Have you ever walked by the beautiful façade at 1005 Washington Street and wondered what goes on in there behind that statue of the elk? Or looked at the gilded statue of the elk and wonder what it sounds like? Hint: It’s not really a “moo” sound. Or perhaps you’ve heard stories in the neighborhood about the exalted Elks of Hoboken. Whatever you’ve heard is probably only part of the tale. It begins like most good stories do, with a few drinks, some creative minds, and the need for fellowship…
Jason Maurer lived up the block from Lodge 74 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks for four or five years without an inkling of what the group stood for, until 2008, when a chance encounter with an Elk at City Hall led to his joining as a member. Now, he’s the Exalted Ruler. Yes, that’s the actual title bestowed on the elected leader of an Elks lodge, a legacy of the organization’s origins in 1867-68 as an after-hours club for a group of New York-area actors, who called themselves the Jolly Corks.
A flair for the dramatic is preserved in some of the rituals and titles—Esteemed Loyal Knight, Esteemed Lecturing Knight, Grand Lodge—the national organization continues to use, although by the time the group incorporated in 1868, it was no longer purely a social club. Responding to the plight of the widow of one of their members, the group soon morphed into a civic organization with a mission to help the less fortunate in their communities.
Hoboken’s lodge was the Elk’s 74th local branch, established in 1888, during the city’s early boom years. The distinctively American fraternal organization grew rapidly in cities and towns across the country, in the days when clubs like these helped foster social bonds. To learn more about social clubs and civic organizations of all stripes, check out the Hoboken Historical Museum’s current exhibit, “I Belong,” on view six days a week, Tuesday – Sunday, through December 23.
As it prepares to celebrate its 125th anniversary next year, Maurer says, Hoboken’s Lodge is on a growth spurt, having nearly doubled its membership in the past five years. Members typically come in as Jason did, through word of mouth, as the group doesn’t advertise. It’s not that the group is trying to be mysterious – in fact, it may just be that they’re just too busy planning fundraisers and having fun to stop to toot their own horn.
The beautiful old hall built in 1906 hosts a busy schedule of fun events—from Monday night football parties to St. Patrick’s Day to Veterans Day and other galas and fundraisers—that bring in people from all walks of life.
The best form of advertising may be the Lodge’s generous practice of loaning its historic clubhouse to other groups for fundraisers, as well as the many good works they perform. They raise tens of thousands of dollars every year for causes from aid for special-needs children to support for veterans, from drug awareness programs to partial and full-ride scholarships to deserving students.
The Hoboken Lodge has a special relationship with United Cerebral Palsy of Hudson County, and hosts an annual Christmas party for special-needs children. In the 1940s, some doctors in the Lodge convinced fellow members to devote the second floor to a physical therapy clinic for polio victims, according to long-time member and Lodge Secretary/historian Rick Gerbehy.
Gerbehy remembers sneaking in as a kid, when the Lodge had one of the best pool tables in town. He remained fascinated by the group, even as he grew up to become a history teacher. He didn’t join until 1980, after the Lodge’s membership had declined in the 70s due to population shifts that affected the city, as well.
But in the 1980s, Gerbehy says, the Lodge grew as Hoboken grew, its membership bolstered by a wave of Hoboken teachers like himself, along with newcomers. He served as Exalted Ruler from 1985-86. As a natural historian, Gerbehy set about soaking up as much of the organization’s lore as possible, chatting with the older members who would come down to play pinochle.
Gerbehy proudly points out that some of the Lodge’s most influential members had been prominent educators, three of whom have school buildings named after them today: A.J. Demarest, Joseph F. Brandt and Daniel S. Kealey (whose building at 5th and Adams has been converted to condos).
Pressed about what they love most about being Elks, Maurer and Gerbehy both cite the personal satisfaction of seeing the group’s charitable investments ripple throughout the community, and the fellowship they enjoy with other members, not to mention the beautiful building and well-stocked bar!
The Hoboken Museum will celebrate the Elks’ history this fall as part of its “I Belong” exhibition with a talk and tour there on November 4th. Check out www.hobokenmuseum.org/events for details. The Elks Lodge will also serve as the venue for the Museum’s annual fall gala on November 10, with a country theme this year, a “Hoboken Hoedown.”
Are You an Elk?
So perhaps the historic building has held a longtime fascination for you – or maybe you are curious about the gilded statue outside. Any American citizen at the age of 21 can become a member with the recommendation of a current member. As a member you can admire all the antlers on the wall – but please! – you have to have an interest in helping the community.
According to their mission statement, an Elk member must “inculcate the principles of Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity; to recognize a belief in God; to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its Members; to quicken the spirit of American patriotism; to cultivate good fellowship; to perpetuate itself as a fraternal organization, and to provide for its government, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America will serve the people and communities through benevolent programs, demonstrating that Elks Care and Elks Share.” To find out more, visit: www.elks.org.
Photos courtesy of the Hoboken Elks and the Hoboken Historical Museum.