Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Camerites

The piquancy of an in-joke fades over time. Unless someone records or otherwise reveals the basis for the smiles it evokes, an in-joke becomes unfunny, unfathomable. We no longer get it.

The Madison High School Camerites apparently shared an in-joke that's no longer accessible. Surely back in 1911, ten years before Gene Rodenberry was born, a group of young men interested in photography could not have known about Camorites, the humanoid residents of Camor V, mentioned in "Bloodlines," a 1994 epidosde of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" written by Nick Sagan. Why then did they convince the editors of the 1912 Tychoberahn to emphasize that the spelling of their organization's name was "C-a-m-e-r-i-t-e-s," not "C-a-m-o-r-i-t-e-s?"

Google "Camorites" and all the references are to "Star Trek." Hmmm. Let's check the OED (Oxford English Dictionary). Perhaps we're dealing with an archaic term.

Here we are: Camomile (a variant of chamomile; drink tea made from it, don't hurl it as an epithet). Next word: Camorra (an extra "r" -- didn't these young men know how to spell?). Let's give them the benefit of the doubt. What's a Camorra?

According to the OED it's either (1) "a kind of smock-frock or blouse" or (2) "a secret society of lawless malcontents in Naples and Neapolitan cities."

So here we are, more than nine decades later, left to wonder if these men, born in the late nineteenth century, wanted future generations to know they weren't a secret society of lawless malcontents whose members wore smock-frocks. Or were they trying to say something else?

The 1912 Tychoberahn has a photograph featuring ten of the twelve members of the Camerites. There is no caption identifying who's who. All we know is the membership included Alex Alexander, Theodore Hoeveler, Robert Johnson, Leslie Ketchum, William Marshall, Edwin Meisekothen, Paul Rose, John Sachs, Edward Schernecker, Theodore Scholz, Arthur Wilcox, and Edward Williamson.

I've reproduced the page from the 1912 Tychoberahn showing the Camerites. If you have additional information about any of these men, please leave a comment or send an email.

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