Charles Vivian was a good performer and with-in days had a job working as a singer at the American Theatre on Broadway. Eight days later on November 23rd his piano player friend Richard Steirly came to watch his performance. After the matinee Charles took Richard to Sandy Spencer's place, another " Free and Easy" located near by. At Sandy's someone suggested they roll the dice to see who would buy the next round. Charles said he wasn't familiar with the dice but he would show them a new game. He quietly filled his friend Steirly in on the procedure and got three corks from the bartender. He got an acquaintance, Henry Vandemark to join them. They each had a cork. The object to the game was, at the command from the bartender, to drop your cork and quickly pick it up again. The last one to pick up his cork would be the loser and have to buy a round for the bar. They practiced this several times letting Vandemark win each time. Eventually when ready they called the bartender over to start the contest. When the bartender counted to three they each dropped their cork. Vandemark quickly snatched up the cork while both Charles and Steirly left theirs lay. This meant that not only was Vandemark the first to pick up his cork but also the last and consequently the loser. This cork trick became a routine the group would play on anyone new. When they played it on a George McDonald he was so amused by it he called the coterie "Jolly Corks".
About this time the excise law was being strictly enforced and Sunday in New York was a very dry day. Devotees of the cork trick formed a habit of congregating at Mrs. Giesman's on this day to hold social convention under the inspiring influence of a stock of beer laid in the night before. This little coterie of 15 members styled itself the "Corks", with Charles as the "Imperial Cork".
After attending a funeral together as the "Corks", George McDonnald suggested that the group become a "fraternal and benevolent society". Charles agreed and called for a meeting to be held on February 2nd, 1868. At that meeting McDonnald offered a motion to organize the "Jolly Corks" as a lodge along benevolent and fraternal lines and that a committee be appointed to formulate rules and regulations for it's government, prepare a suitable ritual, and select a new name. This kind of an organization was not new to Charles. In England he had belonged to the Royal and Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. They to were a fraternal organization along the same lines. Charles offered up the Buffalo name but the group decided they wanted to find their own American name for their new organization. The committee worked diligently on a charter and by-laws. In their search for a name the committee visited the Cooper Institute Library, where the brothers found an Elk - described as an animal fleet of foot, timorous of wrong, but ever ready to combat in defense of self or the female of the species. Thus the word Protective. The description appealed to the committee as it contained admirable qualities for emulation by members of a benevolent fraternity and the title "Elk" was incorporated in its report.
On 16 February 1868, a meeting was held and the committee reported back to the group, recommending that the "Jolly Corks" be merged into the Benevolent and Protective order of Elks. There was considerable debate whether of not the group was to be called the Elks or the Buffaloes but after a 8 to 7 vote Elks won and the rest is history. At that same meeting the charter was read and by-laws endorsed approved and adopted. That night in a small room in New York 15 men gave birth to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.
It wasn't long before the social activities and benefit performances increased the popularity of the new Order. Membership grew rapidly. Elks traveling to other cities spread the word of the Brotherhood of Elks. Soon there were requests for Elks Lodges in cities other than New York. In response to these appeals, the Elks asked the New York State legislature for a charter authorizing the establishment of a Grand Lodge with the power to establish local Lodges anywhere in the United States. When the Grand Lodge Charter was issued, the founders then received the first local charter as New York Lodge No. 1, on March 10, 1871.
The Original Jolly Corks Toast
Now is the hour when Elkdom's tower
is darkened by the shroud of night,
And father time on his silver chime
Tolls off each moment's flight.
In Cloistered halls each Elk recalls
His Brothers where'er they be,
And traces their faces to well-known places
In the annals of memory.
Whether they stand on a foreign land
Or lie in an earthen bed,
Whether they be on the boundless sea
With the breakers of death ahead.
Whate'er their plight on this eerie night
Whate'er their fate may be
Where ever they are be it near or far
They are thinking of you and me.
So drink from the fountain of fellowship
To the Brother who clasped your hand
And wrote your worth in the rock of earth
And your faults upon the sand.
To Our Absent Brothers.
Over the years, the mission has been consistent, and the membership has become more inclusive. Today's guidelines for membership are that the candidate be invited to join, be a citizen of the United States, and believe in God.t