“Hello, Bill!” and Other “Secrets”

Per Page 43, HISTORY OF THE ORDER OF ELKS:

In the early days of the Order the Ritual provided for a password to be changed semi-annually. The word adopted at the meeting of May 29, 1870, for the ensuing term was 'Integrity.'

The use of a password was continued for many years. At one time it was changed monthly; during another period it was changed annually, and in 1899 it was abandoned.

However, whatever the passwords were, “HELLO, BILL” was not one, because this greeting was hardly kept secret.

In his self-researched and published AUTHENTIC HISTORY OF THE BPOE (1910), Charles Edward Ellis of Chicago Lodge No. 4 states:

ORIGIN OF "HELLO, BILL!"

WILLIAM GODDARD, of Minneapolis (Minn.) Lodge, No. 44, B. P. O. Elks, is the original "Hello Bill!" of Elkdom, and this cheerful salutation which has found its way around the world, originated in Minneapolis during the Elks' National Re-Union in that city in 1897. Brother Goddard is the junior partner of the Minneapolis firm of Barnaby & Company. He has been for a great many years the treasurer of Minneapolis Lodge, No. 44, B. P. O. Elks, and was Chairman of the Finance Committee, and a member of a great many other committees that had in charge the arrangements for the Elks' Re-Union of that year, and he spent a great deal of his time at the Committee headquarters.

When visiting Elks came to the headquarters to inquire about matters they wanted to know about, if they happened to meet anybody who was not fully posted, they were usually told to "Go over there and ask Billy Goddard," and it was a constant strain of "Billy can tell you," "See Billy, he knows," etc., etc. This was repeated so incessantly that the stranger Elks when they approached Brother Goddard, greeted him with the expression, "Hello Bill! I was told to see you," etc., and so the custom started of greeting each other "Hello Bill!"

In a day or two the custom spread to the streets, with Elks from all parts of the country, and passing each other they sang out cheerfully, "Hello Bill!" and they carried the greeting back to their home lodges, and so it has spread around the ends of the earth.

Both the old Rituals and the secret "grip" were not consigned to print, but were passed on verbally and physically, as is still currently done in some other fraternities. If you have ever seen the movie PAPER MOON in which a con man gains the trust of his victims by using the passwords and secret handshakes of many different organizations so as to pass for a member of whichever suited the circumstances, you may have seen our "grip" but we can neither confirm or deny that it appears. The movie was set in the 1920s, but the "grip" probably was perpetuated past 1904 when Grand Lodge officially discontinued it.

If you enjoy historical "spelunking," you might try to find someone initiated before 1952, when the blindfolding of candidates was done away with (ER rapped four times as the signal to remove blindfolds), or even better, ask some of Elkdom's older Lodges if they still have paraphernalia for the old "Part II" wherein pranks were played upon incoming members. Some of these were quite complex electro-mechanical wonders, while others squirted water or shot off blanks.

The most widespread practice was for each candidate to ride a live goat around the Lodge room. A 1901 poem, "When Father Rode The Goat" should give some idea of the former initiation's arduous nature:

The house is full of arnica
And mystery profound;
We do not dare to run about
Or make the slightest sound;
We leave the big piano shut
And do not strike a note;
The doctor's been here seven times
Since father rode the goat.

He joined the lodge a week ago --
Got in at 4 a.m.
And sixteen brethren brought him home
Though he says he brought them.
His wrist WAS sprained and one big rip,
Had rent his Sunday coat --
There must have been a lively time
When father rode the goat.

He’s resting on the couch to-day!
And practicing his signs --
The hailing signal, working grip,
And other monkeyshines;
He mutters passwords ‘neath his breath,
And other things he'll quote --
They surely had an evening's work
When father rode the goat.

He has a gorgeous uniform,
All gold and red and blue;
A bat with plunges and yellow braid,
And golden badges too.
But, somehow, when we mention it,
He wears a look so grim
We wonder if he rode the goat
Or if the goat rode him.

 

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