Wednesday, September 13, 2006

New Ketchum plaques: History happened here

Express Staff Writer

A group of history enthusiasts that take seriously the act of getting silly is getting down to business.

The newly formed Sun Valley/Ketchum chapter of E Clampus Vitus is installing four bronze commemorative plaques around Ketchum this week.

Plaques on sandstone pedestals will be dedicated at Forest Service Park and the Ore Wagon Museum, near Bonning Cabin. Two "bar plaques" will be installed at the Pioneer Saloon and Casino Club.

The fact that there are no active chapters in Idaho isn't the only reason a group is forming in the Wood River Valley.

"We're lonely and we don't have any friends," said Steve Cannon.

Chapter comrade Dick Dahlgren said he hopes the Ketchum/Sun Valley chapter will be the Idaho E Clampus Vitus center.

Cannon said the organization is "legitimate" and has included notables such as Mark Twain and Ronald Reagan.

Clampers date back to the 1840s, according to the national group's historian, Michael Faircloth. Original members were involved in history and research, but they also dedicated themselves to aiding miners' widows and orphans.

"The Clampers began working and helping people who died in mining disasters," he said.

When not dealing with the serious side of life, members enjoy poking fun at themselves—and others.

"It's a parody of secret societies and benevolent brotherhoods," Faircloth said. "It eventually evolved into what we are today."

"We do this because we love history and it's a fellowship," he added.

The association dwindled around World War I but was later revived. Members began installing plaques as a public service but continued humanitarian and public help programs.

The group claims to have 100,000 members—5,000 of them active—in seven states, Faircloth said.

"We sell T-shirts, hats, vests, license plate holders," he said, "anything we can think of to make money for the plaques."

They have installed 2,000 plaques since the 1960s, he said.

The Ketchum plaques are a result of city and private party donations, both financially and in-kind.

A new pledge initiation—which might consist of a round of drinks—and the bar plaques' dedication will be held at 6:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 15, at the Casino Club and Pioneer Saloon on Ketchum's Main Street.

The Forest Service Park commemoration will start at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 16. The group will walk to the Ore Wagon Museum and Bonning Cabin immediately after to dedicate a plaque there.

Scheduled to appear at Saturday's dedication are representatives from the city of Ketchum, the Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society and area historian Ivan Swaner.

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