Long before the Elks came to be, the custom of recognizing the hour of eleven as a time of foreboding and retrospect existed.
The Royal and Antedeluvian Order of Buffaloes, an English fraternal group started in 1010 AD, practiced a custom of the 11 O'clock toast. They did it in remembrance of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The victor, William of Normandy, had set a curfew of 11:00pm. At this time, all lights had to be doused or shuttered and all fires banked. This served to discourage the secret meetings of rebels, the sparks from a fire easily seen against the night sky by the watchtowers. A person out after this hour was also in peril from evil doers or patrolling militia. The hour of eleven quickly took on a somber tone. In the centuries that followed, it became a synonym for someone on their deathbed or about to go into battle.
Thus, when Charles Algernon Sydney Vivian, founder of the American branch of the Jolly Corks and English by birth, started a group here, the tradition continued.
On February 16, 1868, when the 15 Jolly Corks (7 not native born Americans) voted to start a more formal and official organization, the sentiment of the mystic hour of eleven was well known. It was not strange that they continued the ritual of the Buffaloes and toasted their absent members at that hour.
There were a great many Eleven O'Clock toasts through the years. Given our theatrical heritage in the Jolly Corks, early members were probably quite adept at composing a beautiful, off the cuff toast. There was no fixed and official version till the 1906-1910 era. Regardless of the form, the custom predates our group and is a beautiful and fitting tribute to our absent members.
These toasts remind us to remember our members . . .
Eleven O'Clock Toast
You have heard the tolling of 11 strokes.
This is to remind you that with Elks,
the hour of 11 has a tender significance.
Wherever Elks may roam,
whatever their lot in life may be,
when this hour falls upon the dial of night,
the great heart of Elkdom swells and throbs.
It is the golden hour of recollection,
the homecoming of those who wander,
the mystic roll call of those who will come no more.
Living or dead,
an Elk is never forgotten,
Morning and noon may pass them by,
the light of day sink heedlessly in the West,
but ere the shadows of midnight shall fall,
the chimes of memory will be pealing forth
the friendly message,
"To our absent members."
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
A TOAST TO OUR ABSENT BROTHERS
Elkdom's house is darkened, the Eleventh Hour is here.
The chimes are calling softly to our Brothers far and near.
Wherever his footsteps take him, to near and distant shore
The Heart of Elkdom beats for him and for those who come no more.
If you see a Brother falter, reach out a helping hand...
His virtues live in memory, his faults drift with the sand...
"To Our Absent Brothers"