The Grande Olde Willy House (Bernie Lerner)

June 4, 2016

     If we are going to have a TMR museum that correctly reflects the history of the camps, then I suggest that we reconstruct one of the unique cold-water Willys that came into being along with the reservation in the late 20's. I fondly remember the Willy-House as a social center second only to the mess-hall and also as an undisputed marvel of medieval engineering.

 

     For those who came unto TMR after its time, the original Willy was a two-story affair that was built to look rustic, i.e., "dilapidated". The upstairs, which was accessed by a steep staircase, consisted of two parallel, galvanized-tin sinks, with four taps on each side, and two showers in the back.  The sinks were in full use in the morning before assembly, and occasionally in the afternoon for laundry.  The cold-water shower was used strictly in the afternoon and evening when it was warm. The only time I remember a shower being on in the morning is when it was used as part of the Ordeal. This practice was almost immediately abandoned as being too cruel.

 

     There were four Willys for each camp of 100 scouts, so that between Reveille and First Call, the wash sinks were two deep. A scout was considered lucky if he got to brush his own teeth. Also, you never got to wash two days in a row with the same bar of soap. But the one thing about washing up in the morning that everyone complained about was that there was something strange about the Willy-House water - your towel never dried. This condition lasted all summer, no matter how hot and dry the weather was. Rather than tell the truth when I came home from camp with damp towels, I claimed to have had a last swim just before leaving. This didn't wash, but the towels did.

 

     The downstairs was split into two rooms, entered by separate doors. The sitting room had open seating: four seats in a row set on a single concrete block-bench. This room was the reason that the Willy-House was a 2-story job. The water draining from the sinks and shower was collected in a large tilt-bucket located in the "basement". The bucket was pivoted off-center, so that when it finally filled it would be unbalanced and would suddenly dump. The dump served to flush away the accumulations of the downstairs chambers to the adjacent septic tank. This didn't occur too often, because the bucket was pretty big, but when it did dump, it was always a dramatic event. Unfortunately, if you were occupying one of the wrong seats when the bucket dumped, you stood a good chance of also being flushed. Because the dump-water sometimes ricocheted from the far end, even a new camper soon learned that the preferred seats were those closest to the bucket end.

 

     Normally, we had little choice in Willy House seating, because the free time in our schedules was more or less mutual, so the Willy very often had a full house. This was hardly a disadvantage; the relaxed communal atmosphere generated bursts of creativity along with the bursts of gas. Some of the most famous camp skits and songs of the 30's were created in the Willy House. One of the best productions was a Marx Brothers skit, which was of course generated by a gang of four, led by Les Hauer, who looked like Harpo, but who was a lot more vocal. Most of these creative sessions took place in the evenings, and were cut short by either volley ball or darkness. Had we had electricity in camp then, some of us might have gone on to Broadway. As a matter of fact, some of us did, like Nat Peck, but they were probably the ones who had extra kerosene for their lanterns.

 

     One of the camp mysteries that I have never been able to solve is where the name, "Willy", came from. I've heard various theories: that they were named for President Taft by Judge Cropsey, who was a Democrat, that Willy was short for Sweet William (a rose by any other name would never smell like a Willy), or that Willy was the Lenape word for shit. I understand that the TMR Museum is located on a historic Willy site, and I think it would be appropriate for Bernie Sussman to take time this summer to track down the origin of the name which now serves as the foundation for his summer home.

 

Please reload

© 2019 Ten Mile River Scout Museum.

Ten Mile River Scout Museum

1481 County Road 26

Narrowsburg, NY  12764

845-252-2063