The Elks-Fraternal Order and the Communal Grave

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The Bull Elk statue representing Elk Lodge #315 has been standing since 1921 at Greenlawn Cemetery in Newport News, Virginia.

Standing tall amid a large plotted burial ground at Greenlawn Cemetery in Newport News, Virginia stands the statue of proud Bull Elk. Known as “Elks Rest” the section is the reserved communal burial ground for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Lodge #315. The beautiful and noble statue was dedicated in 1921, and it overlooks thirty-six headstones of Elk members buried there. The first stone, dated 1925 and the last date in 1976.

The thirty-six headstones of Elks Rest dating (right to left) from 1925 to 1976

Like many post Civil War male fraternal orders, The Elks have a large history and have zealously adapted and evolved along with America’s history. Where once there was racial and gender requirements, their membership application requirements today are simply; Believe in God and be a moral United States citizen age twenty-one or older. At the local level, women are welcome to apply for membership to become a ”
Lady Elk” as well. Of course, all applicants still need to be voted in.

So, that’s a little bit of background on the Elks and they seem pretty cool. So, why am I posting about the Elks burial ground then? Two reasons really. Firstly, The Elks are really dedicated to there absent and deceased members and they have a ritual called “The Hour of Recollection”. When within the lodge, during gatherings, or any event when the clock strikes 11:00 P. M. a bell is rung and “…the Lodge Esquire intones, ‘It is the Hour of Recollection.’ The Exalted Ruler or a member designated by him gives the 11 o’clock toast,” according to Wikipedia. The said toast is similar to the following,

“You have heard the tolling of eleven strokes. This is to impress upon you that with us the hour of eleven 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.’”

Julian Gatewood is the latest stone, and possibly the latest Elk member to be interred at Elks Rest in 1976 .

Secondly, I am curious as to why interments at Elks Rest seemed to come to a stop around thirty-two years ago, leaving what appears to be 95% open ground. The cemetery manager referred me to the Elks lodge for more information, because they have no record of those buried at Elks Rest. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to cast any doubt on the Elks as a whole, it’s evident they are a noble organization and value their members past and present; it’s just an oddity on the timeline.

Could it be that communal burial for members of fraternal organizations has devolved where they want to be buried with their families, instead of their fraternal brethren? Has membership nationwide dropped? …maybe. But one thing remains clear, as long as the Bull Elk stands at Greenlawn Cemetery, The members of B.P.O.E. Lodge #315 will always have a final resting place guaranteed unto them.

Rest in Peace Elks it was a pleasure visiting you.

For more information on the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks please visit their website at elks.org

-Emay

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