Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Rite of Passage: the Summer Camp Experience 1957

For many children in the U.S., the summer camp experience has become a right of passage: separating from parents, friends and a familiar neighborhood to live in “the great outdoors” and learn life strategies of how to get along with adults and other children. According to the American Camp Association, nearly 11 million kids attend one of the 7,000 overnight camps each summer, with stays ranging from a week to two months. I had classmates whose parents sent them to camp for the entire summer. Research suggests that camp can build confidence, social skills, and independence. Probably for most kids, the experience is a mixed bag, like life.

Girl scout camp Hidden Falls provided that experience for my sister, Jean, and her two friends. Jean wrote my parents the quintessential camp letter, “Please, please come get me! I hate it! . . . almost mimicking to a tea Allan Sherman’s hit single record years later, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” a comic song in which a camper bemoans his experiences to the tune of Ponchielli‘s Dance of the Hours.

Take me home, oh Mudda Fadda
Take me home, I hate Granada
Don’t leave me out in the forest where
I might get eaten by a bear

Camp Nik-o-Mahs, in the Mountains of Central Pennsylvania 

I remember being intrigued by the Camp Nik-o-Mahs brochure. The camp was once a scout camp founded in the 1920 and named for the nearby town of Shamokin, spelled backwards, that is. The Hall family, who lived in my hometown of Springfield, operated the camp. The list of activities sounded exciting: archery, swimming in a creek, campfires, canoeing, all in a woodsy atmosphere. The cabins resembled little clapboard houses with porches. The camp sponsored overnight hikes and a trip through a water cave. In 1958 the brochure read that campers can “frolic to their heart’s content” in the creek. [1] An adventurous 11-year old, I loved all of that so I begged my parents to let me go. They were not so enthusiastic. My folks were protective and not convinced that the experience would be as joyful as I was imaging. The begging paid off, however, and they submitted the application what I think was about $35 for a week. What could happen in a week, after all?

First Day of Camp (me in the back)

First Day of Camp (me in the back)

Introduction to Latrine Duty

After a four-hour, but seemed like an endless drive due to my excitement, we arrived at the camp. Each cabin had three sets of bunk beds, with four to six sharing the quarters. About nineteen cabins lined along a dirt path, the girls’ cabins grouped together, then the boys’ cabins further down. I think there was a rule about not being allowed on the boys’ side.

After saying good-bye to parents, counselors explained the rules and regulations and gave us a tour of the camp. They pointed out the shower room. You could take a bath, but you had to do something with water, like build a fire, to make it hot. I didn’t take any baths.

I was nervous about getting along with the counselor and other girls in the cabin. I recall that I thought the counselor was a bit bossy, but I soon became friends with the other girls and enjoyed their company.

The next morning we dutifully cleaned our tent as instructed and awaited our inspection. Beds had to be neat, clothes put away, and the floor clean. Counselors marched in with clipboards and pencils and snooped around the corners of the cabin and found two “dust bunnies” under my bed. For the offense, they assigned our cabin the dreaded latrine duty. Later I would tell my mom about what happened, and she was quite indignant that she was paying good money only to have her daughter clean toilets. The job wasn’t that bad, actually, it was more the idea of cleaning toilets. Our cabin passed all subsequent inspections.

Campfire Philosophy

At the first evening campfire, the camp director introduced us to the hierarchy of swimming privileges. The top place was reserved for the members of the Walrus Club, who carried a card with their special designation and were permitted to swim in the deep water. I made up my mind that night that I would take the swimming test the next day, as I wanted to enhance my status with a Walrus Club membership.

Campfires were held almost every evening, and we would sing the typical camp songs.  Looking back on these songs, I’ve realized that the theme of mortality ran through the lyrics of many of these songs.

Titanic
There was a ship Titanic that sailed the ocean blue,
And they thought they had a ship that the water wouldn’t go through,
It was sad when the great ship went down.
Husbands and wives, little children lost their lives (in a high voice)
It was sad when the great ship went down.

Can’t Get to Heaven
Can’t get to heaven on roller skates, you’ll roll right past those pearly gates.
I ain’t going to grieve my lord no more, no more.

Found a Peanut
Found a peanut, ate a peanut, got a stomach ache, called the doctor, died anyway, went to heaven, said go the other way.

Maybe these songs were trying to tell us we wouldn’t always be carefree kids and that we’d better wise up to the ways of the world.

Not sure if singing these other lines from the Titanic song also put a psychological bent into my head for class consciousness, which I’ve been confronting of late?

They were nearing to the shore, when the water began to pour.
And the rich refused to associate with the poor,
So they sent them down below
Where they’d be the first to go.
It was sad when the great ship went down.

Food, Glorious Food

Reveille played over the intercom to wake us in the morning, and we lined up at the mess hall for breakfast. We sat on benches in front of long tables, food served in large bowls. At home, we didn’t usually have bread with our dinner, but here everyone scoffed up the bread. Mom told me that after I returned from camp, I ate everything. The camp experience had expanded my palate!

The camp operated a little store, and parents left an allowance for incidentals. I became totally addicted to string, red liquorice, which I considered the yummiest of candies and spent just about all my allowance on the red stuff.

Jumping into Penn's Creek

Jumping into Penn’s Creek

Notoriety on My Second Day: “Can’t get to Heaven”

Standing on the pier over Penn’s Creek, I asked the adult counselor if I could take the swimming test for the Walrus Club. She said ok, and pointed to a wooden raft in the creek. Part of the problem may have been that I am nearsighted, and I wasn’t wearing my glasses and couldn’t see where she was pointing. Two rafts floated on the creek, one just beyond the sliding board and another way down the creek in the deep water. “Well,” I thought, “that raft beyond the slide couldn’t be the destination, it was far too close for any test for the Walrus Club.” I jumped into the water and swam toward the far raft. I was a good swimmer, I knew I could do the swim. On my return trip, I passed by the sliding board, and at that very moment, an inexperienced camper took off down the slide and panicked, grabbing me for support, pulling me under the water. I was tired by that point and could not cast him off. I told myself, “If I could just get one breath . . ..” Then realizing that was hopeless, I thought, “This is it.”

I blacked out. I came to as the lifeguard carried me to the shore. I was crying, but not sure why as I couldn’t remember deciding to start to cry. The waterfront came to a standstill as I sat sobbing on the sand. From that moment on, I was known as “the girl who almost drowned.”

By the next day, I had completely recovered from the ordeal. I wasn’t fussed over, not even sent to the infirmary. What occupied my thoughts now: did I pass the Walrus Club test? I was ready to retake the test. When I asked the swim counselor, she told me, yes, I had passed, and remarked, “It was a good thing I had been watching you.”

Summer Romance 

One serendipitous happening from the almost drowning incident: I met my first love. A seasoned camper at Nik-o-Mahs, “Plottsie,” as everyone called him, approached me on the path to the waterfront, “Are you the girl who almost drowned?,” he asked. Thus, began the romance. Plottise was a thin boy with glasses and usually wore a plaid shirt. We hung out and sat together, and of course, we were teased by the other campers for our attachment.

A special event on the night before we left marked the end of our stay. The counselors handed us candles on little cardboard floats, and we gently placed them on the creek, watching them glide downstream until they fell over the waterfall. The flickering lights in the dark forest reflected on the water, and Plottsie and I held hands as we walked along the path that followed the creek. All was perfect.

Then Plottsie popped a question, “Can I kiss you?” Thrown into confusion, I asked myself, “Was I old enough to kiss?” “Was I allowed to kiss?” “What did this mean?” I replied, “I don’t think right now,” and with that remark, coolness came over the night. The next day, I went looking for Plottsie as I wanted to take his photograph before I returned home. He stood at a distance as I snapped the photo and hurried off. When I returned home, I mistakenly opened the camera, exposing the picture to light. Plottsie had disappeared in a cloud of whiteness.

The Following Year

The next summer I returned to Camp Nik-o-Mahs. The red liquorice had lost its appeal, and the trips and hikes were no longer new experiences. The candle ritual on the last evening was still beautiful, but I stood alone looking through the silhouettes of the trees thinking I probably wouldn’t be back.

De Ja Vou, Returning to the Camp, 50 Years Gone By

For whatever reason, I decided that I wanted to return to Camp Nik-0-Mahs, which had been closed for years. I wasn’t sure what I’d find there, but a road had been named for the camp. I thought that I might be able to recognize the place along the creek even if the buildings were no longer standing.

Returning to the camp meant a road trip through the Allegheny Mountains, part of the Appalachian Range that runs through the eastern United States. Traveling in mid-October the leaves were at their colorful best with reds, yellows and oranges between dark green trees not yet turned. The sun would occasionally peek out from behind heavy cloud cover, casting a glow on the landscape, highlighting nature’s pallet of colors. The road twisted around the mountains as we drove upward, only to come back down on the other side. Farmlands spread out in the valleys with fields of dried cornstalks and sunflowers against meadows of green clover. Barns, some unpainted and rustic, others vivid red, dotted the landscape. Little villages of clapboard houses clustered along crossroads.

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Penn’s Cave

An outing to Penn’s Cave was one of the trips we made during our stay at camp, so on this trip, I planned a stop there. Penn’s Cave had been a popular tourist stop back when I was at camp and is still is today, as it is one of the few caves accessible only by boat. Since my camp days, the cave had been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Entrance Penn's Cave

The area looked much the same, with the Penn’s Cave House, the three-story frame house built in 1885, standing near the entrance. Steep stairs still led down to the cave and the familiar flat-bottomed boats that took us through the watery cavern were the method of transport. After gliding through the cave, we came out on the other side to a large pond and then returned through the cave again. The tour was almost exactly as I had remembered it.

Finding The Camp

We followed Route 235 through the towns of Laurelton and Glen Iron, making a turn at Creek Road, near the end of which we found Nikomahs Drive paralleling Penn’s Creek. We drove until the road disappeared into the forest, so we got out of the car to look around for any sign of the camp. The house at the end of the road looked very much the era that I had remembered, painted cream with green trim. A sign confirmed the name of the house, Windy Inn, which the Mifflin Times reported was built sometime before 1920. [2] We found several stone structures, now abandoned and left to the elements. One lone building stood intact with a slab inscribed with the date, 1926. A stone sign above the door read: “Erected in Honor of our Mothers.” I guessed that the building may have been the old mess hall. I couldn’t find any trace of the cabins.

I walked to the edge of Penn’s Creek, which looked quite impressive as the current moved swiftly from the heavy rains on the previous day. I guess those many years ago I could have been lost in those waters, but the fates prescribed that my destiny would be to stand here on the bank of the creek decades later.

[1] “Camp . .  Nik-o-Mahs, In the Mountains of Central Pennsylvania,” Millmont Times, Vol 14, Issue 2, June 1, 2013, p. 1-12.

[2] Ibid.

 

This past June my sister and I biked along the trail that runs parallel to the Schuylkill River, and we returned on a warm October afternoon to head in the opposite direction and try out the new addition to the path, the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk. Officials opened the new leg of the path just several weeks ago.

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We bicycled past the view of Boathouse Row and around the back of the Philadelphia Art Museum and alongside of Waterworks before coming to the over-the-water extension. A viewing area above the walkway at Locust Street gave us a vantage point to take photographs up and down the river.  On a Tuesday afternoon, there wasn’t much pedestrian traffic so the four-block ride to the end at the South Street Bridge in West Philadelphia took about ten minutes. Along the trail the boardwalk widens with benches so we could pause and view the cityscapes.

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The walkway serves as a practical walking path from 30th Street Station to the Art Museum. Normally, I would take the subway from 30th Street and get off at 22nd Street, and then walk to the Art Museum. Now the walkway conveniently connects those locations while enjoying the beauty of the Schuylkill River.

September 21, 2014

The legend that Blackbeard, the notorious pirate of the 18th Century, once walked the streets of Marcus Hook, a town nestled on the Delaware River just below Philadelphia, provided the justification for a lively festival and an opportunity for the Marcus Hook Preservation Society to raise booty for the restoration of the Plank House, where rumor has it, that Blackbeard and his crew spliced the mainbrace!

Marucs Hook isn’t the only town to celebrate their pirate heritage. At the Beaufort Annual Pirate Invasion: It Takes a Village to Pillage, the town recreates actual pirate invasion in 1747. Blackbeard also made several appearances in Beaufort until the governor of Virginia tracked him down. The seaport festival in Philadelphia is the backdrop for a pirate battle on the Delaware River, as tall ships blast their cannons in mock high seas battles.

The pirates at Markus Hook opened their encampment to visitors, their period tents offering vignettes of camp life, with open fires providing the aroma of burning wood. Firearm displays, cooking demonstrations and craft tables gave the landlubber much to gaze at and appreciate. Pirate garb is particularly fanciful, with feathered hats, long waistcoats, billowy blouses and gold jewelry. Most events didn’t cost a single dabloom, if you can just resist spending your last farthing on pirate wares at the vendor booths.

The entertainment on stage included enthusiastic performances of pirate music and sea shanties, from groups such as the Brigands. Pirates brandished their swords during the lively swashbuckling contests.

Canon firing complements of Archangel, TheVigilant Crew and the Crew of the Mermayde.

To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.
~ Kurt Vonnegut

When I was growing up in Springfield, my mother signed my sister and I up for membership in the Junior Garden Club. Mom was a member of the Garden Club of Springfield, still an active organization in the community today.  The junior club was organized to teach school-age children the techniques of floral arrangement. We would attend regular meetings where we would learn how to arrange bigger flowers on the bottom, hide your stems and cover the holder. Sometimes the club would hold a competition and award prizes. I liked flower arranging, but after childhood, did not attempt any new projects.

Just recently I thought why not revisit trying a few arrangements.  All these years I had saved Mom’s flower holders, tapes and a few containers. I guess I was meant to come back and try again. I decided not to buy flowers, but rather use what I could find in my garden, back alleys or in waste areas. I added an accessory or two, just because they are fun.IMG_7876

Cape Gooseberry, with its charming lanterns, comes up every year. I have never planted it, and don’t know how it came into the garden. By late fall the lantern shells turn lacy brown, revealing a round yellow seed.

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I added a charm hanging from a hook to this arrangement.  The little door opens.

I found white snakeroot growing in front yard and Queen Ann’s Lace along railroad tracks. The larger flowers are from hosta, a fragrant variety.

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Goldenrod, plentiful along roadsides, turns fields into a seas of yellow. Great plant for arrangements as they last a long time.

Trailer  . . .


October 4, 2014

About a mile south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the historical boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania, the town of Rising Sun rests in the quiet farmland of Cecil County. According to the town’s Facebook page:

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 created the political conditions which made the Mason-Dixon Line important to the history of slavery. It was during the Congressional debates leading up to the compromise that the term “Mason-Dixon line” was first used to designate the entire boundary between free states and slave states.

No Civil War battles were fought in Cecil County, but Frederick Douglass, on his escape from slavery, passed through Perryville, about ten miles south of Rising Sun, and then continuing by train to Delaware.

The Rising Sun Historic Preservation Commission sponsored the Annual Rising Sun Civil War Re-enactment, in partnership with Company A 37th Regiment, North Carolina Volunteer Troops. Over 500 local school children visited the encampment to view the demonstrations. The historical reenactors set up vignettes inside and outside their tents with artifacts and antiques from the time period. Danea Selby portrayed Catherine Virginia O’Connell, sharing her family history and homeopathic treatments.

Dr. Theodore Tate’s display included surgical instruments and medical supplies from the time period.

The Preservation Commission treated the reenactors to a full-course dinner on Saturday night. Both reenactors and guests danced at the Civil War Ball, held on the moonlit night. Music by Kaydence, featured traditional folk music with instrumentation that included guitar, concertina, flute, fiddle, mandola, banjo, and penny whistle. Tom and Lesley Mack, who called the dances, represented the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Era Dancers. A quote from their Facebook page says it best,

a dance was a chance for everyone to be cheerful in order to forget the raging war even for a few hours. It was a place to meet neighbors, friends, or newcomers and enjoy the music and dance of the time.


Near the end of the evening, reenactors fired the cannon one last time.

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Participants

Confederate
9th Virginia Cavalry, Company B
37th Regiment, North Carolina Volunteer Troops, Company A
1st Regiment, North Carolina Artillery, Battery C
1st Regiment, Maryland Infantry, Company 1
5th Regiment, Virginia Volunteer Infantry
2nd Corps Field Hospital
Lt Col Robert Archer Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans

Union
2nd Delaware Volunteer Infantry, Company G
42nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Company B
Federal Generals Corps & Staff
Sedgwick VI Corps, U.S. Army

 

Wilmington RR2

On a warm morning in September, I returned to Red Clay Creek in Delaware to photograph the woodland scenes and Wilmington & Western steam train that provided the backdrop for the skirmish. Photographer for Philadelphia Weekly, J. R. Blackwell, and I met up with General John Houck and the other reenactors portraying both the Union and Confederate forces. J. R.’s photographs feature stunning portraits of the soldiers and camp folk.

Below are two videos from the scenes of the day. The first is a music video, featuring Joan Baez singing The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. This link has an interesting history of the song. On a comment board, someone wrote this insightful post:

My great-great grandfather fought for the Union (wounded 3 times) as he was an abolitionist, and yet this song moves me so much, it almost makes me feel sorry for Southerners. And I mean no irony in that last sentence. As my Uncle Bill, a combat infantryman in WWII said, “Rich old men start wars and send poor young men off to die in them.” Pretty much the case for almost every war.

This next video came out of an experiment where I interviewed reenactors to set up a storyline for the video, as I wanted to try a different approach by expanding on the music videos I had made last year at Red Clay Creek and Rising Sun. When asking folks why they became involved with reenacting, many Confederate and Union soldiers felt strong connections to their ancestors who fought in the Civil War. I understand that relationship as I have an affinity with those who came before me and have written about their lives on this blog. The end of the Civil War meant that those who had lost their connections to family and culture through slavery could now begin to establish their heritage.

Historical Reenactors

Lending a Hand

How Social Services Provide the Mechanism to Help our Fellow Citizens

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Did you see the news article from Australia where commuters spontaneously joined together to tilt the train so that a man could free his leg wedged in the gap? It was a heartwarming story of folks, seeing a catastrophe unfolding, pitching in to help the person who could not help himself.

In the case of the trapped commuter, the humanitarian response seems obvious. Unfortunately, the metaphor of assisting others who are on the brink of disaster, does not always carry over with the same compassionate response toward folks who must rely on social services. I am often amazed that some of the kindest and most giving people on a personal level, who are so willing to offer their help to friends and family in need, either through church groups or civil associations, turn away in contempt when it comes to their more distant neighbors and fellow citizens. It would be arrogant on our part to assume that we can understand the complexities of various disabilities, such as schizophrenia, autism, addiction, depression or bi-polar. Compounded on these disabilities are the social scars from dysfunctional families or just plain bad luck. We must not scapegoat on those who are most vulnerable. Therefore, as a society we come together to help these folks, in a concerted way, through policy and practice of social services, rather than charity.

Some feel that people on welfare or needing food stamps are getting a free ride at their expense. Media outlets with an agenda supporting corporate welfare, cast those who need help as undeserving, making up false accusations, such as their refusing to work, and this propaganda fuels the fire of hatred. If we look at the statistics, fraud and abuses are relatively minor. Sharing the facts about low fraud, however, does little to move those who have come to believe that folks that require social services are moochers. Some even point to owning a refrigerator or microwave as evidence that no one is really poor. It’s as if they want to believe the visceral and dehumanizing rhetoric regardless of the truth.

If we do nothing to help the poor or disabled, that in itself is an abuse. Government assistance is an organized attempt to offer an ethical solution to poverty, and it is in the best interests of all citizens that we attempt to ameliorate the conditions of poverty. Otherwise, we face increased illness and crime, deterioration of the family structure, and a workforce unprepared for skilled jobs. Scapegoating on the down trodden blames these victims of circumstance, most of whom were born into their situation.

It’s the multi-million dollar corporations which steal from citizens. Economic elites have significant impact on U.S. government policy, while average citizens have little or no influence. Corporations hire lawyers to figure every way to dodge our taxes, while still benefiting from working on U.S. soil.

I believe in pulling together to tilt the train to help those caught in the throes of poverty, illness or despair. We must support each other for the health of the society and for ourselves, as it is in our own self-interest to help others. We are all workers, and an injury to one is an injury to all.

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