What follows are the personal recollections of Joseph S. Larson. This is a wonderful window into the history of Camp Clark of 62 years ago. For those of us who followed Joe and his peers his memories answers questions about buildings, people and of course Camp Clark folklore.
Joe's recollections personally brought back fond memories of my time at the camp and I'm sure they will stir similar memories from other readers. Morning swims anyone?
I hope that this is the first of many personal histories we all get to share.
Thanks to Joe for taking the time to share his memories and the extra bonus of a 1943 U.S.G.S. topographical map of the Camp Clark layout 67 years ago. Thankfully, really not much has changed.
CAMP CLARK RECOLLECTIONS
Joseph S. Larson
I first came to Camp Clark as a camper in the summer of 1948, along with my friend Brian Handspicker. We were from Malden, Mass. Just about all the rest of the campers and counselors were from the greater New Bedford area. We were there because the camp Director, G. (George) Latimer Hannum, had previously been head of the youth program at the Malden YMCA. He had hired Brian’s older brother Meredith “Jerry” as a counselor, so Brian and I tagged along as campers. All three of us had been to a Boy Scout camp for two or three summers in New Hampshire so this seemed to be a chance for a new experience with friends. Brian and I turned out to be the oldest campers that summer.
Sandwich MA 1943 (revised 1947) USGS map.
One of the rituals at Camp Clark at that time was to require each new camper to either perform a feat or give a speech at the campfire. I chose to give a speech. I forget what the overall theme was but at one point I referred to all the counselors, who were sitting on logs at the fire’s edge, as “bumps on the logs.” That went over big with the campers and the Director seemed to laugh harder than anyone else. Pretty brash for a new camper from “foreign” parts, however.
Brian and I had not signed up for the full summer, but the camp experienced a larger influx of campers at the time we were to leave. The second floor of the Craft Shop had to be opened (capacity 14 campers) and required staffing, so the Director asked Brian and me if we would like to stay on a sort of Counselor trainees (no pay, just room and board). We did, largely because it would elevate us above the campers who seemed much younger than we and we liked the camp better than our experience at the Scout camp. I think that the Senior Counselor I served with was Ellsworth “Brookie” Baker.
This was the first time, other than baby-sitting, that anyone had given me responsibility for other people and it proved to be an important turning point in my life. I was short on self-confidence and had a limited circle of friends at home. That’s where the rest of the counselor staff came to the rescue. Despite not being from southeastern Mass. I was accepted into their ranks and there were many whom I liked and admired. And they knew how to have a good time while still taking good care of their campers. Peter Mandell and Jim Shepley were two who I looked to for examples. Pete had been at Camp Clark since dirt had been invented and had a great sense of humor. Jim exhibited a gruff exterior but was a good practical soul underneath the surface. Others, like Dick Davenport and Bruce Bochman were both good leaders and good athletes. I began to observe their leadership skills and practical child psychology. Dealing with homesick kids and the occasional smart kid determined to run away to home were periodic challenges. Learning that a few rules plainly stated to campers and consistently applied was more effective than a long list of do’s and don’ts. Keeping a cap on a potential bullying and reinforcing the egos of shy campers were part of my learning as well.
I guess that I passed muster that first summer because I was invited to return as a Junior Counselor the next summer serving first in Y Cabin with Norm Purdy as the Senior Counselor and working with him in the Craft Shop. Because, unlike most of the other counselors, we worked inside, Pete Mandell referred to us as the “mushroom growers.” Pete served on the waterfront and sported a great tan. I recall that summer also produced a higher than planned enrollment of campers and again I was pressed into service for larger responsibility. Brookie Baker had managed to pretty much cover himself with creosote while treating the exterior of some of the cabins before camp opened, got too much sun, and had to return home for medical care. My recollection was that I was put in charge of the 14 camper lodging in the second floor of the Craft Shop. The youngest camper was age 7 and the oldest age 14. The 7 year old was too young for camp, came with a stuffed doggy toy and was terribly homesick. One night I came back from the dining hall to find the 14 year-old, Lynn Duckworth, up in the rafters chasing a bat. I think that the only reason that I was given this assignment was that the lodging for the Assistant Camp Director, Ben Wilson, was next to the bunk room on the second floor and he could come to my rescue if necessary. It was never necessary, but probably just knowing that he was only a partition away may have helped kept the lid on the older campers.
Flush toilets were few at the camp and most everyone used the outhouses. Hot water showers were non-existent and most of us took a dip in the pond right after flag-raising every morning – rain or shine. Sunday morning dips were mandatory for all campers and staff. Electricity was available in most camp buildings – except the three cabins of the Junior Section and Ike Babbitt cabin. All camper bunks were made of a sheet of heavy canvas hung between a couple of planks. Counselors had spring cots.
I liked reading stories to the campers after taps to get them settled at night, but I did venture to cook up a ghost story.
After telling the story one night I went to a counselor’s meeting in the dining hall. After the meeting I returned to the campers, walking up the outside stairs of the Craft Shop to the second floor bunk room. I found the screen door latched shut and had to open it by slipping a blade of my jack knife between the frame and door jamb. I then found the storm door shut as well and had to push hard to get it open. It was blocked by a pile of camper’s trunks. As I stumbled into the bunk room I was caught in the cross beams of about a dozen flashlights and submitted to a hail of shoes and sneakers. When the cabin lights came on I saw that most of the campers were on top bunks with a supply of footwear for ammunition. The campers all claimed that when they heard steps on the stairs they thought that it was the ghost and were ready to repel boarders. Who was I to say otherwise?!
I continued to serve as a counselor though the summer of 1953. Our family did not have a car, so I would pack a big trunk and have it picked up at our home by Railway Express who would see that the trains would deliver it to the Sandwich rail station a few days before I arrived. I would carry a small luggage bag and my sleeping bag to the Malden train station and take a train to Boston’s North Station, then take the Boston Elevated Railway to South Station and board the train to the Cape. Someone, often Hap Greenhalgh, would meet me at the Sandwich station with the camp truck. We would go to fetch the trunk from the Railway Express office in the center of the town and head for the Camp to put in a week opening up the camp – fixing screens, painting boats, creosoting the cabins, etc.
The basic length of time for a camper to stay at camp was two weeks. Parents and friends were told that the Sunday between the two weeks was not a visiting day, but someone would always ignore that and arrive, making new campers who had cast off homesickness start all over again. The Camp Director usually avoided this problem by sending the entire camp out for a hike along the back Cape roads right after lunch. Any unplanned visitors who arrived were warmly greeted by Ben Wilson, Assistant Camp Director, who would profusely apologize that everyone was out of camp on a trip and would not be back until supper.
Taking campers on overnight trips was always fun. Junior campers would hike to Spectacle Pond where we would use a row boats to ferry them over to an isolated beach on the north shore, sleep on the beach, fix breakfast there in morning, row back and hike to Camp the next day. Seniors would go on longer trips usually to another pond site often for more than one night. The annual 7-mile hike from Camp to the dunes of Sandy Neck, Barnstable, on Cape Cod Bay was always memorable. At that time there was little public access and use of the dunes. The new U.S. Route 6 had not been built and we passed few homes until we got near today’s Route 6A. Today there is a paved road from 6A to the dunes, a public parking area and people everywhere. The camp truck took supplies for two or three nights, plus our sleeping bags. On the dunes we could let the campers roam pretty freely and play in the surf because we could see just about everything on the landscape. Those who had contracted poison ivy at camp learned how sea water would help clear it up. We slept out on the dunes in sleeping bags and the campers learned to leave their shoes and sneakers upside down in the sand when they went to bed to prevent the night dew from wetting the inside of the footwear. Lying on the dunes at night looking for shooting stars and lighthouse beams and watching the sun rise up out of Cape Cod bay and the fishing boats tend their fish traps was a treat. Breakfast was cooked on the dunes by counselors and other meal supplies had been brought by truck.
I had Ike Babbitt cabin as the sole counselor for part of one summer. It was prized because of its remote location uphill behind the dining hall and was without electricity. I told the campers that they were specially selected for this cabin. They were all about 11years old, still able to be organized as a team when necessary but just starting to take on individual responsibility. They liked their “special” status and they turned out to be one of the best camper groups I ever had.
I later became Head Counselor of the three cabin Junior Section-also without electricity. My Junior Counselor was Jim Brown, a waterfront sailing person, and the bat-chasing Lynn Duckworth was a counselor under my charge in one of the other three Junior cabins. I continued to read to the campers at night, but milder stuff than the ghost story. The lack of electricity gave me an edge in getting the kids to sleep. We had a kerosene hurricane lamp in each of the three cabins. The lamp wick mechanism in these is such that the lit wick casts thin line of light to each side when the flame burns low. I would start reading the story with the wick set for full light output (without smoking up the glass chimney) from the lamp wick, and as the story progressed periodically and slowly turn the wick down until there was just enough light shining down the line to my book. The cabin had darkened, and when the story ended, half the campers had fallen asleep and I would blow out the lamp.
Over the six summers I spent at Camp Clark, my job as a Craft Shop counselor changed to Nature counselor. I was interested in the natural outdoors and nature lore. Director Hannum had the camp pay the $25 fee for me to take a nature counselor’s course at the Museum of Science in Boston. I caught hog-nosed snakes at camp, feeding them toads, and took campers on nature walks. Years later I became a professional wildlife biologist and eventually a professor at UMass, Amherst. I often looked back at the summers at Camp Clark, knowing that had I had more training and experience, I would have been a much better nature counselor.
I can’t think about Camp Clark without automatically thinking about my fellow counselors, some of whom I first met when they were campers: Jim Brown, Lynn Duckworth, Bob Mills, George Wright, “Nick”, Jim Shepley, Bruce Bochman, “Duke” Davenport, Norm Purdy, David Breneke, “Zeo” Zimmerman, Pete Mandell, “Hap” Greenhalgh, Jim Whitehurst, and others. Floyd Reed and his wife ran the kitchen for most of the summers that I was there and fed us well, although having to put up with our criticism of his pudding. “Uncle” Bob Hastings was a camp legend in those days, appearing periodically to check things out. Years later, when I returned to UMass Amherst as a faculty member, I would became well acquainted with his brother Donald and sister-in-law Phyllis and their daughter Cindy, who ran track and cross country with our older daughter. The Amherst branch of the Hastings family owned and operated an old-time news and stationery store in the center of the town that is still operated as “A. J. Hastings” by a family member today.
My Camp Clark experience was one of the best that a young guy could have at the point where one’s life begins to come together. The people I knew and worked with filled the “my gang” role that I never had in Malden - where only one friend was interested in joining me in exploring the woods of the nearby Middlesex Fells Reservation. The setting of Camp Clark was beautiful and still is today, thanks to the efforts of former counselors and campers who fought off the efforts of misguided people who wanted to sell it to a builder of sub-divisions. I feel glad that I had a small part in that effort every time I think of or visit the camp or see it from across Lawrence Pond from Great Hill Road. It is great that the site continues, as YMCA Camp Lyndon, to serve campers from the Cape communities.
This is the full section of the Sandwich MA (1943) map that Joe Larson provided. The small section above is the section of Lawrence Pond and Camp Clark..