On September 9, 2006, Doc Maynard Chapter 54-40 of E Clampus Vitus receives its charter on Whidbey Island. This is the first official chapter of E Clampus Vitus, an all-men fraternal order, in the Pacific Northwest.
Red Shirts and Tin
The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, an all-men fraternal order, got its start in the Sierra Foothills of California, following the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1849. The first Clamper lodge -- Mokelumne Hill Lodge No. 1001-- was organized by Joe Zumwalt and other miners in September 1851.
E Clampus Vitus originally began as a parody of mystical lodges, such as the Masons, Elks, and the Odd Fellows, which Clampers thought to be much too serious with their arcane rituals and fancy dress. Over the years, E Clampus Vitus grew to become a benevolent organization in its own right, but one that leans towards the whimsical instead of the mystical.
Whereas other fraternal organizations favored ornate sashes, aprons, and medals, E Clampus Vitus members had a more utilitarian fashion sense. Tin can lids were cut into odd shapes and pinned to black vests worn over standard issue red union suits. The tradition carries on today, with badges, buttons, medals, and pins taking the place of “wearing the tin.”
The Clamper motto is Credo Quia Absurdum, which roughly translates as Take Nothing Seriously, Unless It Is Absurd. But the oath of every Clamper was to care for the “widows and orphans -- especially the widows.” When a miner fell ill or died, the Clampers would collect food and money for the unfortunate family.
When the Gold Rush days of California began to dwindle into the past, so did the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus. Clampers had all but disappeared by the early 1900s, until San Francisco historian Carl Wheat “revivified” the group in 1931 as a California Historical Society. Since then, Chapters and Outposts have sprung up all along the West Coast.
Clamping, Washington Style
In 1993, Dan Kerege -- a Clamper since 1981 -- knew of a few Clampers living in the Pacific Northwest and they discussed the possibility of forming a Washington Outpost. Over the next few years he and John Lynch, another Clamper, scouted around for more “redshirts” that had moved north from California. In February, 2000, a group of them met at Jules Mae’s Saloon in Georgetown, where they agreed to organize under the name of Doc Maynard, a colorful Seattle pioneer. As Kerege put it, “Doc was a Clamper too, he just didn’t know it.”
They began looking for a sponsor. Kerege considered Yerba Buena #1, but one night in an online Clamper chatroom, he got into a discussion with Beau Boone, the Ex Noble Grand Humbug of Samuel Gregg George Chapter 1855, of Visalia, California. Boone listened to Kerege’s tales, and offered his chapter’s sponsorship.
In May, 2001, the Washington Clampers traveled to the annual ECV Grand Council meeting, held in Sonora, California. Bearing gifts (or “bribes” as Clampers traditionally call them), they spoke to the council and showed that there was enough interest in membership to merit a new outpost in Washington. Frank Houdek, the Sublime Noble Grand Humbug (the equivalent of the national president) gave his approval and granted them Outpost status.
In order to become a full-fledged Chapter, the men had to prove themselves worthy. New members were invited in, and over the next few years the Doc Maynard Clampers worked on a variety of historical restoration projects, including the Belltown Cottages in Seattle, the Issaquah Trolley, the Black Diamond Museum, the Lynnwood Heritage Park, Fort Nisqually near Tacoma, the Klondike Gold Rush Museum in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, and Fort Clatsop in Astoria, Oregon.
Since 2005, the Doc Maynard Clampers have also sponsored an award at the annual Washington History Day contest, for middle and high school students. And in 2006 -- aided by HistoryLink and University of Washington Press – the Clampers donated a collection of Washington State history books to Governor Christine Gregoire for the Governor's Mansion.
And of course, the Clampers have fun too. Each year they participate in parades with their “precishun drill team” a comedic marching team which uses actual bit and brace drills in their act. Crowds have shown their approval, and the drill team has won numerous awards throughout the state.
Each year, the men would travel to the Grand Council meeting to show their progress, and to pass along more bribes. And each year they gained more support from Grand Council members who were pleased with the work that Doc Maynard was doing in the Northwest. In May, 2006, Sublime Noble Grand Humbug Dave Holmes and the rest of the council gave their approval and elevated the Doc Maynard Outpost to Chapter Status.
Whenever a new E Clampus Vitus Chapter is formed, Clampers travel from around the country to attend that chapter’s chartering ceremonies. Over 200 Clampers made their way to Whidbey Island for Doc Maynard’s event, including nine past national presidents. The ceremonies were officiated by the new Sublime Grand Noble Humbug, Tom Tompkins.
In true Clamper tradition, Tompkins pranked the group by pulling out what appeared to be an official charter, but was instead a large sign that said “Never give a sucker an even break.” When the real charter document was presented and signed, a yell of “Satisfactory!” roared from the crowd. Doc Maynard Chapter 54-40 was now the 42nd chapter of E Clampus Vitus -- a fitting number, since Washington was the 42nd state to join the United State of America.