Recollections of the Brooklyn Scout Camps in the 1930s (Knocko Naversen)

June 29, 2016

     The Brooklyn Council published a monthly publication called the Council Ring to keep scouts and scouters informed of coming activities.  In the spring, a special expanded issue was published as the "camp issue". The first one I remember was beautiful by any account.  The graphics were excellent and some, such as the camp layout, appeared year after year. This issue also gave the meaning, almost in a poetic vein, of the Indian names of the 11 camps on the hills surrounding the lake.  The 12th camp, it was explained, was for veteran campers from the old camps at the Kanohwahke Lakes in the Harriman State Park complex.  Hence the composite, Kanohvet, from the place and "veteran". This camp was at a small lake near Mahl's Pond.  After 4 or 5 years, when the "old veterans" thinned out, this camp was relocated to the site of Wapoga, which was then phased out.  Kanohvet's old site was established as Camp Apelachi for scouters.
 
 WHO WAS WHO

     The chief director of the camps was Lindsley F. Kimball, The Chief, as everyone called him.  Pictures in the camp issue of the Council Ring were the work of the Chief.  Scenes such as those of scouts enjoying an ice cream cone, a buddy call in one of the cribs, horseback riding, canoeing and general camp activities were included in these issues.  The camp director under the Chief was Joe O'Farrell in the early 30's and Phil Wagner in the later 30's.  Joe Levine was the camp buyer and the official Postmaster.  He was short, jovial and shrewd.  One of his master strokes as P.M. was to print some of the Chief's pictures as post cards and give them at no cost to the campers.  In turn, they would buy one-cent stamps to send the cards to family and friends.  The Tusten Post Office was a fourth-class P.O., in which practically all earnings were obtained by government payment for canceling stamps - per stamp.  So Joe made a lot of money for the camps in this way.  A penny went a long way in those days.  I know; I made most of the cancellations.
 
 THE ROAD TO CAMP

     My first year at the camps was 1931; the last week in July and the first week in August.  The fee was $15 for the first two weeks and $10 for each additional week.  Four in my troop went, Walt Myers, Ed Miller, "Ofty" and me.

     We took the 4th Ave.Local from 59th St. in Brooklyn to the City Hall station and then walked to the ferry for the ride to the Erie Terminal in Jersey City.  About 600 scouts climbed aboard the "Weary Erie" cars and, after a short wait, started on the journey of about 3 hours.  It was a beautiful sunny day and before we knew it, we were chugging across the single-track Erie trestle crossing the Delaware from Pennsylvania into New York at the Tusten Station.

     We were met by Phil Wagner and some of his crew who instructed us to put our camp gear in the stake truck and start the hike for camp.  The Council Ring said that the hike to camp was a "short mile".  That was a euphonious way of saying to the edge of the camp grounds, but neglecting to include the last 3 miles to Tahlequah.  Anyway, this horde of scouts started up the road towards the camps.  Since there was some merit in arriving among the first, it became something of a race to get up there. Soon, the 600 were pretty well strung out.  The hike wasn't bad for the first part until Route 97 was crossed, then it was straight up.  I remember looking at the fellows that were about even with me and wishing that they would take a rest, but no one gave in and we pushed on.  Finally, we came to the top and glimpsed Rock Lake through the trees and got fresh heart for the final mile.

     In those days, there was no pre-camp medical, but part of the check-in at Tahlequah was a quick health check by the camp doctor.  Next, we were instructed to go to the combination Handicraft-Quartermaster Lodge for a tick and straw to fill it, plus a lantern or two.  The troop had signed up for Camp Tanawedah, whose campmaster was Leon Kaitz, but since this was a provisional camp, we changed to Kowanoak, a troop camp.  This camp was right in front of what six years later became Division III's mess hall.  

     Each camp had room for about 100 campers.  Hence, there were 8 to 9 tent platforms with an army tent erected over the platform.  In our case, there was no tent and we got one from a little supply building next to the 100-man mess hall.  We also got our steel army cots there, and we were officially Brooklyn Scout campers.
 
 THE WAY IT WERE

     Each of the 12 camps had a campmaster, senior patrol leader, waterfront man (shared with 1 or 2 other camps) and one other staff man, generally a nature man or a bugler.  All calls were blown for each camp, identified by a couple of note suffixes.  Most of the campmasters were in jobs that enabled time off during summers.  Hence, there were a lot of teachers as campmasters.  Our staff was Stuart Marvin, campmaster; Mike Thyng, S.P.L.; and Art Duffy as waterfront man.  I don't recall the nature man.
    
     Kowanoak was flanked by Kunatah, at the same location it now occupies. It was under Noel Forrest.  On the other side was Oseetah, under Sy Morse. Carl Schaum was at Ihpetonga for years, Leon Kaitz at Tanaweda, Jack Ornstein at the double kosher camp, Sacut;  Wopaga had Nick Dale with a ubiquitous assistant by the name of Morty Hyman.  The others I simply don't remember.
     
     With the erection of the tent completed, we hastened down to the waterfront.  The old campers said that we had to pass a "dock" test to swim in deep water, with a buddy of course.  When we got to the dock, there were about 50 scouts and scouters there yelling the name," Duffy!", towards the Ihpetonga dock.  It appeared that the season's swim meet was being conducted, and all the waterfront men were there in judging capacities. Finally, Duffy came back in a canoe, and started the afternoon recreational swim.  However, we new campers couldn't take our test that day and had to be content to get cooled off by a dunking in one of the two cribs.  The next day we got our dock testing done and I started the junior life-saving course.
 
 SCOUTCRAFT TOO

     Scout activities were organized around development of skills in hiking, camping, and waterfront activities.  There were two overlapping programs.  The first embraced earning the Brooklyn Camp award: the first degree being a green teepee, the second degree, the addition of a red canoe.  The third degree was an embossed teepee and canoe.  The campers were issued cards, and as each skill was mastered, it would be signed off by the S.P.L., waterfront man, etc.  The basic teepee was earned by just about all campers in short order.  The canoe part took a season or two for some and the third degree was a fourth or fifth year achievement for the diligent.  You might say that it was a parallel award at camp to the Eagle; not many earned it.  The Brooklyn Camp emblem was done away with in '37 when everything came under TMR and its camp emblem.

     The other program was organized around the booklet that was issued at each camp (enclosed) entitled "A Brooklyn Scout at Camp".  It had basic rules of conduct- that every scout should know - the daily schedule, the requirements for the camp awards discussed previously (but not for the third degree, it must have been formulated some time later).  The museum emblem was also included but could also be earned in town.

     Ray Ditmars was Director of the Brooklyn Children's Museum and also the chief Nature Man at camp.  His wife was Chief Kimball's secretary at camp and in town.  The other elements of the booklet were the requirements for the camp belt award: A. B and C.  The A award included swimming, the camp award, some kind of construction project, a model, and leadership.

     The belt could be purchased at the canteen, and these award achievements could be stamped on the belt or, alternately, the scout could repair to the handicraft lodge and carve the designs into the leather.  The B & C requirements were more advanced and would keep veteran campers busy learning additional skills.  Many of the requirements were equivalent to merit badge requirements.  In addition, ranks, Senior division, and WWW membership were added to belts.
 
 THE MAIN EVENTS

     The biggest inter-camp events were the season swimming meet which, as stated above, interrupted our first swim.  Ihpe and Kanohvet were generally tops in those sports.  Mel Kime, Harvey Robinson and Happy Glabberman were waterfront men at Ihpe from '28 to '32-'33. The other event involving inter-camp competition was the White Bar relay.  The White Bar trail was about 14 miles long.  It went mostly through woods and was marked by a metal rectangle with green background and a white bar.  The SPL asked for volunteers, and we started to practice before reveille each morning.  We had a ten-man team that ran the race.   Unknown to us, the other camps with predominantly season campers had been running from the first day of camp.  Anyhow, we came in a respectable seventh or eighth far behind the Kanohvets, Oseetahs, Ihpetongas, Stehahes and Kotohkes.  These camps generally attracted the top swimmers, track people and ball players.  At the other end of the Lake, we had the achievers and dramatists, who came into their own at the Saturday night council fire, detailed below.  During our camping period, we scouts worked on the Brooklyn badge, swimming, boating and canoeing, as well as the camping activities, and these were carried over into other seasons for completion.
 
 THE SATURDAY NIGHT FIRE

     The highlight of each week was the campfire.  All camps gathered on the slope in front of Tahlequah about 7-7:30.  During this time, the camps would give their cheers - The Ali-Go-Riga Rahs in ten variations.  It was also a time for recognition and awarding of the camp badges.  I can still see Joe O'Farrell recognizing scouters with many years of service.  Murray Duberstein, campmaster of Accaponac in 1931-36, was one who was pointed out for years of service, as was Uncle John McLane, Noel Forrest, John Saunders, Uncle Julie - who ran The Cabin camp outfitting store on Court Street, and many more.  All of a sudden, a hush settled over all the campers, and everyone started towards the Council Ring above the family camp area, silently the following the path marked by Order-of-the-Arrow guides holding red flares, stationed from the Tahlequah slope to the Council Ring.

     The Council Ring had a rugged, six-tier, pioneer type of stand that seated about half the scouts.  The others sat on logs circling around.  The fire was in the center, and facing it was a three-seat stone structure with a large blue heron in the center, elevated about four feet above the highest seat.  After all participants filed into place, four Order-of-the-Arrow members faced the cardinal points of the compass and, upon a signal from the Chief, opened the Council Fire by invoking the wind of the N, E, S and W to provide their blessings.  Then Captain Freddi, in full Indian regalia, invoked the benediction of Wacondah, and at his signal, a flaming arrow was shot into the kindling from an adjacent tree, and it blazed up in multi-colors and set the logs on fire.

     The camps were allocated specific weeks for their skits, as it would take too long for all to perform in one evening.  Many of the skits were original, and must have taken much preparation.  The dramas and group chants of Sacut were particularly impressive.  Small wonder that some of Sacut's directors became television producers; Sid Tamber, for one.

     The light of the campfire was supplemented by an electric spot mounted on a pole.  The last activity was conducted by Chief Kimball.  The light would be dimmed and he would step into the middle and give an inspirational talk.  In later years, this would be done by Jack Ornstein or Morty Hyman. In '38 or so, Mort had a collie called Lucky at camp.  Mort that night gave the gist of a famous soliloquy on the dog, man's best friend, written by a Senator West.  Morty and the dog went center-stage into the middle of the ring.  With only the dying fire outlining the man and his dog, standing like a statue, the tribute was given.  Years afterwards, campers commented on that perfect performance by man and friend.  With this last part, the electric spot came on and everyone filed out and back to each individual camp.
 
 THE GREAT ESCAPES

     The wilderness camp and Pioneer camp were located at Davis Lake and Ten Mile River, respectively.  Scouts working on camping, hiking and cooking, would go out for four-day stints.  Some years ('33) there were horses at camp, and each scout was assured of a morning horse-back ride, followed by a breakfast of flapjacks and hot chocolate.  Another activity was the rifle range under the auspices of Bill O'Phelan, who was on the staff for years.  Canoe trips of four days' length were conducted each two week period.  A waterfront man led a trip with about ten canoes on Lake Wallenpaupack, a new man-made lake about thirty miles away in Pennsylvania. Participants were from all camps and not limited to the dock of the leader. This was a wonderful experience for the scouts, not only in water sports, but in cooking, camping and cooperation.

     Instead of the Wallenpaupack trip, the waterfront man who led it could select shooting the rapids at Skinner's Falls on the Delaware near Hancock, New York.  About ten canoes would be trucked up in the morning and back in the evening.  Each participant got about 5 runs through the rapids which dropped about 20 feet or so in about 200 yards.  On my trip, I had the good fortune of having Harvey Robinson, the old Ihpe waterfront man, who was on vacation, to help me, and he provided expert experience from many trips. He and an older scout took the first run, and another scout followed. Harvey and I checked out the others in short order and soon there was a steady run through the falls, followed by the slower portaging procession to return the canoe to the start.

     Another who was on this trip was the protestant chaplain.  He gave us all some anxious moments by flipping his canoe and not appearing for the longest while.  I had a personal stake in him, for he performed my wedding ceremony some years later.
 
 AND THEN CAME TMR

     Scouting in New York City was reorganized in 1937, I believe.  Perry Lint came in as city Chief Executive and Chief Kimball and Brinton from Queens were moved under him as associates.  Al Nichols came in from Chicago as Director of Camping at TMR and the old traditions at Brooklyn went by the board: the White Bar, the Brooklyn camp emblem, the belt, the nature award.  Another innovation was the change from the concept of ten camps to the 32-boy troop camp.  With the depression, some shrinkage had occurred. In 1935, for example, Stehahe and Kowanoak were not open.  The change was probably both economic and ideological.

     In preparation for the season under this concept, training sessions were conducted for about six sessions at Erasmus Hall H.S..  The scoutmasters were in the 20-21 year age group and were paid $25.00 for the season.  A new dining hall (D-3) was constructed opposite old Kowanoak, adjacent to Oseetah.  Morty Hyman was campmaster there; Carl Schaum was at D4, with Tahlequah as the dining facility, and Jack Ornstein was campmaster at the two dining halls previously mentioned (Sacapponac) at K-1 and K-2. Roughly 25 camps of 32 scouts replaced the old 10-camp setup.

     What it do for the campers?  There were pluses and minuses.  The big minus was the loss of the old traditions.  On the whole, it was a step forward for the ordinary scout.  Everyone got in on the ordinary activities that were formerly under the domain of the older leaders only.  The Brooklyn camps approached more the national ideal of the typical troop camp.

     The food at D-3 and D-4 was probably better.  With the change, all meals were prepared in each mess hall, versus the old system of preparation at Tahlequah and transportation to the old mess halls.  With that arrangement, accidents did occur; either the truck was too long in getting the food to the camps, or something else occurred, and we would have an occasional case of Montezuma's revenge.  The waterfront activities didn't change much. There were five docks; two for D-1 and D-2 combined, and three for D-3 and D-4 combined.  The scouts got a lot of waterfront activities. Based on my reports for '39 and '40. it was a rare arriving non-swimmer that didn't go home a swimmer.  Life-saving, rowing and canoeing were also favorite accomplishments that were completed in high style by many campers.
 
 HONORABLE MENTION

     Each camp had a set of grappling hooks at the docks.  In my memory, these were never used at camp, but the state troopers would come by for assistance at various adjacent resorts.  In '39, we went over to Washington Lake and hauled out three non-swimmers who had capsized a boat and gone under.  About six of us worked on those unfortunates for about two hours before we had to give up.

     One of the few buildings remaining in the Tahlequah area is the main infirmary.  It was brand new in '33, I believe.  We always had two doctors and a nurse in attendance.  The latter position was held by Ma Creasy for about the first ten years.  The doctors were new each year, but some years we had some who had been campers and who had held various staff positions through the years; notably, Joe Lombardino and Paul Arnesen.  The canteen was the only place where the campers could buy sodas, Mars bars, Milky Ways, ice cream cones, postcards and handicraft items.  It was open in the evenings and before the big campfire.

     Cash was not accepted, but tokens were issued at the camp bank which was located adjacent to the post office in Tahlequah.  So to get a candy bar, the campers had to stand in line in two places, the bank and the canteen.  The latter had six windows on three sides to serve the goodies. In the early years, the canteen clerks had this as sole duty under Herm Humer, the manager for many years.  Well, some of these guys were the prototypes of the Brooklyn wise guy.  They would be downright nasty to the campers and would revel in giving kids hollow ice cream balls.  It was an art to form the cone into an empty round sliver.  Another bit of nastiness was practiced on scouts who wanted a frozen Milky Way.  This would be delivered by cracking it down on the counter, much to the dismay of the scout who ordered it.  This type of smart aleck went out of style about '34 or '35.

     Lastly, let me mention some of the fellows that I spent time with at camp.  Reginald Irvine, a friend from the Sunset Senior Degree, was the camp photographer in 1934, my first year on the staff.  He had a lot of free time between his photographic duties, and he spent some of it raiding the camps and some of the staff.  Joe O'Farrell, the camp director, was plainly annoyed at his escapades and admonished me to stay away from that fellow.  During later seasons, I had some great times with Ed Wagenaar, the waterfront man at Dock 1, and Bob Futeran and Kurt Mulhausen at the waterfront cabin.  My last season was at D-3, residing with campmaster, Joe Lombardino, and Pioneer camp honcho, Arne Nielsen, the Big Dane.  Joe, by the way, had almost every job possible at camp, from the lowest orderly to camp doctor.  Others, like Muzz Porcella, had Dock 1 when I had Dock 2 in '39.  He and I later crossed paths by chance in London, Paris, and Dayton, as well.  WWW reunions of the thirties were memorable, both planning and doing with fellows like Lou Kornbluh, Maurice Pollet, Willie Weldon, and seeing all the guys at the event.

     In recalling some of the things about camp, I can't overlook the fine leaders who made the camp experience so much better: Chief Kimball, Phil Wagner, Joe O'Farrell, Jack Ornstein, Carl Schaum, Morty Hyman, my S.M. Al Anderson, and our assistant S.M., Bernie Nathan.  In '39, the program director was a brand new second John whose job was training for the modern pentathlon for the Olympics.  That, of course, was aborted, but the next time I saw his name was as a three-star, the senior ground commander in Viet Nam, Lt. Gen. Ewell.

     Probably most of the guys my age were in the armed forces during WWII, but I only heard of four who made the supreme sacrifice; Jim Shanley from Ihpe and Columbia, Art Malettealso, from Ihpe, Jack Dore, on the Tahlequah staff, and John Hellings, who resurrected old Troop 30.  There had to be others, but I never heard.  As a group, the fellows that camped at the Brooklyn Scout Camps were an exceptionally fine group.  In fact, as fine a group as the best I've come across in all my endeavors.

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