The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Moose Milk … and Cookies?

October 14th, 2008 · No Comments

An article in this Sunday’s New York Times celebrates an organization  dedicated to the historical documentation of local ullage (in this case, “local” meaning the 1/3 of the nation comprising the West).


TWAIN HARTE, Calif. — Strange where a road trip can begin: a dorm room, a bar stool or Page 283 of the W.P.A. Guide to California.  Among the sites given plaques by California members of E Clampus Vitus are the grave of the unknown prospector on a lonely stretch of Route 395 near Mono Lake.

It is on Page 283 that a reader can find the barest mention of The Order of E Clampus Vitus, one of the oldest and oddest entities in a state known for having a few, a Gold Rush-era organization whose goofball sensibilities are offset by a single, serious pursuit: a tendency to plaque all things historical, an obsession that continues to this day.

With little more than mortar and their ever-present red shirts, the Clampers, as the organization’s members are known, have placed more than 1,000 bronze, wood and granite plaques throughout California, from the remote stretches of coast to mining towns like this one, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
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The Western states seem to get short shrift when it comes to documenting the odds and ends of history.
Sometimes, among easterners and westerners alike, I sense a misconception they hold in common: that history begins “way out west” sometime in 1848.  In contrast to eastward-leaning regions of the US,  the West’s relatively recent (European, non-missionary)  settlement,  its expanses of – still, miraculously – sparsely-populated and rarely traversed land, and stubborn myths such as that California is a personal tabula rasa for the taking or that, as Gertude Stein put it, “there is no there there,” perhaps help to perpetuate this bias (whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is another matter).  And the unique people, places, and events that once helped to define the Western Experience would have remained lost, overlooked, and forgotten, if it weren’t for the efforts of dedicated individuals* and organizations like the Order of E Clampus Vitus.

Unfortunately for the likes of me, women (it would seem) cannot join the Order. The issue of gender parity among para-professionals in the ullage field is certainly something to consider in depth. But for now, I’ll just raise a mug of Moose Milk, and thank the Clampers from the bottom of my Californian heart.

 *sadly, often considered in those parts to be “eccentric”

(Posted by Lisa Hirschfield)

Tags: Ancient History · Belief Systems · Clubs and Associations · Eccentrics · Memories · Misconceptions

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