Ask any Latin scholar to translate E Clampus Vitus. The response is either a puzzled look or a hearty laugh.
E Clampus Vitus is a non-profit fraternal organization dedicated to the preservation of history and good times of the American West. Clampers commemorate Western and mining history sites, incidents and people that might otherwise be overlooked by placing more than a thousand plaques and monuments in California and a handful scattered in Nevada, Arizona and Utah.
Like its name, members are fun-loving, practical jokers although California chapters were formed during the Gold Rush to offer comfort and aid to widows and orphans (mostly to widows).
Gold mining Clampers spoofed members of the more serious Masons, Elks and Oddfellows by wearing tin can lids cut into unusual shapes and sizes on their vests worn over red long johns.
The motto of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus is Credo Quia Absurdum (I believe because it is absurd).
Their constitution provides that all members are officers of equal indignity, including the Clamphotographer, Clamplaquero, Clamparchivist and top officials Clampatriarch and Sublime Noble Grand Humbug.
There are no records of early meetings because members drank so much that no one was ever in condition to keep minutes or able to recall the next day what happened. Their partying at plaque dedication “doin’s” earned them the reputation of a drinking historical society or a historical drinking society.
In 1973, Clampers heaved overboard the Big Meadows plaque into Lake Almanor before anyone wrote down the wording. No one remembers what it said.
A plaque marking the 1851 site of Humboldt City is submerged in Humboldt Bay about thirty feet offshore from Point Buhne.
To commemorate Chinese navigator Hee Li, who discovered California about 450 A.D., a plaque was jettisoned into the Pacific Ocean thirty miles west from Monterey May 11,1994.
(In the Year of the Dumbell)