What's In a Name?

2002_018_4DS1Every so often, we stumble across an artifact in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection that prompts a great deal of intrigue among museum staff. This photograph of a deceased member of the Loyal Order of Moose finds itself in that category. I must admit that prior to my arrival as a volunteer at the museum, I was not especially well versed in the history and practice of fraternal groups. Sure, I had heard of the Elks and the Lions, but aside from that, I was somewhat of a novice in the field of fraternalism. Upon further investigation, I was surprised to find that although literature on the group is relatively scarce, the Loyal Order of Moose boasts an impressive list of members. Amongst the ranks are former presidents, astronauts, sports legends, and a cornucopia of Hollywood icons, including Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), Henry Ford (1863-1947), and Larry Bird (b. 1956).

Due to the strict funeral regulations of the Moose, in which each member, regardless of rank, is provided the same procession, it is difficult to decipher this particular man’s place within the hierarchy of the organization. There are, however, a few clues in the photo that provide us with a small amount of information regarding his identity. Present alongside the casket are four funeral wreaths reading, “Uncle,” “Brother,” “Ole,” and “Moose 679.” The last wreath is the one that immediately struck me as potentially useful. With the help of the official website of the Loyal Order of Moose, I found that “Moose 679” most likely refers to the Springfield, Vermont, chapter of the organization.

The remaining three wreaths however, proved to be slightly more enigmatic than their peer. While intuition would suggest that the words “Uncle” and “Brother” indicate this man’s position on his family tree, I found myself at a loss for an explanation of the word “Ole.” After a series of investigations that bore no fruit, I stumbled upon the definition of the word “Ole” as a Scandinavian name. Keeping in line with my theory that these wreaths represented the various names to which this man may have answered, I felt that this was far more likely an explanation than others I had found. The fact that the photo can be dated between 1890 and 1920, coupled with my limited knowledge of the history of immigration to the United States, suggested that a man of Scandinavian descent with the first name “Ole” could have been living around Springfield, Vermont, during this time period. Although this is mere speculation, these few details hint at the possibility that this picture was taken during the funeral ceremony of Ole, a member of the Springfield, Vermont, Moose Lodge #679, who never fathered any children.

Though popular during the 1800s, the practice of photographing the dead for memorial purposes has since waned in popularity. Any number of conclusions can be drawn as to why post-mortem photography met its demise. For me, the increasing accessibility of photography itself seems like a likely catalyst. As the process of taking a photograph became less formal and more of an everyday activity, people had far less reason to have such portraits of loved ones taken after their death. However, the formal aspects of this picture are the ones that provide us with hints at the biography of a man whose legacy may have otherwise been confined only to those who knew him.

Unidentified Post-Mortem Photograph, 1890-1920, probably Vermont, Museum Purchase, 2002.018.4.


Moose Magazine 33 (1948).

Are there Women in the Elks?: Yesterday and Today

A95_016_elks_mawsimLast week we wrote about Elks and postcards, and this week we've got more on the topic. The women shown in this postcard - currently on display in our reading room exhibition on postcards - were probably helping out with an Elks lodge 'Mawsim', or Moorish-style event and bazaar.  The postcard dates from 1907-1912 (FR 005).

Although we haven't done enough research yet to know exactly where this real photo postcard was produced, we do have a description of an Elks' Mawsim from around this time period. On October 25, 1910, the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader newspaper published a story about an upcoming Elks' Mawsim, which was likely a charity event, that reveals more about what an Elks' Mawsim was. It also reveals a highly romanticized view of the Near and Middle East that was pervasive in American culture at the time: 

 "Memories of a vanishing race will be awakened by the rich Oriental decorations that will be a feature of the Moorish "Mawsim" and Bazaar to be conducted by the Scranton Lodge of Elks...Who that has read the delightful yarns of Washington Irving in his "Tales of Alhambra," has not yearned for a glimpse of the land that gave birth to the Moors? ...This opportunity will be afforded the thousands of pleasure seekers who attend the "Mawsim" of the Scranton Elks."

There is little information on the women who supported the Elks during this time period, and who formed an organization known as the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Does. This is partly because the Elks (formally known as the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, or B.P.O.E.) didn't officially recognize this group. The Elks only accepted men as members during the early twentieth century, and the B.P.O.E. passed a resolution in 1907 that said that there would be no adjuncts or auxiliaries.

The Benevolent and Protective order of the Does (B.P.O.D.) operated only at the local level, with no centralized state or national authority.  According to some sources, they did not have a fixed ritual.  Other sources say their there were several versions of ritual practised.  One version bases the initiation rite on the Biblical story of Mary.  Another version makes reference the the thirteenth chapter of Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians which emphasizes love and charity.

In 1995, the Elks opened membership to women, by changing their constitution and removing the word “male” from the list of membership qualifications; members from the fraternal group’s 2,230 lodges across the entire United States voted on the change.  In 2009, women are not only members of the Elks, but they also serve as leaders.

[Women dressed for Elks “Mawsim” bazaar], ca. 1907
Real photo postcard
Museum purchase, 95/016

Postcards! Elks! Fun!

Case5-8_96_051_1_web Among the many fun and fabulous postcards currently on view in the reading room of the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives are a handful that are related to the Elks. The Elks trace their roots back to New York City in 1867. The group was first known as the "Jolly Corks" and they were essentially a group of merrymakers whose members consisted of New York City entertainers. Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian became the official leader of the group, and on February 16, 1868, the group resolved to become a benevolent order and to change their name to the one they still carry today - the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, frequently abbreviated as B.P.O.E.

The postcards seen here (which are also on view in the reading room) were all produced in 1906 and 1907. In July 1907, the Elks had 254,532 members, and while this was in the heyday of American fraternalism (often called the "Golden Age of Fraternalism") it was still a far cry from the eventual number of members they would have - by 1950 there were approximately 1 million Elks, and by 1979 membership was at 1.6 million. Today the Elks' membership is just under 1 million.

The first two postcards seen here were produced to commemorate the annual national conventions of the Elks. With the phrase "Something-Doing-Every-Minute," the postcard for the annual Elks convention held in July 1906 in Denver, Colorado is a wonderful and fun example of the art noveau style popular at the time. In addition to the Elk head on the front of the car, the two clocks - with their hands pointing at 11 o'clock - allude to another BPOE tradition - the 11 O'Clock Toast, which is presumably what the female driver of the car is doing with her raised goblet. The postcard itself has a wonderfully short message that echoes to the phrase at the top. It says, simply, "Great doings," and is dated July 17, 1906. (Incidentally, before March 1, 1907, the back of the postcard was only used for the address - messages had to be written on the front, and often a blank space, as seen here, was left for the message.)

Case3-14_96_058_web The postcard from the 1907 convention, while not as colorful, reveals just how big these events were. This real photo postcard shows the illuminated "Court of Honor" for the convention held in Philadelphia in 1907. In its name, its illumination and its scale, the Court of Honor resembles the illuminated "Court of Honor" at Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. A New York Times article reporting on the opening of the Elks' 1907 convention gushed "Elks by the thousand poured into Philadelphia to-day and to-night. They came with their wives, sweethearts, and friends from every section of the country, and the greeting of welcome they received took away their breath."  A few days later, on a decidedly different note, the Times reported that the "Sun Fells 2,500 At Elks' Parade," reporting that many parade watchers suffered from over-exposure to 90 degree temperatures and "excessive" humidity.

Case4-5_94_079_3_web It's clear that businesses were ready to tailor their advertisements toward Elks that visited their city for annual conventions. In Philadelphia, the S. Abeles & Co. produced this wonderful mixed-media postcard that uses fur cut out in the shape of an elk to advertise the "best line of trimmed hats." 

Case5-3_94_079_1_web And, finally, this last postcard, copyrighted 1906 in Chicago, is likely not related to a particular annual convention, but it's another Elks postcard in the exhibition and it's just too fun to leave out. The card depicts a young woman holding an egg - presumably the subject of the question "Is It Good Or Bad?" - and stands beside three elements that identify this as being part of Elkdom: the mounted Elk head, the clock reading 11 o'clock, and the letters B.P.O.E. The sender of the postcard has written a brief message on the card, which seems to keep with the playful, flirtatious nature of the card itself: "I'm an Elk, what are you?"

A Penny for Your Thoughts: Postcards from the Golden Age, 1898-1918 in on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room through September 2009.

Also, be sure to check out our Send a Postcard feature on our website, where we've made it possible to send electronic versions of penny postcards  - for less than a penny.

Something-Doing-Every-Minute BPOE, 1906
G. W. Richards, illustrator
Museum purchase, 96/051/1

Illumination of Court of Honor, Elks Convention, Philadelphia, 1907
Real photo postcard
Gift of Keith MacKinnon, 96/058

B.P.O.E.—The Best Line of Trimmed Hats…, ca. 1906
Fur, paper stock
Museum purchase, 94/079/3

Is It Good or Bad?, ca. 1906
Photograph Company of America, Chicago
Museum purchase, 94/079/1