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Grammar Vigilantes Busted in Grand Canyon National Park, Barred from Park System


The scene of the grammar crime: The Watchtower at Desert View in Grand Canyon National Park. NPS photo by Michael Quinn.

Come on, admit it. You cringe when you see someone use "it's" instead of "its," and it really affects you when effects is used as a verb.

If so, then you understand how Jeff Michael Deck, of Somerville, Massachusetts, and Benjamin Douglas Herson, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, must have felt back on March 28 when they entered the Watchtower at Desert View in Grand Canyon National Park and saw the grammar problems with an (a?) historic sign that tells visitors what to look for in the structure.

Being apostles of the "Typo Eradication Advancement League," Messieurs Deck and Herson, both 28, resorted to black marker and Wite*Out to fix the offending apostrophe and once-absent comma in the first paragraph of the sign, which dated to the 1930s or early 1940s. Unfortunately, it turns out Mr. Deck made the cardinal mistake of chronicling their work on a web site, which came to the attention of National Park Service investigators.

"We do not blame, nor chastise, the authors of these typos. It is natural for mistakes to occur; everybody will slip up now and again. But slowly the once-unassailable foundations of spelling are crumbling, and the time has come for the crisis to be addressed," explains one section of the web site.

Later, in recounting the editing that occurred at the Grand Canyon, Mr. Deck wrote, "A faux Native American watchtower is part of the tourist structure at the Desert View lookout. Benjamin and I climbed it and discovered a hand-rendered sign inside that, I regret to report, had a few errors. I know today was supposed to be my day off from typo-hunting, but if I may be permitted to quote that most revered of android law enforcers, Inspector Gadget: "Always on duty!"

While their grammar lesson might have been delivered, the two were tracked down by NPS investigators, hauled before a federal judge back on August 11, and pleaded guilty to doing the deed. They were ordered to make restitution of $3,035 -- the cost estimated to re-insert the grammar errors -- and banned from entering any national park for one year.

(Editor's note: To learn more of their handiwork and thought process, read the attached criminal complaint.)


$3,035.00 for a hand-rendered sign? Who is the criminal?

I understand the punishment. Regardless of the grammatical improvement, it is most probably vandalism. I am concerned, however, that park officials reinserted what was deleted. I wonder what their thinking was: Let's correct the vandalism by restoring the grammatical errors?

This is INSANE. This kind of thing is why I hate the Parks system. I love the parks, but the system and the self righteous, jerks that work there can go to Hades.

There is only one thing that bugs me more than typos and that is someone with built-in spellcheck that highlights the typos by making corrections on the printed material with bold markers or white out. You can't find the original authors most of the time and you loose the original flavor. [Ed. Here at Traveler we do make typo corrections to make sure that the intended meaning is conveyed. We don't otherwise mess with typos. For example, I have not corrected the typo in Ron's comment (loose instead of lose) because it doesn't confuse anybody.]

Kurt, was there an editorial or typographic oversight in this post? ;-)

I read, 'Yada, yada yada' ...

"... explains one section of the web site."

... but I don't see a link to it. What website?

Is this website the home of the "Typo Eradication Advancement League", referred to earlier in the post? I had thought the name was in mockery of the vandals. But maybe not?

Here's my take on the story: Anybody cognizant of the treatment of errors in historical documents knows that errors are preserved and notation made (if appropriate) to warn the unwary ([sic], etc). And, anyone with a valid concern for grammar knows we can only make improvements going forward: the past is both out of reach, and irrelevant (for these purposes).

Did you see the recent news that researchers reported that eating watermelon has a physiological effect similar to viagra? In the days immediately preceding the 4th of July? That's what I think these two were up to: Searching for a gimmick to attract attention to themselves (and maybe a website).

... Or, did you see my photographs of the 500 pound Bigfoot that I & a buddy backpacked a day and a half out of the hills in one piece? Go to my website:

As I used your post as a reference in mine, I figured I should alert you about my take on the situation, which can be read here:


All that remains of Jeff Deck's website can be found here. However, if you read the attachment I provided, it contains some screen shots of the site as well as verbiage from it.

Thanks for your thoughts on this, Doug.

I think some comments are missing the point. This is not prosecution for correcting a typo, it is prosecution for damaging a historic resource. (Yes, "a" historic). The plaque is part of the original building design. more than 60 years old, and is hand lettered. We would expect the NPS to prosecute anyone who damages a historic sign, typo or not. There are many grammatical errors on the civil war monuments at Gettysburg fro example. Would we allow people to "correct" those? The Declaration of Independence contains grammatical errors and I can guarantee you that one would be prosecuted for making pen and ink changes to that document. The NPS is doing its job.

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