|Hyde Bay Camp For Boys
The Final Years
by Paul Pickett (son of Herb, son of Herb)
In the Spring of 2000 I visited Hyde Bay for the first time in over 30 years. The Camp grounds were overgrown with brush, grass, and the wetland growth that was native to the site. It was hard to recognize at first, but eventually I could make out the big tree that once stood in front of the dining hall and what was once the main open area in front to the tents. Something seemed wrong: it was all too small! Was the camp really that compact? The world must have been huge to my young eyes.
I was a Camper during the last 3 years of Camp. I usually only went to half sessions so I could be part of my family's summer camping vacations. As you can imagine, as a member of the Pickett clan, both Camp and camping was a big part of our life.
I loved Camp. I still have fond memories and sometimes share them with friends if the subject wanders in that direction. It was a carefree time for a youngster. I sometimes think I have tried to model my life after summer camp. This is not a formula for satisfaction with the working life! Still, swimming, boating, hiking, campfires, and playing pranks still gives me enjoyment.
The memories do not come in linear order. I can't put ages or dates on them. They simply exist as little cameos of the special moments. I also don't have a great memory for names, but a few have survived the years.
The dining hall is as good a place to start as any. The horn called us to meals. All my memories of food are good (although I wouldn't depend on that!), especially the milk and cookies. If every employer offered milk and cookies, productivity would soar.
I remember Henry who was the chef then. He would tease me by waving his butcher knife with some vague threat of using me for a meal, but it was in a humorous spirit and I loved it. I remember he could break a dozen eggs all at once by holding them between his fingers. In hindsight I suppose Henry and his kitchen help were the only African-Americans at Camp - I don't remember much racial diversity. Nonetheless, they were friendly chaps, although I'm sure I never really knew them. I remember the kitchen guys lounging around behind the kitchen on break or leaving for town in civvies, and my mild surprise on being reminded that they had lives besides our kitchen.
After breakfast - the line ups for activities. This was one of the things that make Camp special. The free choice of a rich variety of activities made boredom impossible for me. We would strategically plot to get out fast to the line we wanted that day. Horseback riding was the toughest to get into - it took a special quick dash to get a place in that line. Usually my favorites were swimming and archery. The Counselors used encouragement instead of ordering us around, and would remind us that free choice was a privilege not to be squandered. One of them used to say we should be glad we weren't at a "whistle camp". They would sometimes blow a whistle and cry "Penguins to Volleyball, Mohicans to wrestling!"
A few more memories that I see from the front of the dining hall. One of the counselors was a strong fellow, and he could grab the post on the front porch and support himself off the ground with his legs stretched out straight to the side. The memory of that feat still impresses me, and I have never been able to repeat it.
Otsegos! These fierce storm squalls added a sense of adventure and danger to camp. I'm sure every camper remembers the sight of the wall of rain advancing across the lake. You had just about enough time to get to your tent and get the flaps down before it hit. On one occasion we were hunkered down in the tents when FLASH! CRACK! I would usually count the seconds to see how far away the lightning hit, but this was too close to count. It turned out that lightening had hit the tree in front of the dining hall, breaking off a branch and ripping a strip down the side of the tree. Mouldy Bob (Uncle Bob to me) used the event to remind us of the danger of lightning. It was a lesson I never forgot, believe me!
The rainstorms come back as a pleasure. The music soundtrack is the Beatles' "Rain", which was a hit one of those summers. Perhaps my current career as an Environmental Engineer was triggered in some small way by the dam construction projects in the creek by the Russelorum. One of the competitions was to build your dam upstream and block the flow to the ones below. Then when everyone's dam was full, the upstream dam builder would scream "dam break" and wreck his dam, causing the failure of all the dams below. (The operators of the Columbia River dams I work with these days would probably not appreciate this memory!)
One storm I was working fresh ground at the far upstream end near the family cabins. I was digging clay from the bank and found a perfect arrowhead in two pieces. That was one of my most precious souvenirs from Camp, connecting me to Deerslayer and Chingachgook. I think I lost the arrowhead when a stash of precious things was stolen from our moving van when moving to Olympia.
Swimming was a favorite activity, and despite the thick growth of lake weed I had a blast. A few moments of pride: passing the B test (I never made it to the A), and winning a race with the little plastic tub boats. I don't know how I won that race - I was a big kid and the boat was always near sinking with me in it. (In fact, splash battles that ended with someone sinking was one of our entertainments.) Somehow I didn't swamp and I stroked to victory.
Happy memories - greased watermelon contests; waterskiing; diving for bottle caps at the Sunken Islands. Painful memory - jumping off the floating dock and catching it in the family jewels on the corner of the dock.
Counselors I remember: Ray Athey of Paducah, Kentucky, who was our Archery Counselor. We thought his accent quaint, and wondered if he was an Atheist. I remember him as an all-around nice guy.
Big Pierrie. Another nice guy, but unfortunately I remember him best from getting beaned with one of his fast balls. He felt really bad about it, and my head rung for hours. The worst thing was that it ruined any baseball career I might have had, because it made me scared to death of any small ball hurtling toward my head for about the next 15 years. It was poor judgment on his part, but I've never blamed him for it.
John Diamond - a quiet distant gentleman. We used to make obscene versions of the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".
My tent Counselor one year was a wonderful guy with a warped sense of humor. I wish I could remember his name. I just remember he told us that if we lost any toes he had extra ones in his trunk we could use.
The Theatre Counselors: I think their names were Josh and Jolly, and someone told me they had regular jobs producing "Romper Room". They really knew their theatre, and worked miracles with what we had to work with. At the beginning of the week when our tent had to do a play, they would kick back with us in the theatre and brainstorm an original play. Usually these were satires a la Mad Magazine. They were really a hoot.
I will never forget getting dressed in drag to be Grandma in our version of "William Clock". The dress was pretty tight - like I said, I was a big kid. We took the song "My Grandfather's Clock" and crossed it with the Camp's homegrown campfire legend of "William Clark", who would jump out the bushes to eat young camper's eyeballs. In the play, the Clock comes to life and goes on a rampage of death and destruction.
When the first men walked on the moon, Mouldy/Uncle Bob let us all stay up late in the Theatre to watch the moon walk on TV. It was late in the night and we were all in pajamas. Neil Armstrong jumped of the ladder and said "that's one small step for a man, one giant step for mankind." Mouldy/Uncle Bob got up and told us we would always remember where we were at that moment. For me, he spoke the truth.
Without a doubt Camp had a definitely personality that I now know was the combined creation of the Director and some very inventive Counselors. I remember the wonderful paintings on the walls of the buildings, especially "Chew Beechmuck!". I hope someone preserved those paintings. Then they could be photographed and posted on the website.
The most unique and amazing event was the Hot Rocks contest. I don't think anything more fascinating and exciting of its sort happened in my childhood. We'd spend many a minute in front of the list of rocks dreaming of the wonderful prizes we would win, and then the rest of the day searching everywhere. I found a few nice ones but not the big winners. We all envied the finder of the best ones. I also hope someone kept some of those rocks.
One day one of the Counselors came running out of the woods screaming, covered in blood. "Wooly Ants! I was attacked by Wooly Ants! They got some of the others!" We organized into teams and combed the Camp and nearby woods for the missing counselors. I think we found one, who pounced on us from behind some trees.
Trapping raccoons with Havahart traps was a intriguing occupation. One night I baited a trap and caught one near our tent. A fellow tentmate cried "that's my raccoon, I lead him in the trap with my flashlight". There was a nature tent with the animals we caught. One of the Counselors caught a snapping turtle somewhere near the Camp and put it in a cage. We poked a pencil in the cage, which the turtle snapped into pieces like lightning! It was impressive, and made us all nervous about our toes out in the lake. (I still won't put my feet down in the muck in a pond!)
Other miscellaneous memories: buying frozen candy bars from the snack shed; picking up our clean laundry; watching movies in the theatre; buying Glimmerglass pizzas from Cooperstown (eat a whole one and the Counselors would pay for it - no one could do it!).
The camping and hiking trips were marvelous, at least most of the time. I think we climbed the mountain behind Camp and spent the night there. I remember someone (ULS?) would bring up a big milk jug with butter floating in it so we could make pancakes. This was camping the old way, and probably rare to find nowadays.
At Nebo we would play capture the flag and hear the story "100 steps up Nebo Mountain" by the campfire, which of course ended with a Counselor jumping from the dark with a horrible scream. Strawberry Gulch with its year-round snow bank. Natty Bumpo's cave, where I first experienced vertigo hiking on the steep hillside (although I didn't know what it was then). Somewhere there was a slate outcropping where I found trilobyte fossils - other precious relics that have disappeared…
The Susquehanna River canoe trips were particularly memorable. On one of them it poured rain and all we had were ponchos wrapped around our sleeping bags. I was completely miserable. Eventually a Counselor discovered my misery and had me sleep under an overturned canoe, which was a vast improvement. The next day was clear, which made the world a particularly beautiful place.
Another memory has particular significance given my current occupation. As we canoed, we would share the Susquehanna with turds and blobs of toilet paper. Now I understand that these were the pre-Clean Water Act days before wastewater treatment. When people ask me if the environment is better or worse, I use this as an example of things that are better.
Of course there was the trips to the Cooperstown Museums and the Baseball Hall of Fame. One year we went to the annual Hall of Fame game, which that year featured the Baltimore Orioles. As a Red Sox fan, you can bet I was on the short end of many a fan argument among campers, especially as this was the Orioles team of Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, and Brooks Robinson. During the game an outfielder threw a foul ball into the stands which I managed to catch (another advantage of being a big kid!). I got some signatures from Orioles on the ball, including Frank Robinson, I think. Oh if only I knew where THAT memento went!
During one year one of the campers ran away. At first I was incredulous that anyone would be unhappy at Camp! Then one of the Counselors explained the gravity of the situation - that the Camp could be shut down forever if something happened to the camper. They found him and he was sent home.
If my memory serves me well, I was nine years old the first year I went to camp and eleven the last year. After that year the lease ran out and the State Park took over the site. I mourned the loss of Hyde Bay for a long, long time (it still brings a sting to the eyes). When we returned in 2000 I asked about the site. They had intended to turn the site into a boat launch, but before they could get around to it the wetland rules were tightened up and the whole area became very difficult to develop. Thus to this day, as far as I know, the site remains an overgrown swamp slowly reverting to nature. As an Environmental Engineer, I find the irony delightful.