Field Guide

Elks (BPOE)

Tombstones of Elks are easy to identify. They have an emblem with an elk in the center surrounded by a clock with roman numerals and the letters B P O E (Benevolent Protective Order of Elks). The clock's hands are frozen at eleven o'clock, a sacred time to all Elks. At eleven o'clock at any Elks ritual, the following toast is read:

My Brother, you have heard the tolling of the elevn strokes. This is to impress upon you that the hour of eleven has a tender significance. Wherever an Elk may roam, whatever his 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, "to our absent Brothers."

The Elks were an offshoot of a drinking club, the Jolly Corks (JC), that was formed by actors in 1866. The purpose of the club was to avoid a New York law that prohibited the sale of spirits on Sundays. Gatherings of the Corks became very popular, and it was deemed necessary to formalize the club. The Jolly Corks must have seemed a bit too explicit, so a search was conducted to find a more suitable name. It's said the name Elks came from a stuffed head one of the members saw on display at the B.T. Barnum Museum (some say it was actually a moose head; but after all, it was drinking club and mistakes do happen). The Elks became much more than a drinking club, and with more than 1,500,000 members, it is now one of the largest of the "animal clubs". The Elks are very strong on patriotism, public service, and caring for Elks who have fallen on hard times.

Taken from Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography written and photographed by Douglas Keister, published by Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City, 2004.