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Camp Man - 1943 (Bob Levy)

As both of my parents were working at war jobs, it simplified their lives if I went to Scout camp. It also meant that my Grandmother McConnell was able to go out to the Chicago area to help my mother’s sister and her family without having to worry about me.

The summer of 1943 some of the other boys in my troop were going during the fourth two week session (late August) and they recommended that I put in for the same site at Camp Man that they had been to the previous year. Most of my things were put in a foot-locker sized trunk, and shipped off by Railway Express. To avoid problems if it hadn’t arrived before I did, I rolled up one days clothing, my pajamas, and some other things into my sleeping bag, and took that with me. We took the subway to northern Manhattan, where the bus(es) were. I don’t remember whether there was a bus terminal, or if they were just parked on the street. When I got in, and got a seat, there wasn’t enough room in the overhead rack for my sleeping bag, so I had to put it in the rack near the back of the bus. I don’t remember sleeping in the bus, and we didn’t stop and get off anywhere except at the Red Apple Rest. For most of us it was just a “pit stop” because the restaurant’s prices were more than we had extra. When we got to camp, the others from my troop rushed to get off, and wouldn’t wait while I fought my way to the rear of the bus to get my sleeping bag. They said, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll come back later; the driver will pile things outside the bus.” So I ran to catch up where they were running off through the woods on a rough and rocky trail. Somewhere along the way I turned my ankle on something, and sprained it badly enough so that I could no longer run, and had trouble walking. I limped after them, and came out near the group washroom was, and into the campsite where we were going to stay. We checked in with the site leaders, older boys, and were assigned to tents. There were four four-man tents down each side of the more or less open space which was the center of the site, with the leaders’ cabin at the low end of the slope, and a fireplace and some logs for sitting on in the center, around the fireplace. Then we went back to the parade ground, where the buses had stopped, found our bus, and dug through the pile of bags and suitcases next to the bus for our things. No sleeping bag. We checked inside the bus, and through the lockers underneath it, and then expanded the search through the other buses. It never showed up. Fortunately my trunk had arrived, and I had an extra blanket in it, and some of my friends loaned me some blankets, so I slept well enough. Each tent had two cots on either side of a center aisle, metal frames and springs, just like the cots I found when I was inducted years later into the army, and with a similar mattress. The tents were made of white canvas, and looked weather and time-worn. There were frames from the tent platforms to tie them to, so no pegs were needed, and there was an additional tent fly over the tops to provide additional shade, and additional water-proofing during rain. In addition to sleeping in them, I think we had a “quiet time” each day after lunch when we’d be in our tents, possibly to take naps. I think the area we were in had 8 troop sized camp sites, each with a different name displayed over the entry to the sites. There were some on either side of the central dining hall for all eight units. And I think there were two wash-houses, one on either side of the mess hall, each used by four units. They had cold water only, but we were expected to take at least one shower a week. Otherwise we bathed by going swimming. There were a couple of times a day when we could go down to the waterfront to go swimming. Because I limped a lot, the leaders sent me down to the First Aid building in the Waterfront area, where a “nurse” strapped my ankle up with adhesive tape that covered my foot, ankle, and most of my lower leg up to the knee, and told me not to strain it. I think I was also told not to go swimming, but I did, and found that my ankle felt better while I was in the water. Almost all of our activities were new to me, I hardly know where to start. The dining hall - had a lot of 8-man sized tables with oilcloth tablecloths, and benches along either side. So, if there were 8 units, with four tables per unit, there must have been at least 32 tables. I don’t remember if the leaders sat at the same tables as their campers. Each day each unit had to send some of us for K.P. Those boys had to set the tables, and then afterwards clean off the dishes and take them back to the kitchen area where they were washed and put away by some of the kitchen staff. After everything had been cleared away, the K.P.s had to wash and dry the table tops. A senior boy (one of the kitchen staff would then come around, and run his fingers over the table top. If he saw greasy marks, he’d make that boy clean the table top again. It took only one such rejection, that I made him wipe his fingers on a paper napkin before testing the tables I had cleaned. Lo and behold! It was his fingers that were greasy, not the table tops. None of us on duty that day ever again had to clean the tables a second time, we always made him wipe his fingers off before testing them. I don’t know what happened on other days. The food was good, and plentiful, and was brought out to the tables by “waiters.” Each unit had to send one or two boys up to the kitchen each day to be waiters. They ate, along with the kitchen and other staff members, at a first seating, so they’d be available to carry food out to the tables. And to get refills if needed. I don’t think the food was served to us individually, I think the platters or bowls were passed around and we helped ourselves. The wash rooms - were combinations of an area of sinks, shower “room”, and an eight hole privy over a water tank. I don’t know how often the water (and everything else) was flushed out of it. They stunk. And when you had a bowel movement, the resulting splash acted as a bidet. Which I hated. I’d drop some toilet paper in before using them, hoping to cut down on the splash. I suspect that the shower and sink waste water was also run into the tanks to dilute them. And from experience in later years I suspect they were periodically run off into a septic field down the hill away from the units. I wonder now how one washroom could handle four units; even if we only shared it with one other unit (the only other one I remember), there would have been 64 boys, plus about 6 leaders, all trying to get washed in the morning in what may have been as many as 8 sinks (four on each side of a common water pipe.) We each supplied our own towels and wash-cloths, and I think we used to hang them over the tent frameworks to dry. As soon as they were mostly dry, I think that we had to hang them over the ends of our cots, so the site would look neat. (Interesting; I can’t remember how we handled the same problem when I was in the Army, either here in the States in barracks, or in Korea in a tent.) Swimming - The waterfront swimming area was divided by piers into three areas. The piers looked like a capital “E.” There were strings of floats closing the two gaps, and then the free swimming area was off the top of the E. The one closest to shore was for those who had to keep one foot on the bottom, the middle one for those who could swim, but hadn’t proved to the staff how far they could swim, and the one farthest out for those who had proved they could swim from the pier to the float. All of the swimming was on a “buddy” basis. We each had to go into the water with a “friend” or with the next person in line as we walked out on the pier. The lifeguards would periodically blow their whistles, and the buddies had to join hands, and hold them in the air together. (One hand each.) If the buddies weren’t close enough to do that within seconds, they were made to get out of the water for a time. You were moved from one area to the next by telling a staff member that you thought you could do so. He’d then watch while you swam in the area you were in. If you wanted to move into the deepest area, a staff member would row along next to you while you swam from the pier to the float, and then back again. That was a goal with an incentive; you couldn’t check out a canoe until you had become a “skilled” swimmer. The question I have is how the staff determined who was at what level of capability. One of the photos shows the boys walking past what looks like a bulletin board on their way out along a pier. Am I making it up, or were our names written on a cardboard disk with a metal edge, in three different colors, that were hung on hooks on the board? Did we get them to take back to the unit with us? To bring down to the next swim session? Were the buddies’ disks put on the same hook? What Really happened 60-plus years ago? All I know is that in two weeks I progressed from one foot on the bottom to swimming out to the float and back so that I could later on check out a canoe. I think we were allowed to have only one person in a canoe, but usually the staff wanted two people, for the same reason we had buddies while swimming - if there was only one person there, someone had better find the other one in a hurry. Unit activities - Once a week the kitchen staff had an evening off. Each of the units sent some of us up to the kitchen to get food we could cook and eat in the units. We were asked what tests we needed to pass to get to the next level of scouting, and I completed my requirements for both Second and First Class during the two summers I was there at camp. We were encouraged to do some types of craft work; I think the only thing I ever did was work on “gimp” for lanyards. The leaders could help us with those, show us how to do the various things we were working on, either in the building or out of it, depending on the weather. There was a central “Craft Shop” down in the Lakeside area where we could go to get suggestions, buy materials, and get some training in what to do. (One of the photos from the Camp Man files shows a scout making a pack basket. Boy, would I have liked to do something like that. Six years later I bought a pack basket for $10 up in the Adirondacks. It lasted me for seven years, and a lot of miles of both winter and summer packing. But while I was at camp I never had that much money.) Camp activities - I only remember two times during the two weeks that we went down to the parade grounds, once during the day for a general parade and flag ceremony, and once at night around a huge bonfire when the candidates for the Order of the Arrow were tapped out by members running around and tapping out the people who’d been elected from each unit to become members. They were “hauled off” by two others to where they got to slave with stick “bits” in their mouth for a couple of days (to remind them not to talk) on some sort of camp improvement project. The “canteen” - The photos show a small building, and triggered a memory. I think the canteen was open for us one day a week, and we could buy a candy bar, or something of the sort. At least those of us who had money. I don’t remember whether I ever went in there, in either of the two summers I was there at Camp Man. The second summer I was there, after people from my troop came up during the fourth session, we were in a unit in Central. Instead of four-man tents, Central had eight-man squad tents, of much heavier, sort-of yellow color tents, which were much darker unless both ends of the tent were open. The pictures show a wall tent design, with much bigger tent platforms. I carry an image of their being pyramid shaped, which is probably an error on my part. Other than that, and there being only 4 tents per unit, everything was about the same as during my earlier time at camp. Central washroom, central dining hall, and so on. The Central area was much flatter, so the tents weren’t scattered among the trees on a hilly slope as those at Whipenquok were.

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