Camp Algonquin and "The Ballad For Americans" (David Keller)

May 28, 2016

     I joined Troop 260 in Brooklyn in 1938 at age 12.  Scouting became the most important part of my life!!  I went to summer camp with my troop at TMR in 1938 at Camp Delaware (a tent camp) in K2 (Accaponac). It was a wonderful experience and our gang worked on advancement and ultimately for Merit Badges.  I loved the hiking, swimming and general outdoor life and I enjoyed acting as a waiter during mealtimes.

 
     In 1939, 1940 and 1941 our troop moved to Camp Algonquin in K1 (Sacut).  This was a cabin camp (4 bunks of 8 scouts each).  We had kerosene lanterns and we showered in cold water at a nearby "Willy" (our name for the outhouse).  Dave Parness was our Camp-master and Danny Blechman was the assistant for one of those years.  Some of the boys I remember were the Walkowitz brothers - Jerry and Larry, Marvin Hodes, Teddy Talsky and Lester Unger.  As I matured and developed some stature within the group (I had merit badges for Life Scout but never took the Court to make it official) I was considered to be a senior scout and was permitted to take younger fellows out on 2 or 3 day overnight hikes to approved campsites near Tusten.  We hiked the "Wildcat and the CBT trails.  I was a "flint & steel" man and good at semaphore.  We had our share of minor mishaps and adventures and our scout training sufficed for handling whatever came along.  I recall nights at small campfires where we told stories of the "Cropsey Maniac" and then tossed and turned all night in a pup tent worrying.  In later years when I enlisted in the Navy in WWII I laughed at other recruits who complained about the rigors of "Boot-Camp" and I told them it was easier than scout-camp had been!!  When I think back I marvel at the cost which to my memory was $88 for the full 8 week summer period.
 
     It was probably 1940 when our assistant Camp-master was a fellow named Jack (I cannot recall his last name).  He was into music and he had an idea.  This was the time when Paul Robeson had just done "The Ballad For Americans" on record.  This piece became quite popular -- it celebrated America and what it stood for.  Jack's idea was that we should create a large chorus and do the Ballad for a Saturday night Camp-fire at Tahlequah (Headquarters). From my hazy memory we recruited from other camps in K1 (Sacut) to supplement our small group at Algonquin.  Jack was our Director and Marvin (Mike) Hodes took the lead - a good Baritone.  I was in the chorus.  After perhaps 4 or 5 weeks of preparation we were ready and we performed as planned at the big council-fire at the head of Rock Lake.  We were very well received and apparently some "higher ups" were in attendance and saw an opportunity for publicity.  We were taken by bus to New York City and we performed the "Ballad" in Gimbels department store to a goodly crowd.  Life magazine sent one of their crack photographers (Eliot Ellisofon --sp?) and we were featured in a full page photo in "Life" magazine.  Then at season's end we performed again - this time on "Captain Tim's" show -- I think it was NBC in the early evening.  The whole project was great fun for us all and what I got out of it was the fact that great things could be accomplished if one tried hard!!
 
     The lack of popularity in Scouting today is a sad thing. Boys are missing a great deal of the true basics of life -- but times change and computer games seem to be the activity of choice. Too bad!!!

 

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Ten Mile River Scout Museum

1481 County Road 26

Narrowsburg, NY  12764

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