Friday, March 05, 2021
Miles from the Mainstream
D. R. ZUKERMAN, proprietor

Reminiscing about Camp Wabigoon for Boys and Camp Wahanda for Girls

July 5, 2020 --

July 2, 2020.  It's now 59 years since my last year as a counselor at Camp Wabigoon, in Winsted Connecticut.  (Winsted, settled in 1750, incorporated as borough 1858,  and incorporated as city, 1917 -- now described as "an old textile mill town.)  More years have elapsed since I ended my 15 years at Wabigoon (eight years as camper, two years as camper-waiter, one year as regular waiter and four years as counselor) than were the years of the camp's existence (from about  the early 1930's, till about 1971 or so).   But those were wonderful years.   I began as a 7-year old freshman in 1947, homesick the first couple of weeks, and ended as a 21-year old, about to enter his last year in college.  Harry Truman was president my first year, only two years after World War II, and John F. Kennedy was president my last year at Wabigoon.   We have had ten presidents between 1961 and now: Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, G.H.W.Bush, Clinton, G.W.Bush, Obama, and Trump.

The camp was much bigger in 1947, with close to one hundred campers (with three tents plus the 14 bunks).  By 1961 it had dwindled to about 60 boys, with about 60 girls at Wahanda, very close by.  Indeed, the two camps shared the same mess hall.  In 1947, campers traveled by train to Wabigoon and Wahanda. We switched to buses to come home, 1948.   By 1961, I had my own car. thanks to my parents, to get to camp.

The camp season started July 1 and continued till August 26 (an eight-week season).  We were off and running with activities the very next day.   Parents were given the option of keeping their children at the two camps for an extra ten days at the end of the 1949 season, because of a polio scare in the New York metropolitan area.   (That was in the days before the Salk and Sabin vaccines ended the threat of polio, the illness that has crippled President Franklin D. Roosevelt.)

Wednesday afternoons the senior groups at Wabigoon and Wahanda went to Winsted to see a movie at the Strand, The younger groups: freshman, sophomores, juniors, and inters at Wabigoon -- and the wrens, buds, debs at Wahanda went less frequently.  In those years, there was a roller-skating rink in town, and we went there at least once every season, too.

In addition to the team sports of softball, basketball and volleyball, we had individual sports -- tennis, handball. and archery.   For golf, the inters and seniors would to a nine-hole public golf course in Canotn, about 15 miles east of camp.  (The golf course, some years ago, was turned into a shopping mall.  Near hole four or five, the course had delicious cold well-water, drunk from a tin cup.)) For two years, the camps offered horseback riding.

We also had arts and crafts, nature hikes, overnight hikes, overnight canoe trips and dramatics.   The dramatics season ended with a "big Show," a Broadway musical, performed by the two senior groups, who squeezed wo works of rehearsals in August, amid the daily camp activities.  One year, even the counselors of the two camps put on a "Big Show," "Oklahoma, the last Saturday night of the 1958 season, which had the counselors rehearsing after Taps for two weeks.   Hard to imagine, looking back, how we managed to produce Broadway musicals in two weeks' time, musicals, including South Pacific, Carousel, Finian's Rainbow, Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate, Damn Yankees, and The King and I. 

From the LPR Archives - July 17, 2005: The Camp Wabigoon waterfront on Rowley's pond as seen from left field on the old Wabigoon softball field. A fly ball in the lake was usually a home run (unless, in going around the bases, the runner missed second, as this writer once did--the one time he hit a ball into the lake.)

From the LPR Archives - July 17, 2005: A view down Main Street in Winsted.

From the LPR Archives - July 17, 2005: Memorial to the victims of the Flood of 1955.

One year, when I was a senior, we also put on Stalag 17 in midseason, and  Mr. Roberts another year. (I even recall playing a dying Stonewall Jackson as a junior or inter, a play that probably could not be produced  these sensitive times.)

The older groups also went to Tanglewood  to hear the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler and to the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford Connecticut. 

My Wabigoon years I saw Katherine Hepburn in Measure for Measure, and Morris Carnovsky in Merchant of Venice (hard to beat Shakespeare production like that those.)

Alas, the Connecticut Shakespeare Festival closed down years ago.

In short, thanks to camp directors Phil and Gladys Brandstein and head counselors Rusty Grant and Millie Klotz, the Wabigoon and Wahanda campers got a well-rounded summer experience that included inter-camp games with other camps in the Winsted-Kent area in northwest Connecticut, along with the boys' circus, last Sunday in July, and the girls circus, the Sunday after the Big Show, when Color War broke -- three and a half days' of athletic competition ending with a team "Sing," and including, of course, "Spell It Out," as one evening's competitive activity.

The season ended with a banquet, announcing group awards and the award for best all-around athlete and best all-around camper, followed by the burning of the CW. 

True, we didn't have hot water in our bunks, but we did have indoor plumbing and, of course, the Wabigoon spirit, a spirit that many of the campers have never forgotten half a century after Camp Wabioon for boys and Camp Wahanda for girls became a memory.