You don’t think history can be fun? Consider the group of Californians known as Clampers, who gather to celebrate history in a place called Twain Harte (ask any California historian, or American literature mavin, how the town got its name):
“It’s a common saying that no one has been able to tell if they are historians that like to drink or drinkers who like history,” said Dr. Robert J. Chandler, a senior historian at Wells Fargo Bank and a proud member of the group’s San Francisco chapter. “And no one knows because no one has been in any condition to record the minutes.”
Whether a historical drinking society or a drinking historical society, the Clampers claim tens of thousands of members in 40 chapters across seven Western states, though nowhere are the group’s strange ways more alive than in California, where members are said to have included Ronald Reagan; John Huston, the film director; and Herb Caen, the famous San Franciscan master of the three-dot journal. Some Clamper membership claims, of course, can be suspect. It is true, however, that many noted historians have been members, as is the current director of the State Office of Historic Preservation.
I already like the bunch: The Order of E Clampus Vitus.
Read about them in the New York Times. The Times carries a series of stories based on the WPA-produced state guide books (Works Progress Administration). Each one of these articles would be a good topic of focus for a lesson plan. Other articles in the series so far include:
- In a Town Apart, the Pride and Trials of Black Life
- Vanishing Barns Signal a Changing Iowa
- Holding Out, to Last Tiny Isle, as Cajun Land Sinks Into Gulf
- Eccentricity Fuels a Revival of Vermont’s River Towns
- A State That Never Was in Wyoming (one might also want to look at Strange Maps)
- Places Captured in Time, but Not Frozen There
See also the introduction to the series, and go back in time to read the .pdf of the story announcing the creation of the WPA, intended to created 3.5 million jobs in the Great Depression.