[Our Fake History] Episode #96- What is America’s Weirdest Secret Society?

Episode #96- What is America’s Weirdest Secret Society?

10/10/2019 by Sebastian Major

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=83515684
Episode: http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/traffic.libsyn.com/ourfakehistory/Episode_96-_What_is_Americas_Weirdest_Secret_Society.mp3?dest-id=367678

In the 1930’s a famous California history professor thought he had discovered a long lost historical treasure. It was a brass plate apparently inscribed by the famous English adventurer Sir. Francis Drake. The plate was heralded as an amazing discovery, but it was actually an elaborate hoax orchestrated by an irreverent secret society. The group behind the hoax is known as E Clampus Vitus and it may be America’s weirdest secret society. Tune in a find out how tin-can medallions, “widders”, and a Grand Nobel Humbug all play a role in the story.

Listen Date: 2020-01-21 to 2020-01-22

TL, DL: In response to the self-seriousness of the Freemasons and Oddfellows, the California Gold Rush miners set up their own secret society, dedicated to drinking, partying, and being self-consciously ridiculous (but also to the welfare of widows and orphans). It collapsed with the Gold Rush, but in the early 1900s, California amateur historians came across it, loved the idea, and restarted it for themselves. And some of them pranked somebody who may have been a fellow member, a former member, or just somebody they didn’t like – and created a fake plate signed by Sir Francis Drake claiming all of California. The hoax was wildly successful, made it to Californian school textbooks, and wasn’t debunked until 2003.


  • I kept remembering Stalky and Co and Mike and Psmith. ECV gave off the same vibe.
  • Learned about the three characteristics of a secret society (none of which involve secrecy about the society itself):
    • Restricted membership, usually by invitation only
    • Code of conduct, usually involving secrecy about what the society does
    • Promises that membership will make you superior to non-members
  • Got reminded of the club that Fred and Barney belong to in the Flintstones – though that was unselfconsciously ridiculous


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