Stories From the Brooklyn Scout Camps

The Early Days

Bernie Lerner


      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 for campers.

      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 camp truck.

      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.


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Last Updated: January 18, 2003
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