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Typo hunters banned from the Grand Canyon?

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Posted: Thursday, June 25, 2009 12:00 am

Just read about the weird exploits of some young friends who went about correcting typos on public signs and wound up banned from national parks for their efforts.

Led by a fellow named Jeff Deck, 28, the group was known as TEAL — for Typo Eradication Advancement League.

They bounced around the country in a 1997 Nissan, moving on the cheap, and blogging about their efforts to correct typos.

The grammar vigilantes enjoyed a fair amount of media coverage for their exploits.

But they ran into trouble after correcting a sign in the Grand Canyon.They scribbled revisions using a white-out product and a permanent marker, according to a piece in the Arizona Republic.

They chose the wrong sign, though.

This happened to be a one-of-a-kind, hand-painted work by the architect, artist and designer Mary Colter. Colter was a pioneering creative force in the Southwest. She designed iconic structures in the Grand Canyon, including the Watchtower, and the Fred Harvey Hotels for the Santa Fe Railroad. She used Native American and Mexican motifs in her designs and was the creator of the "National Park Rustic" theme.

So when the TEAL team defaced the sign, it was a bit like taking a Sharpie to "American Gothic."

Then they blogged about it. "Will we never be free from the shackles of apostrophic misunderstanding, even in a place surrounded by national beauty?"

The TEAL members discovered the word "emense" in the sign, but chose to leave it uncorrected.

"I was reluctant to disfigure the sign any further, so we had to let the typo stand. Still, I think I shall be haunted by that perversity," Deck wrote.

So Colter was apparently a better designer than writer.

In any case, the parks folks viewed the actions of TEAL not as editing, but as simple vandalism. (The sign, in fact, is a National Historic Landmark.)

Deck and a sidekick, Benjamin Herson, 28, were summoned to federal court in Arizona and eventually sentenced to a year's probation, ordered to pay $3,035 in restitution, and barred from the Grand Canyon and all other national parks during their probationary period.

As a fan of Mary Colter's work, I'm disappointed this happened.

As an editor, though, I can empathize with - even applaud - TEAL's goals of improving the public use of written language.

Anyone out there notice any public typos in Lodi-land? If so, let me know. Perhaps we can make a difference - without fines or restitution.

Here is a photo of the sign that was defaced:

The Republic story on the case is here: