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E Clampus Vitus
The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus was a fraternal organization which existed from the 1840's until the early twentieth century. Members called themselves "Clampers," and the motto of the order was "Credo Quia Absurdum", which is generally understood to mean "I believe it because it is absurd."
In 1931 E Clampus Vitus (ECV) was revitalized by a San Francisco historian and his two friends. The new E Clampus Vitus order continues on to this day. They were contacted by the surviving members of the original order, who passed on what could be remembered of the original rites and legends.
The Royal Order of E Clampus Nortonus was created by Emperor Norton II in April 2008. The nickname "Clampers" is still used, as is the motto "Credo Quia Absurdum."
The history of the illustrious organization is steeped in mythology, and it is hard to tell what is real and what is myth. According to the mythos it was created in 1845 in Lewisport, Virgina (what is now West Union, West Virginia) when tavern and stable owner Ephraim Bee was given a commission from the Emperor of China to "extend the work and influence of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus."
Bee claimed to have received his commission from Caleb Cushing, the American Minister to China. He felt than an organization was needed that was less exclusive than the other organizations of the day (such as the Masons or the Odd Fellows). As such Clamper membership was opened to any upstanding man who had come of age. Chapters were later opened in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Missouri, and Georgia.
The mythos goes to say that the order was taken to California by a Clamper named Joe Zumwalt, who opened a lodge in Mokelumne Hill in 1851, becoming Mokelumne Hill Lodge No. 1001. There are arguments that other lodges had been founded in the area.
The organization peaked around 1870, with so many members that many mining camps shut down during Clamper celebrations.
Members of Note included Mark Twain, John Hume (a California assemblyman), John Studebaker (the automobile manufacturer), and His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I. The Clampers also claimed Ulysses S. Grant, J. P. Morgan, and Horace Greeley (among many others).
While the Clampers generally didn't take things seriously, they were known to help a sick or injured member by collecting food or money. It is said that they would travel through the Sierra Nevada to reach lonely miners who otherwise would have had no Christmas celebration. They also helped the widows and orphans of fallen members, as well as many charitable causes.
Organization of the Original Order
Titles of officials within the order included "Noble Grand Humbug," "Roisterour Iscutis," "Grand Imperturbable Hangman," "Clamps Vitrix," and "Royal Gyascutis." It is said that the order claimed that all members were officers and all officers were of equal standing.
They held their meetings in the Hall of Comparative Ovations, which was generally in the back room of a saloon. (Some chapters were able to build their own Halls of Comparative Ovations.) Their flag was a hoop skirt, with the words "This is the flag we fight under." Meetings were held "at any time before or after a full moon," and new members were called "Poor Blind Candidates." A prospective member was required to present a poke of gold dust, although this was waived entirely if the prospective member could not affor it.
The Clampers and Emperor Norton I
While many forgot Emperor Norton I, the Clampers have kept his memory alive. The reconstituted Clamper organization (the revitalized ECV and not the Royal Order) makes a yearly pilgrimage to the grave of the beloved Emperor Norton I.
The Royal Order of E Clampus Nortonus
Unlike its predecessor, the Royal Order of E Clampus Nortonus (RECN) is not steeped in mythology. The RECN was created on April 23, 2008 by His Majesty Emperor Norton II. He created the venerable organization to continue the work and influence of Emperor Norton I. While it has been created by Royal Proclamation which refers to a law of the Imperial Government of Norton II in Exile, it follows the spirit of the original and membership is open to anyone.
There are five levels of membership. New members are called Poor Blind Candidates, a regular member is called a Clamper, a member in good standing is called Clamps Vitrix, the Head of the Local Order is called the Noble Grand Humbug, and then there is the Sovereign of the Order (the Emperor). Like the original order all members are equal.
Meetings take place in the Hall of Comparative Ovations.
Emperor Norton I