Early History of the Elks: Charles A. Vivian & the Jolly Corks

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Charles A VivianOur Founder, Charles Algernon Sidney Vivian

Charles A. Vivian was a twenty-five year old singer from England who arrived in New York on November 15, 1867. He rapidly attained some measure of success as a variety performer. He also struck up a large and boisterous number of acquaintances in the performing world, the nucleus of what would become the Elks.

The Jolly Cork Trick

Cool BurgessIn 1922, William T. Phillips wrote the following account of the cork trick by which Vivian and his friends used to trick new acquaintances into buying them a drink. In a way, it was the first Elks initiation! Note the colorful names of the nineteenth century performers:

"On November 23rd, 1867, Dick Steirly went to the American Theatre to take notes for the purpose of orchestrating some of Vivian's songs. After the matinee, Vivian took Steirly over to 'Sandy' Spencer's place at Broadway and Fulton Street. There they met Hughey Dougherty, Cool Burgess and Henry Vandemark. The latter suggested that the party shake dice for the refreshments.

Hugh DoughteryVivian replied that he never handled the cubes, but would show them a new game. Calling for three corks he gave one each to Steirly and Vandemark, keeping the other for himself. He asked Cool Burgess to be the judge, and Dougherty to count '1-2-3.' They rehearsed the trick of each dropping his cork on the bar and picking it up as rapidly as possible, several time, the idea conveyed to the initiated being that the last man to lift his cork was to buy.

Vivian then gave the word of command, Dougherty counted. He and Steirly passed their hands over their corks while Vandemark, eager to lift his cork from the bar, was both first and last to pick it up, and consequently was 'stuck' for the round." (Reprinted in Nichols, History of the Elks, 12)

How the Cork Trick Works

Ellis reports that "The prospective victim would be asked would he like to join the 'Cork,' and they being such a 'jolly' set of fellows, the candidate for admission to their circle readily assented. He would give his name to Vivian, the 'Imperial Cork,' and pay a fee of fifty cents, which amount Vivian set down in a little book he carried in his pocket for that purpose.

Each one present then produced a cork and placed it in front of him upon the bar or table; a fresh cork (generally a champagne cork) was given to the candidate, and to him was then explained that the 'Imperial Cork'would 'count three,' whereupon each one present was to seize his cork, and 'the last one to lift his cork' was to pay for the drinks for the rest of the party.

At the count of 'three' the ones in the secret would simply jump their open palms over their corks, but allowing them to remain on the bar or table; the candidate would eagerly seize his cork in haste, resolved not to be 'the last one to lift his cork,' much to his surprise to find he was the only one who had 'lifted his cork,' hence the 'last one.' So he was 'stuck for the drinks.'

The 'rules' then were, now that he had become 'one of us,' that he must always carry his cork in his pocket, and whenever he met another 'Cork,' if he was asked to produce his cork at any time or place, he must do so, under the penalty of buying the challenger a drink, should he be unable to do so." (Ellis, 29-30)


Ten of the First 15 Jolly Corks

jolly corks pic
key to corks
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1 E.W. Platt 6 Charles A. Vivian
2 Frank Langhorne 7 John T. Kent
3 William Carleton 8 Henry Vandermark
4 William Sheppard 9 Harry Bosworth
5 Richard R. Steirly 10 M.G. Ash
Not Pictured: G.F. McDonald, W.L. Bowron, Thomas G. Riggs, J.G. Wilson, and John H. Blume.