‘The Lemurians are coming … ” or not.
On Saturday you can step back into the rich history of the Dunite community that once inhabited the sand dunes west of Oceano.
The dates run from the 1920s to 1992 when famed artist Elwood Decker, the last Dunite, was struck by a train on the tracks that run along the Dunes.
The South County Historical Society will be premiering its reprint of the 1947 classic novel, “The Face of the Clam” at 2 p.m. at the Odd Fellows Hall, 128 Bridge St. in Arroyo Grande.
A Poetry and Clam Chowder event will celebrate this historical novel written by Luther Whiteman about life in the Pismo-Oceano Dunes in the 1920s. Admission is $5.
Whiteman’s novel is based on the larger than life personalities who inhabited the Dunes.
The characters are in many ways similar to those in John Steinbeck’s “Tortilla Flats,” in which Danny and his little band of miscast friends gather in two old houses in an impoverished district of Monterey to enjoy life and wine.
“The Face of the Clam” centers on a belief that the lost continent of Lemuria was under the ocean next to the Dunes.
The Dunites observe golden skinned, golden-eyed Lemurians coming to the shore. A woman claimed one of them fathered her son. Lemuria appeared to be rising to the surface, marking the start of a new epoch.
Whiteman did not invent these ideas. Serious scientists in the 19th century believed that Madagascar and India had once been part of a larger continent.
Helena Blavatsky, whose Theosophical movement constructed the Halcyon Community with its Temple of the People near the Dunes, thought that Lemuria was occupied by the third of her “Seven Root Races.”
The novel became a cult classic for the 1960s Age of Aquarius movement. It quickly became a rare book. I paid $45 for a copy 30-some years ago. A used copy on Amazon currently lists for $149.
The title, “Face of the Clam” describes the main conflict in Whiteman’s novel. Many of the Dunites were drawn to the region because of the abundant Pismo clam.
Gavin Arthur, regarded as the central figure in the movement, loved to make his recipe for Sixteen Clam Chowder for the denizens of the Oceano Dunes during the 1930s.
The followers of the new age-religion were qualified vegans. They defined animals as anything with a face. One group declared that clams had a face and should not be eaten.
In the novel, the schism between clam eaters and nonclam eaters becomes something like the religious wars of the Christian and Islamic worlds.
A Portuguese moonshiner near Oso Flaco, customers in the Mexican store in Guadalupe, the inhabitants of our county jail and even a pert redheaded waitress in Avila Beach make Whiteman’s novel a must read for residents of our region.
You will want to read Norm Hammond’s now-classic nonfiction work titled “The Dunites,” alongside “The Face of the Clam.”
The book is also published by the South County Historical Society. “The Face of the Clam” will sell for $35 (hardback) and $18 (paperback).
Saturday’s event will feature longtime seafood restaurateur Pete Kelly’s clam chowder and a glass of wine.
You will meet Norm Hammond and can sit back and listen to the poetry of Jane Elsdon, Karl Kempton, Marguerite Costigan and Kevin Patrick Sullivan.
There are two ongoing exhibits on the walls: Early Pismo, Vignettes and Photographs, and Routes and Roots, Cultivating Filipino American History on the Central Coast.
For more information, call the South County Historical Society at 489-8282.
Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.