District No. 3200

History of the Eleven O'clock Toast

Origin of the Toast
by Mike Kelly
Grand Lodge Historian

Appreciation of the Elks' 11 O'Clock Toast and its origin requires that we go back long before the BPOE came into existence. One of the main contributions of Charles Richardson -- in stage name of Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian and founder of the American branch of the Jolly Corks -- was to deliver into the hands of newborn Elks the rituals and traditions of a fraternal organization started in England around 1010 A.D., the Royal and Antedeluvian Order of Buffaloes, to which he belonged prior to coming to New York.

The RAOB, or Buffaloes henceforth, also practiced an 11 o'clock toast in remembrance of the Battle of Hastings in October of 1066. Following his victory, William of Normandy imported a set of rules, both martial and civil in nature, to keep control of a seething Norman-Saxon population always on the edge of a revolution.

Among those rules was a curfew law requiring all watch fires, bonfires (basically all lights controlled by private citizens that could serve as signals) to be extinguished at 11 each night. From strategically placed watchtowers that also served as early fire-alarm posts, the call would go out to douse or shutter all lights and bank all fires. This also served to discourage secret and treasonous meetings, as chimney sparks stood out against the black sky. A person away from his home and out on the darkened streets, when all doors were barred for the night, risked great peril from either evildoers or patrolling militia.

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: i.e."His family gathered about his bed at the 11th hour," or "The troops in the trenches hastily wrote notes to their families as the 11th hour approached when they must charge over the top."

Thus, when the 15 Jolly Corks (of whom seven 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, and it took no great eloquence by Vivian to establish a ritual toast similar to that of the Buffaloes at the last hour each day.

The great variety of 11 O'Clock Toasts, including the Jolly Corks Toast, makes it clear that there was no fixed and official version until 1906-10. Given our theatrical origins, it was almost mandatory that the pre-1900 Elks would be expected to compose a beautiful toast extemporaneously at will. Regardless of the form, however, the custom is as old as the Elks.

The Eleven O'clock Toast:

You have heard the tolling of 11 strokes.

This is to impress upon you that with us,
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,
never forsaken.
Morning and noon may pass him 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,


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 E1k 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.


A Note from Mike Kelly:

It is very heart-warming to Elks with a deep interest in the history and "roots" of our beloved Order to note the re-awakened appreciation for the many and beautiful variations -- prose and poetry -- in the Eleven O'Clock Toasts of the yesterElks, especially coming from those of a decidedly younger persuasion who have only come into our ranks in modern times and were understandably unaware of what could be done with the bittersweet sentiment of the hour of eleven when given free rein by the great orators and theatrical luminaries who populated Elkdom prior to the introduction of the current standardized ritual toast. We encourage them to continue expanding their horizons, and ask that Lodges and individual Elks assist them by compiling as many colorful Toasts from each's own past and sharing these "gems" wherever possible.

While we also ask that the archives of the Grand Secretary's office be kept in mind when such discoveries are brought back into the light of day, we hope that all will understand if we cannot take thousands of toasts, sort through them and polish them up, have them printed and bound, and finally distribute them when there is no staff, work-hours or budget set aside to accomplish what would recognizably be a formidable task -- just one historian delving back through the dusty corridors of antiquity in the few moments allowable between more mundane duties because of an innate fondness for the magic and mystery of the antlered past.

What we can promise is that we will maintain a permanent, distinct Eleven O' Clock Toast file that will be available for reference to any visitor so that any contributions will not be lost to oblivion. And, in a tip of the hat to the new vista whose doorways are the Elks computers nationwide, we will get noteworthy additions to the collection to pop up on your screens as frequently as time permits to keep this revival humming.

Perhaps the next time you hear the Toast of Eleven on a visit to another Lodge's social function, it will be the freshened echo of words spoken at the turn of the century in tribute to absent colleagues of America's greatest fraternal organization -- B.P.O. Elks, "The Best People On Earth."

The Eleventh Hour
Mrs. H.A. Morton
Santa Monica, 10/31/13

Dedicated to Santa Monica Lodge No. 906

Eleven has struck on the Eastern coast,
The Elks have given their standing toast,

"To our absent Brothers," where'er they be.
Whether on land or on the sea.

"To our absent Brothers," from East to West.
Good wishes we send our very best.

The Lodge in the mountains and on the plain.
At eleven takes up this glad refrain:

"To our absent Brothers," the toast peals forth
From the sunny South, to the frozen North.

Though many in foreign lands may roam.
They know at that hour they are thought of at home

The toast even reaches the other shore.
Where they live who meet with us no more.

Like an echo, it comes back loud and clear
"To our absent Brothers," 'till we meet here

So with loving thought, and helping hand,
The work goes on o'er all our land.

And only the Ruler Supreme can know
The good Elks do wherever they go.

Eleven strikes on the Western coast.
The Elks are giving their standing toast.

"To our absent Brothers," from West to East. Including the greatest unto the least,

For at this Elks' hour we all agree,
"To our absent Brothers," B. P. O. E.

-- From The Pacific Coast Elk

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 or 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

The 11 O'Clock Toast
Created and Delivered by Dr. C.H. Harvey of Erie, PA, Lodge No. 67 at a Lodge banquet help 9/8/1896.

Here! stop that song, look at the clock,
Although it's to our liking;
The joke must wait, ease up the talk,
Eleven o'clock is striking;
Fill glasses for that old-time toast,
We hold above all others,
The one we love to honor most,
"Here's to our absent brothers."
Good fellows all, where are you now?
Who came with cheery greeting,
In other days, and wondered how,
Men thought that life was fleeting;
There's Charlie, brightest of them all,
His face shines in the claret,
He wore a smile to conquer all,
As none but he could wear it.

Dear boy! his shadow in the glass,
Shines bright and fair and cheery;
I almost hear the old jest pass,
"Let's drink and all be merry,"
And Jack who died a year ago,
When life was in its summer;
I see him in the shadows now,
A new and loving comer.

Dear boys! I know not where you are,
Nor do I care to ponder,
Upon your home in that far land,
Across the fairy yonder;
But yet I know where'er you are,
You'd hurry out of heaven,
To drink this toast with those you love,
When the clock points to eleven.

So we who gather 'round the board,
Remember all the others;
Drink deep the toast, without a word,
"Here's to the absent brothers."

A Toast to Our Absent Brothers
My Brothers and Friends:

The hour of eleven has tolled again;
We pause, in our human endeavor
To renew our faith in the friendship of those
Whose virtues stay with us forever.
With hearts full of hope and voices of cheer
For an Elk is never forsaken,
We think kindly thoughts and speak tender words
Of those whose place we have taken.
The hours speed by and the days turn to months.
We cherish this brief retrospection;
The pages of time tell of memories dear
In the book of fond recollection.
Whatever the task, be it large or small
To lighten the burden of others;
Together we'll work and together we'll give
A toast --"To our absent brothers."


Eleventh Hour Toast

You have listened to the tolling of the eleventh chime,
A reminder our pleasures should cease for a time
In order that those who have finished their score,
May all be brought to mind once more
Wherever our brothers may wander or roam,
On land or sea or their celestial home.
Whatever their lot and life may be,
It is meet with us the surviving to see.

That the hour of eleven on the dial of night,
Shall never pass beyond our sight,
Without our hearts to throb and swell
In wishing our absent brothers well.

Our golden hour of mutual recollection,
A time devoted to silent reflection
Of the home bound brothers on a distant shore,
And the roll call of those, who will come no more.

Regardless of the paths their lives may have taken,
They are never forgotten, never forsaken.
Morning and noon may pass them by,
The light of day fade from the sky,

But ere the shadow of midnight shall fall,
The chimes of memory shall summon us all.
To speed them a message above all others,
God grant you peace,


A Toast to our Absent Brothers
by Tracy E. Kareha, 1977

Tis' the hour of eleven,
throughout Elkdom does it chime.
As we remember our absent brothers,
And their virtues at this time.
One by one they've left us,
To carry on each day.
Even though they've gone now,
They'll help show us the way.

While they were here with us,
They served their country well.
They will never be forgotten,
As it makes our heart throb and swell.

At the mystic hour of eleven,
We remember the brothers we once knew.
And on their journey through etetnity,
Always thinking of them as we do.

So when we hear the tolling,
We very quietly stand.
And remember our absent brothers,
Whom we've walked with hand in hand.


Copied from Grand Lodge web site with minor editorial revisions. >

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