Veterans Day and the Elks

Hello from the History Department.

This coming Monday, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day. McMenamins History Department first sent out the post below in November 2018, but the holiday’s origin story (which has a tie back to the Tacoma Elks lodge and this fantastic historic artifact to accompany it) bears repeating as this November 11th marks the centennial of the first Armistice Day.

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Before WWII, November 11 was called Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I and what was optimistically called “The War to End All Wars.”

When fighting ceased in November 1918, President Woodrow Wilson gave General John Pershing, American Expeditionary Force Commander of WWI (and lifelong Elk), the honor of setting the exact moment that the Armistice would forever be marked.

Pershing selected the traditional Elks’ manner and time for remembrance of those passed – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – his personal tribute to the memory of those soldiers, “Elks and non-Elks alike,” who had fallen. Gen. Pershing then took a victory tour of the nation and stopped by what is today’s McMenamins Elks Temple in 1920 (see his letter here, from the Tacoma Elks archives).

The hour of 11 p.m. has long held significance to the Elks. The 11th hour observance was originally a remembrance of the Battle of Hastings, which took place in the year 1066 A.D. Why is that? Because Englishman Charles Vivian, founder of the Jolly Corks which later evolved into the Elks organization, simply borrowed most of the traditions and rituals from the Royal and Antedeluvian Order of Buffaloes, a fraternal organization to which he belonged that had formed in England around 1010 A.D.

To this day, at any evening Elks event, all activity ceases, members and guests rise, the chimes ring 11 times and the “Eleven O’Clock Toast” is recited:

You have heard the tolling of 11 strokes.

This is to remind us 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, Elks are never forgotten, never forsaken.

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.”

1 Comment

  1. Bill Murray on November 8, 2019 at 8:35 am

    The delay in cessation of hostilities until 11:00 am on 11 Nov 1918, and the combatants continued engagement right up to that hour, had a terrible cost. The armistice was signed at 5:00 am that morning. By the time the ceasefire went into effect at 11:00, all sides suffered an additional 11,000 casualties (more than the 10,000 casualties suffered by all sides on D-Day in WWII). So many souls lost or damaged just to wrap a neat bow on the war. Although a drop in the bucket compared to the 37 million dead and wounded over the course of the war, the U.S. Congress grilled Pershing and his subordinate commanders over the decision to continue to press the enemy after all sides had agreed to end the fighting.

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