There was, up until a month ago, a sign in Wellington that reads “The Royal Antedeluvian Order of Buffalos”.
The sign was on the very artsy, independent (dare I say ‘hipster’) Bats Theatre, so I assumed it was a joke.
Nope. Turns out its real. There really is a Royal Antedeluvian Order of Buffalos, and despite all the stuff they have going against them, they take themselves pretty seriously.
In order to be a member, you have to be over 18, enter of your own free will, and be a “true and loyal supporter of the British Crown and Constitution.” Oh, and be male.
Obviously (thanks to the British bit), despite the name, there aren’t a lot of Buffalos organizations in the US.
I have no idea what goes on at Buffalo meetings today, but they started out as a club for stagehand and theatre techies in the early 19th century (well before techie was a word).
Their history sounds like it came out of a kids book: the actors had a club called Lushingtons, and they wouldn’t let the lowly stagehands into it, so the stagehands formed their own club, and thought of a cooler name.
The name? The stagehands wanted to claim that they had been around longer than the actors, so they went looking for the awesomest sounding word for seriously-old that they could come up with. Ancient was too simple, so they went with Antediluvian – ‘before the deluge’ (the great flood of the Bible).
That is totally what I would have done.
If I was 12. And trying to one-up the neighbor boys and their club.
What about the Buffalo part? That’s pretty exotic for England, right? Apparently when the earliest Buffs got together for their meetings they decided that one thing they should do that was so super-important that it needed to be part of their name was to promote the obscure ballad “We’ll Chase the Buffalo.” I’m pretty sure there was a lot of alcohol and not a lot of sense involved in this decision.
This thesis is backed up by the fact that one of the central positions in early Buffalo orders was the ‘City Taster’ whose job it was to ensure that the beverages at the chosen meeting tavern were up to snuff.
Despite the dubious merit of their origins, the Buffalo’s have actually done some awesome things, like paying for ambulances during WWI, and helping to found the first ambulance service in the UK, and founding orphanages and old-folks homes. Good on them!
Still, it’s hard to get past that name!