Thursday, October 16, 2008

Going Down the Road, in the Sierra-Nevada foothills

This week's installment of the Going Down the Road series in the New York Times is from my neck of the woods, the Sierra-Nevada foothills of central California. It features E Campus Vitus, a group I've seen named on the plaques for which they are apparently known, but about which I knew nothing more. Jesse McKinley's story is headlined, "Promoting Offbeat History Between the Drinks," and the dateline is Twain Harte (population 2,586) in Tuolumne County (population 54,501), a gateway to Yosemite National Park. Here is an excerpt:
Strange where a road trip can begin: a dorm room, a bar stool or Page 283 of the W.P.A. Guide to California.

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.

I like that fact that the "lesser-known nuggets of history" in which the group is said to specialize often occurred in lesser known -- frequently rural --places. I'll refrain from commenting on the group's apparent exclusion of women.

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