, so that our members and guests will never forget the sacrifices that have been made by America’s armed service members. There is great symbolism behind each item on the table.
The tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms.
A single red rose in the vase, signifies the blood that many have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our beloved United States of America.
A slice of lemon on the bread plate: represents the bitter fate of the missing.
Salt sprinkled on the bread plate: symbolic of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.
The inverted glass: represents the fact that the missing and fallen cannot partake.
A lit candle is reminiscent of the light of hope which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home, away from their captors, to the open arms of a grateful nation.
The empty chair is for the missing and fallen which are no longer present.
We had the rare treat to hear Andrew recite the 11 O’ Clock Toast for us. There is quite a long history behind the toast. When the original 15 Jolly Corks, seven of which 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 O’ Clock.
Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian, a comic actor and singer, was one of the organizers of the Jolly Corks, which would later become the Benevolent and Protective Order Of Elks. In England, he was a member of “The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalos” and so he drew upon some of the rituals and traditions of this fraternal organization going back to 1010 A.D. One of these traditions arose from the “Buffalos” 11 o’clock toast in remembrance of the Battle of Hastings in October of 1066.
In 1066, William of Normandy set a curfew law requiring all watch fires, bonfires, all lights controlled by private citizens that could serve as signals to be extinguished at 11 each night. This also served to discourage secret and treasonous meetings. 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.
But tonight it was said to end a lovely evening with fellow Elks, enjoying our history with a few sips of fantastic bourbon! Cheers!