Historic City Memories: The Fraternal Orders

St. Augustine and The Fraternal Orders

Last part
of an eight part series

The Elks and the Mystic Hour of Eleven

By Geoff Dobson

At the top of the sign in front of the local Elks lodge is the emblem of the Elks, an image of the Monarch of the Forest in front of a clock whose hands permanently point to the Hour of Eleven.

In every Elks Lodge from Guam to Maine, from Puerto Rico and the former Panama Canal Zone to Alaska, all activity pauses as chimes toll the hour of eleven, the Hour of Recollection, a time to remember those who no longer answer when their name is called, and a time to remember servicemen in distant places fighting for freedom.

In the local lodge, the names of those who no longer answer when their name is called are inscribed on necrology tablets displayed in the Lodge anteroom. In the early years, the tablets were forged in the Florida East Coast Railroad Shops. The tablets are a veritable history of St. Augustine and include the names of deceased mayors, sheriffs, and old families of the City.

It has been said that the Elks’ Hour of Eleven inspired John J. Pershing, a member of the El Paso Texas Elks Lodge, to designate that hour as the time for the guns of war to go silent at the end of World War I. Indeed, the day following Gen. Pershing’s return to the United States, he went to the Elks Lodge in New York City to thank the Order for its contributions to the war effort.

In the War, an estimated 100,000 Elks answered their nation’s call, the Order contributed a field hospital to the military and following the war contributed a rehabilitative hospital in Boston. It became the country’s first V.A. hospital.

Unlike the Masons who have separate grand lodges in each state and each province of Canada, the Elks only have one Grand Lodge which is located in Chicago.

This past Saturday, the Grand Lodge of the Elks instituted a new Lodge in St. Johns County, Mandarin-St. Johns Lodge No. 2866. Representatives of the Grand Lodge, including two Past Grand Exalted Rulers and the endorsed candidate for Grand Exalted Ruler expected to be elected in the next session of the Grand Lodge this coming week were in attendance. In attendance at the ceremony to watch his grandson become a member of the Order, was one ninety-five year old veteran of World War II.

As a part of the ceremony, the chimes of the Hour of Remembrance were rung and the new members were told that it is a significant time. How the Hour became a part of the Elks ritual was, however, not explained. At the conclusion of the ceremonies, local lodges presented the new lodge various regalia, including A Bible for its Altar and a set of Chimes to toll the Hour of Eleven within the new lodge. But why do the chimes ring and the Elks pause in remembrance? The absent may be remembered at any time. It is a tradition that goes back almost 950 years to the dark days of England following the Norman Conquest.

In the years leading to 1066, the Anglo-Saxons had developed on their island a nescient form of democracy in which the King was elected by an early parliament, the Witan. The Witan, itself, represented the various shires of the Kingdom. Following the death of Edward the Confessor, Harold Godwinson had been elected as King over the competing candidacy of William, Duke of Normandy.

But now Harold lay dead on the battlefield of Hastings. A Norman arrow had come through one of the eye slits of the King’s visor and struck him in the eye. Notwithstanding the victory of William over Harold, the Witan refused to elect William, as his successor, but instead elected Edgar the Ætheling King.

In the meantime, unknown to the Witan, William and much of his army had become ill with dysentery. The Witan send the Sheriff of London out to see the condition of William’s army. William offered, in essence, a bribe to the sheriff that the sheriff would rule in William’s name if the Witan would elect William.

Apparently, the promise of jobs to influence an election is nothing new. The sheriff deceived the Witan into believing that William’s army was much stronger than it was and convinced the Witan and the new king-elect into conceding the election. William promised that he would be a benevolent king. The campaign promise was, as we now know, false. He gave as spoils of war most of the Kingdom to his supporters.

A throne obtained by deception and force, must be defended with force. When the Anglo-Saxons discovered the treachery, they arose in a civil war.

To put down the insurgency, William’s half-brother Oda, reinstituted a curfew. Originally, there had been a curfew under some of the earlier English kings, but it had been used for fire prevention purposes rather than as a means of putting down dissent. Sparks from the fires could easily cause fires. The Anglo-Saxon houses at the time were made of wood with thatched roofs.

Oda, however, reinstituted the curfew in order to preclude any meetings in opposition to Norman rule. Extinguishing the fires ended all meetings in opposition to the tyrannical rule of William and his half-brother. The term curfew comes from the French “couvre feu” meaning “cover the fire.” At the time for the curfew, the church bell would be rung and all fires were required to be extinguished. Traditionally the ringing of the bell became the time to remember those that were gone or absent.

The founder of the Elks was an English music hall singer, Charles Algernon Vivian, who belonged to the British Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes which also had allegedly had a tradition of offering a toast to those that were absent at the time of the curfew. Thus, an ancient English tradition became a part of the rituals of the Elks.

Next Article: The Datil Pepper and I.

Geoff Dobson, a St Augustine resident for the past 33 years, is a western and Florida history writer and was former General Counsel for the Florida Department of Transportation. He is a former president of the St. Augustine Historical Society and a regular contributor of nostalgic memories to Historic City News. Before his parents moved to Florida, his father was a Black Angus cattleman. Geoff has written extensively on Wyoming history (“Wyoming Tales and Trails”). When Geoff was in high school, his family lived in the cattle country of eastern Sarasota County. The family spread, which his parents called “Wild Cat Slough,” was reachable only by a pair of ruts over the sand hills and through a snake and gator infested slough. Now, it is an area of four-lane roads, expensive subdivisions, shopping centers, and office parks. . His undergraduate degree is in history. Geoff received his post-graduate degree from the University of Florida. He may be reached at horse.creek.cowboy@gmail.com

Photo credits: © 2010 Historic City News archive photograph

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