Nostalgia: Biff! Bang!

In 1918 the New Orleans Elks hosted a fundraiser to remember

View of a float depicting a battleship is shown proceeding along a residential street. At least five men in military uniforms can be seen aboard the float. The float is a replica of the Olympia, a warship, that was constructed of wood, canvas and steel at the Naval Station in Algiers. Built by enlisted men and manned by officers and men from the Naval Station, the Olympia raised $25,000. for the Navy Relief Society. Held July 3 and 4, 1918 by the local lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Biff! Bang! was a Wild-West themed event to raise funds for the War Saving Stamps or WSS drive.

Image appears courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection, Gift of Waldemar S. Nelson, 2003.0182.120

In 1918, the New Orleans Elks organized a two-day 4th of July fundraiser for the Navy Relief Society. The Wild West-themed celebration was called Biff! Bang! and would feature parades, a carnival and a pack of lady outlaws called the banditti.

Festivities kicked off downtown early on July 3rd with the banditti holdup. The 500 lady bandits in masks and bandanas stopped autos and streetcars in the streets, entered restaurants, barbershops, stores and offices, and held up everyone that they encountered, including traffic police, with their toy pistols. A donation as small as a penny earned you a Biff! Bang! button and relief from further assault.

An afternoon parade followed, featuring police and military bands, personnel from the Algiers Naval Station, Jackson Barracks and more, and the Elks, dressed as western bandits. They fired “revolvers” during the parade while the banditti flitted among the sidewalks, coercing parade-goers to donate at “gunpoint.”

Over 50,000 people showed up at City Park on July 4th for a day of carnival-like festivities with booths, a freak show, live music, children’s entertainment, athletic exhibitions and more.

Enlisted men participated in a sham battle, firing blank ammunition from rifles and The Ambulance Corps made dashes onto the battlefield to retrieve “wounded” soldiers and administer first aid.

Other events of the day included a floral automobile decorating contest and four Army airplanes doing stunt flights over the crowd. An elaborate fireworks display began with a rocket that spelled out “WELCOME,” followed by portraits of military and government figures and an elk head.

Closing out the day was the “Days of ’49” themed casino with roulette and other games of chance at one end, and at the other a packed dance floor full of revelers dancing to a jazz band late into the night.

The Elks raised $34,000, well over their goal of $25,000; the banditti alone collected over $4,000.

The Algiers Naval Station built a battleship float complete with mounted guns and a speaker system to advertise Biff! Bang! Servicemen rode on this replica of the USS Olympia as it “sailed” through downtown the morning of July 3, attracting people who would then fall victim to the banditti. It also was featured in the Elks parade later that day.