Stories From the Brooklyn Scout Camps
The Early Days
Camp in the early 30's consisted of 100-man
units, each with its own mess-hall and cold-water Willies. We lived
in 10-man "private" tents, with SPL's in two-man 9 x 9's, and senior camp
staff in the staff cabin, usually remotely located. With a Spring
birthday, I was able to use Bar Mitzvah money for a full season in 1934
at Accaponac, followed by several more of the same, and then on-and-off
staff years through the 40's. The 30's were the depression years,
with a fringe benefit being that a season cost about $100. Of course,
for this kind of money, we didn't eat high off the hog, especially not
at Sacut and Accaponac. Joe "Spanish Rice" Levine, Brooklyn Camps
Quarter-Master, did manage to keep us in plenty of milk, Epco and apple
butter, which seemed like a good combination at the time. Chicken
was our Saturday lunch, and Sunday lunch included the weekly ration of
an ice cream bar. Sunday morning was our formal camp inspection,
with Chief Kimball arriving in his usual style in a motorcycle side-car,
driven by an aide. Inspection at Accaponac was held on the parade
grounds/volley ball court, now known as the "Picture Window".
Accaponac in 1934 had two exceptional features:
The Indian Cliffs and the Indian Girdle Tree. It may be hard to believe
today, but the Indian Cliffs were "exclusive" to Accaponac. No one
outside our camp either knew about them or ever visited. The trail
then was behind the messhall, overgrown, unblazed, and almost impossible
to find if you were not an Accy "native".
The Girdle Tree was a 4-foot diameter oak
near the messhall that had survived the Indian practice of clearing campground
by girdling young trees. The grown-over girdle ring was a good foot
bigger than the tree itself. While it survived the Indians, it didn't
make it past being a yearly target for axe and knife-throwing contests
In the late 20's and early 30's there was
other evidence at Accy that scouts were not the first campers on the cliffs.
The Leni Lenape had left us arrow-heads and other relics as reminders that
they were there first. The river view probably was important to them for
other than esthetic reasons. There were also relics of later occupants
on the mountain, the most spectacular being the rotting phosphorescent
wagon wheels you could see on the Rim Trail, glowing in the dark after
a rain. Incidentally, the Rim Trail, so named for the wagon wheel
rims still found in the early 30's, was a logging trail not very long before
1930, at a time when the log-wagons were horse-drawn.
In 1934-36, Murray Duberstein was campmaster
of Accaponac, and our next-door neighbor and prime camp rival was Kanohvet,
run by Morty Hyman. Morty was an occasional star at the Saturday night
all-camp council fire, and I remember him giving the best portion of a
round-robin impromptu continuous story session. My 1933 Sacut P.L.,
Maury Pollett, along with Nat Peck, later became producers and stars of
the famous Sacut Stock Company of the original "Saturday-Night-Live" council
fire dramatic productions. The 'Lost Submarine' play was straight
drama and one of the best-remembered productions of the 30's. My
1934 Accy patrol included later luminaries such as Charlie Cogan, Les Hauer
and Stan Fudell.
Tent living was an exercise in cooperation,
what with the high population density and the limited space, which we didn't
really seem to notice. We did get to be expert in running leaks in
the canvas to the edge during a rain-storm, and in gang-rolling tight flaps
afterwards. There was no electricity outside of H.Q., who supplied
the rest of us with lanterns and kerosene. One of our internal rotating
patrol assignments was lantern detail, which consisted of wick-trimming,
chimney-cleaning, and filling, prior to morning inspection. When
a patrol was docked for the night, they simply took away the patrol lanterns
and our flashlights. This didn't always work, because I remember
one patrol making it down to the Donut Farm using willy rolls dipped in
kerosene as torches.
Another patrol duty was "piano-movers",
for which there really was a bugle call, which required moving the block
ice off the red Brooklyn camp truck into the mess-hall ice-box. Ice
was cut from Rock Lake in the winter and stored in the ice-house at H.Q.
One of the later pleasant hot-weather work details was digging the ice
out of the sawdust in the ice-house and sliding the ice down to the Brooklyn
A lot of activity, other than eating, centered
around the mess-hall. Fondly remembered is "Swiss Navy", which was the
weekly thorough swabbing of the mess-hall floor, again a rotating patrol
duty which came but once to each patrol. It was a wet, sloppy mess,
done after Taps, which either despite of, or because of, the soap and water
fights, got the floor clean.
The 30's were the years when Rock Lake was
certified to be of drinking water quality, so you could safely drown without
fear of typhoid. I believe it was the summer of '36 when the camps
really jumped all day as they blasted Route 97 through the reservation.
Before and after 97, the 14-mile hike was down to Narrowsburg and back,
with a chit signed by the Postmaster as proof. There were, of course,
the obligatory stops at Doc Van Atta's going, and the Donut Farm returning.
In fact, the 14-mile hike gave birth to the Donut Farm; Esso Oil gave birth
to Van Atta's. We also got down to the 'Burg for one night per summer
for a genuine sound movie. The movie house was the fire-hall by day, and
the fire-truck was moved out on the street for the show. This was
sometimes more exciting than the movie.
One of the early intra-camp activity highlights
that did not survive the mid-30's was the Color War, which was held once/season.
Despite the name, most of the casualties were those from poison ivy.
In my case, while worming along on my stomach on an ill-defined opening
in the brush near the Indian Cliffs, I was actually run over by a rabbit.
I still have no idea of whose side he was on.
Before TMR, Camp Brooklyn was a totally
self-contained entity, with its own traditions and history, with headquarters
at Tahlequah. We walked or canoed to Tahlequah several times/week,
for the Trading Post and such sights as above-noted Ditmars snake museum.
Tahlequah was also the occasional residence of Captain Freddi, and Uncles
John and Julie. Captain Freddi, with the help of Wacondah and concealed
mechanical devices, started the Saturday night council fire. Uncle
Julie Meyers owned the downtown Brooklyn Trading Post, which sold all the
official scout uniforms that no one could afford. Al Hruschka, the
Al Kraft off the 30's, was in charge of all of the canvas (tents and canoes)
mess-halls, water pipes and Willies. Herm Humer ran the Trading Post and
his crew was infamous for the traditional hollow scoops of ice cream and
the frozen Milky Way bars. Another tradition was the White Bar relay, the
cross-country run that seemed to be attract a lot of college track men
to camp. There was also a Junior White Bar Relay, which was paced
by the senior team. The year that I ran the Junior, my leg was through
Bear Swamp, and I swear my pacer ran the first 4-minute mile.
Bear Swamp was aptly named, because
our patrol earlier that year, on an all-day treasure hunt covering some
15 miles of the back-trails, met a bear in Bear Swamp. The trouble
was that the trail through the swamp was only one scout - and one bear
- wide, and we were all single file, except that we and the bear were coming
from opposite directions. After one look at each other, we
all went into reverse, still going in opposite directions.
Camp season lasted most years from July
1st to the first week in September, giving us a 9-week stay. The
Fourth of July was celebrated by an evening assemblage on the Tahlequah
lawn, with a fireworks show on Rock Lake, complete with war canoes and
torches. Equally spectacular, especially in the late 30's, was the
display of Northern Lights at camp, bright enough some nights to read a
newspaper, if one was left on Sunday by visitors.
The end of all this came with TMR, with
the change in '37 of the camp structure to troop camps and divisional mess-halls,
the first of which was D-3. Some of the old mess-halls, such as those
in D1, stayed in use for a while, but the vacated ones, such as Kanohvet,
were converted to nature and handicraft lodges. Camp for the campers
was basically the same, but the continuity and tradition that had begun
ten years earlier, was broken.
Back to: Stories From the Brooklyn Scout Camps
Last Updated: January 18, 2003
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