As an historic preservation society, E Clampus Vitus is a fraternal benevolent organization with a gift of giving. The volunteer workers use construction skills to cooperatively work with historical societies and communities in preserving and protecting American West history.
The goal is to educate communities by creating plaques; by constructing small buildings and by making walls, displays and monuments. Their historic restoration projects have included the Belltown Cottages in Seattle, Issaquah Trolley, Fort Nisqually, and the Klondike Gold Rush Museum in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. Commonly known as the Clampers, the name E Clampus Vitus apparently has no true Latin meaning. Their fun-loving apparel, complete with badges and medals made of tin can lids, bring to life their motto, “I believe because it is absurd.”
The Clampers latest local volunteer project was at Black Diamond Museum, once the old Black Diamond Train Depot alongside Railroad Avenue. The depot was built in 1886, four years after Black Diamond’s establishment as a town. Long time Black Diamond residents recall the depot structure (since its closure in the 1930’s) as housing a restaurant, a library, “possibly” schoolrooms, an office, a facility for city storage, all at different times.
After several years of volunteer work, the depot opened as “Black Diamond Museum,” a restored and renovated home for memorabilia, artifacts, storage of history. The museum was dedicated in 1982 on a day to honor the 100thanniversary of City of Black Diamond’s founding.
“The basement level of the museum had been just one large uninterrupted space where a variety of artifacts were displayed,” said Dee Israel, the museum’s design team coordinator. “We wanted to add two walls to make a portion of the basement into two rooms.” The other portion of the basement had already been re-designed into two rooms, one of which contains artifacts that replicate a blacksmith shop. It displays tools used in the past. A second room is reminiscent of an early historic auto repair shop. The two newrooms in Israel’s overall design plan were intended to complement previous construction.
“We didn’t have qualified volunteers available to do the new project,” said Israel. At an E Clampus Vitus plaque dedication at the location of the mining town, Franklin, Israel approached Clampers’ past president, Chuck Messinger about the needs at Black Diamond Museum. He suggested the Clampers’ would like to volunteer and took the idea further, to Dan McCormick, current E Clampus Vitus president. “We specialize in projects we can knock out in a day or two,” McCormick said. “We usually get upwards of 20-30 volunteers at a project so we can do it quick and efficiently. We call it ‘Clamper Shock and Awe’.” The awe can be seen at other locations like the Wilkeson Eagles building restoration project that was celebrating a 100-year anniversary. At the Carbonado Saloon, where the owner happens to be a Clamper, the preservation society was involved in numerous work projects with its plaque mounted in 2012.
Last month at Black Diamond Museum,the design committee purchased needed materials and provided essential tools for the “two new rooms” project. A dozen members of ECV spent several hours on November 4thmoving artifacts out of the way and building the walls. “It was a job well done,” Israel noted. The museum will now be closed December 15to January 4. Closure should give museum volunteers a chance to get blacksmith and auto shop artifacts displayed fairly soon for visitor viewing.
Work is not the only interest of intrigue for the Clampers. They also have fun. Their “precishun drill team” marched in Black Diamond’s Labor Day Parade this August. The comedic team is traditionally dressed in red outfits, a color originally selected years ago to lampoon the style of other fraternal organizations. They use old time bit and brace drills in their acts as well as beer can cutouts or old jar lids for honor badges. Throughout the State of Washington the Clampers’ generosity of spirit, at work and at play, have resulted in numerous awards for preservation of history.