Stories and memories of life on the lake.
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Excerpt from “Never a Dull Moment: Recounting the Experiences of a Lifetime” by Herbert Hall
(self-published, 1997). Contributed by Steve Hall, Nov. 2017
Several years later, after my sophomore year at Columbia, my good friend Ray Menaker asked me if I’d like to spend the summer as a counselor at Camp To-Ho-Ne, a camp for young boys which was owned by his Uncle Pete. There would be no pay, just room and board, and I would be photography counselor and fencing assistant. It sounded like fun so I accepted. The camp was located in Great Barrington, a town in western Massachusetts, on the shore of Lake Buel. The age of the campers ranged from seven to twelve, and Jewish dietary laws were observed. I was the junior counselor in our cabin of ten eight-year-olds; the other counselor was a big, friendly guy who had been at the camp before. I think he was a teacher, about 25 years old. As I recall, there were eight or ten cabins, or 80 to 100 boys at the camp. Meals were served in a large mess hall and kitchen, which also had a small infirmary and a full-time nurse.
The camp had a number of canoes for use by the campers, with single and double-ended paddles. Each evening after dinner, some of the counselors canoed across the lake to a private home owned by a family with two college-age daughters, who invited other friends for singing and talking. I joined them on occasion, but as the junior counselor I was more often assigned to keep watch on our kids, a sort of “wet-pants counselor.” The canoe trip over was great, usually with a gorgeous sunset. Coming back, however, was in the dark, with no running lights. Sometimes there was a moon, and once in a while a rainstorm. Being in a boat is supposed to be the worst place when there is thunder and lightning, but we did that more than once. I learned to use the double paddle and would spend some days off just traversing the lake, which was a couple of miles long and up to a half-mile wide. It was against camp rules to be canoeing alone, so I usually went with another counselor, sometimes to a girls camp about a mile away.
Pete also had an adult camp a quarter-mile down the lake from To-Ho-Ne, usually frequented by mothers, sometimes the fathers, of campers. Pete had a square dance almost every night and sort of depended on counselors from To-Ho-Ne to fill in as partners for his guests. This is where I learned to square dance. Pete was an expert caller and they did some intricate moves. I understood that some of the older counselors also provided escort service, in a quiet way, but that wasn’t authenticated.
My photography classes went very well. I had about eight boys who signed up for photography. They had their own cameras, mostly Kodak Brownies or similar point and shoot cameras, but some were more advanced. I took them on photo walks, making sure they didn’t shoot aimlessly, wasting film, but to pick a subject, frame it thoughtfully, check the light, then shoot. The next step was to develop the film. The darkroom was in a small cabin which had all windows covered and equipped with a large workbench and an overhead safelight. There was no running water, and well water was brought in in large bottles. The well water was extremely hard, the carbonate in which would have reacted with both developer and hypo, so I collected rain water in a big barrel. Curiously, the rain water turned green – not just “greenish,” but a deep, pure, sparkling green. It didn’t seem to hurt the performance of either developer or hypo, and I concluded that it was some sort of algae that didn’t affect the chemicals. I demonstrated how film was developed, and the next day the boys brought their film from our walk and I worked with each kid to unroll the film, separate the paper, wet it in a water bath, and roll it through the developer up and down with two hands, then through the rinse tray, hypo tray and wash. Washing was done by passing the film through three buckets of well water, hands and all, then hanging the film up to dry using stainless clips that the camp provided, and drying their hands on large towels.
I taught the boys how to make prints with the contact printer, and they took turns exposing their negatives and putting them through the developer, water and hypo, then back to the printer to correct the length of exposure, and back again, careful to rinse and dry their hands thoroughly. We did not make many finished prints in a day. But the kids seemed to be enthusiastic and willing to learn. The camp had some professional quality equipment that none of the campers were ready for, but I made enlargements for them if they had taken a particularly good shot. I had my own 2-1/2 x 3-1/2 film-pack camera and took a lot of pictures of the camp, the lake, the boys, the staff, and anything else possible, made enlargements and sold copies to parents to provide extra revenue for the camp.
My part in helping Ray’s fencing classes was mostly to demonstrate what Ray was talking about. We had our own jackets, masks and gloves, and did elementary moves as he explained them. Later we did some mock bouts, where the moves they had just learned were used. At the end of the summer, I stayed an extra week to help Pete and Ray close the camp for the summer. Pete let me use the camp’s Elwood enlarger and Graflex camera over the winter, which I appreciated. I was eighteen, it was 1941 and we would be in the war in less than four months. I said good-bye to Camp To-Ho-Ne, thankful for a great summer.