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Raise a glass (or a bottle) to E Clampus Vitus

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I mostly think of plaque as something I pay my dentist to deal with. But this article is about another kind of plaque. Instead of sticking all over your teeth, these plaques are stuck all over the west, with plenty in and around Silicon Valley.

I’m talking here about markers placed by the E Clampus Vitus (ECV) fraternity to honor buildings and sites of historical significance. You can find their signs at the Winchester Mystery House, the Peralta Adobe, and the Alviso Yacht Club to name just a few.

Early accounts are murky, but the fraternal order is generally thought to have been founded during the Gold Rush in 1849 as something of a parody of the Freemasons, Elks, and Odd Fellows, which often catered mainly to more prominent citizens. Clampers, as they are called, would tell newcomers to town that they needed to be initiated into the E Clampus Vitus lodge in order to do business there. Not surprisingly, the more established lodges looked down on the rowdy E Clampus Vitus, while the miner-members of the ECV enjoyed tweaking the rites and beliefs of, well, pretty much everyone.

The best things about the E Clampus Vitus? They do good works, from erecting markers honoring local history to “the care and protection of the Widow and the Orphan. But especially the Widow.” And there you have the other best thing about them, their absolute refusal to take themselves too seriously under any circumstances. In their own words, “All members are officers and all officers are of equal indignity.”

Thus, they are listed as both “a historical drinking society” and “a drinking historical society.” Despite—no, make that because of—their great sense of humor, they have been long known for helping members get into and out of difficult situations with roughly equal success.

Oh, and “E Clampus Vitus” is not-quite-real Latin for…no one knows, as they were on a historic night of drinking when they came up with the name.

If you go

E Clampus Vitus plaques
Located throughout the west
List of plaques in the area


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