Members of the Derby Elks Lodge 571 at 73 Elizabeth St. will open a cornerstone Friday — just about 100 years after it was first laid down.
A sealed box is expected to be inside that cornerstone. It was placed there on Dec. 8, 1915.
The Elks will open that box — and hopefully find some Derby artifacts inside.
Randy Ritter, a past Elks member and local historian, said he knows what’s in the box thanks to a Dec. 9, 1915 article in The Evening Sentinel.
But everyone is trying to keep it under wraps until it is pulled from the side of the building at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 27.
“I was doing some research on the history of my Scout troop a few years ago and I came across the Evening Sentinel article in the mircofilm at the Derby Public Library,” Ritter said.
He told Mayor Anita Dugatto about the article. Dugatto has been an Elks member for some seven years. She is helping to organize the opening, to which the public is invited to attend.
Whether the artifacts survived inside the box for 100 years is anyone’s guess.
“We’re excited, but we don’t know whether it’s going to be like when Howard Carter opened King Tut’s tomb or whether it is going to be like when Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone’s empty vault,” Ritter said.
“If any rain or dampness got into the box, that will disintegrate anything in there. We don’t know what condition it will be,” he said.
“But the newspaper article said it was sealed,” said a hopeful Mayor Dugatto.
“The question is how well it was sealed,” Ritter replied.
A mystery to be revealed the morning after Thanksgiving! Article continues below.
In any event, Friday’s opening is a chance to revisit the Elks’ rich history in Derby.
They’ve been in Derby for 115 years.
Its origin dates back to February 1900, when “a number of fellows who were in the habit of meeting quite frequently” talked about forming a social club of some kind.
A postcard was sent out “to several local gentlemen,” according to a write-up on the lodge’s origins.
The boys got together at Dr. L.T. LaBonte’s office at 4 p.m. Feb. 25, 1900.
Someone suggested forming an Elks chapter.
The doc was impressed.
“That’s the stuff! That’s the stuff!” he reportedly exclaimed.
Article continues after the photos.
Members in the early days — many were doctors and lawyers, according to Past Exhalted Ruler Tony Gorlewski — used various Derby taverns to hold meetings. It took 15 years to raise the money and break ground on the four-story structure on Elizabeth Street.
It took 15 years to raise money to build the building.
The lodge is forever indebted to Friend A. Russ, a Valley industrialist who gave the Elks a check for $20,000 in 1917 to pay off their mortgage.
He wasn’t a member, though his photo hangs in the lodge to this day as thanks.
The Derby Elks Lodge is still about 300 strong. Potential members have to be nominated by current members.
Locally, they do a number of community service programs for kids, including an annual children’s fishing rodeo at Osbornedale State Park, an annual free throw contest and an annual soccer shoot open to all Valley youth.
Then they host a children’s Christmas party. They sponsor a drug awareness program, and they are very supportive of the Boy Scouts and Special Olympics.
“That’s why I became involved,” said Mayor Dugatto. “I just saw how much good they were doing in Derby and wanted to be a part of that.”
The Elks also hold a number of programs that honor military veterans.
They deliver holiday food baskets to veterans. They fund care packages for troops deployed overseas. They hold a Flag Day ceremony each year on the Derby Green, and each year they treat blind military vets to a meatloaf dinner in the lodge.
To learn more, give them a call after 4 p.m. at 203 735 0571.