Some Washingtonians are Eagles. Others are Elk, Moose, or Lions (oh my!) Others are just plain Odd Fellows. But the most colorful of them all are the Clampers, members of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus (ECV), a fraternal organization founded back in the gold rush days. It all began as a spoof on other lodges and secret societies, and its early history is a little difficult to reconstruct. The early meetings of E Clampus Vitus in the California gold fields were devoted so completely to drinking and carousing that none of the Clampers was ever in any condition to keep minutes, let alone remember what had happened the next day!
By tradition, a person could join E Clampus Vitus by invitation only and then was expected to endure an elaborate, humorous and sometimes grueling initiation ceremony. Membership in E Clampus Vitus declined in the late 1800s, but experienced a revival in the 1930s and is still going strong today. Modern-day Clampers typically dress up in garb reminiscent of the gold-rush -- usually a red miner's shirt, and black hat -- and they still hold their unique initiation ceremonies, but now specialize in putting up commemorative plaques of historical and hysterical interest. Along with serious sites that need more reverent commemoration, Clampers have been known to plaque places like saloons, bawdy houses, and other locations that have been "overlooked" by more serious historical societies.
As the new millennium begins, there are thousands of Clampers in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Since the early nineteen-thirties, well over two thousand historical sites have been "plaqued" with historical markers by ECV.
What does E Clampus Vitus mean? Well, that is a great mystery. Ask a Clamper.
What is the purpose of the society? The objectives of ECV are well known: Members swear to take care of the Widows and Orphans -- especially the Widows.
The prerequisites to becoming a Clamper in the Doc Maynard Chapter of E Clampus Vitus are:
a good sense of humor
a genuine interest in Washington history
an open mind
a cast iron stomach
If a man has those qualities, and strikes up a friendship with a Clamper or two, he may find himself taken in to (and by) the Ancient and Honorable Order. But one can't simply walk up and say, "Can I be a Clamper?" It is for the Brethren of ECV to invite prospective members to join. And if a man is asked, he should know that the invitation is only given once. If it is refused, it is never tendered again. But a man of any intelligence and character so invited would hardly be likely to turn down such a signal honor. And remember, as the Brethren of E Clampus Vitus maintain, Clampers are not made, they're born. Like gold, they just have to be discovered.
We have amongst our active members longshoremen, doctors, fishermen, lawyers, plumbers, students, corporate suit and ties, and retirees from every trade you could imagine. If you meet the prerequisites as noted above, don't know a local clamper, and after reading this are still interested:
Send us an email. Introduce yourself. We are human; pretty good ones at that.
Check out our calendar on the home page for our upcoming events and stop by to say hello.
Sit at your local pub and wait. We are bound to show up eventually.