Every summer during my informant’s childhood she went camping in Yosemite. Among the many other camping traditions that people may hold, it always seemed to her that everyone who regularly attended Yosemite was in on this piece of lore. While she didn’t understand why people did it at first, she eventually learned the story from her parents. Now, she enjoys the idea of the tradition because it reminds her of her childhood.
While this call-and-response is usually only performed and passed between campers in Yosemite Valley, I was lucky enough to have my informant share it with me during an interview that was being conducted to collect folklore.
“Some years ago a kid named Elmer was lost in the woods. Every summer from then on someone would shout “ELLLLLMEERRRRR” and every camp through the whole valley would echo the name back.”
Whether or not Elmer ever really existed, I was able to find out by looking further that people have reported hearing his name throughout the valley since the 1930s! Moreover, there was even a children’s book published that describes the phenomenon. This shows that although the tradition remains folklore in Yosemite, its influence has been expanded to the realm of authored literature as well. While some tradition-bearers prefer to act as gatekeepers of their knowledge, I personally believe that the publication of this piece of folklore has been positive. Allowing it to be shared with children who may never get to camp in that region is a very kind thing to do, and it may eventually lead to the tradition being spread and practiced in other areas as well.
For another account of this phenomenon, see:
Yosemite Ranger Notes. “Yosemite Valley: A Land of Beauty, Peace, Sanctity, and ‘ELMER!’ – Yosemite National Park (U.S. National Park Service).” National Park Service, 29 Sept. 2014, www.nps.gov/yose/blogs/yosemite-valley-a-land-of-beauty-peace-sanctity-and-elmer.htm.