CCC camps are an oddity. They are in a sense archaeological sites, places where the works of man are reverting quickly to nature. But they are not all that old. The living memories of them are just now slipping away, but there is plenty of documentation to supplement it.
While nosing about in search of information on Camp Smith Lake I learned that the local college had a few editions of the camp newspaper.
It is faded, tattered and was in the first place nothing more than a mimeographed publication with hand drawings. But it makes for a fascinating read. I wonder which of the confusing roads and tumbled down foundations actually went with this view?
This first edition of The Whisper is from June of 1935. It has a lot of little flourishes including a history of the camp to date.
I learned that the first commander, Captain Crehan, actually got to go to Washington DC to receive a gold medal when his company was named best in the region. And that all the men got to wear a special "honor button".
I learned that Captain Robert W. Fisher of the 32nd Cavalry Reserve was the second in command of the company until he took over in November of 1933. This would have been the father of Donald Eugene Fisher .
The paper contained an account of a fire in January of 1935 that consumed five buildings and threatened the rest. The Rec Hall, Mess Hall and Bath House at least were saved and pressed into temporary barracks.
I read about the construction of the baseball field, said to be a ten minute walk from the camp. It sounds like some effort, with quite a lot of dynamite being needed to blast out stumps, and extensive use of "the cat and the kitten" which I assume to be large and small bulldozers.
A lot of the news is what you would expect from a camp publication. Lots of sports scores, the occasional admonition from the brass, plenty of kidding about much of it inside jokes that no longer resonate.
But I was not expecting this:
A Romance column! I mean, how much romantic life would a bunch of late teenaged guys have out in the middle of the woods?
A fair amount it seems. Remember that after the initial draft of city slickers many of the CCC recruits were local lads in the first place. And in hard times the guy working for a dollar a day was a better catch than those who had no money. At the dances and other social occasions it seems that the local ladies turned out in good numbers.
You learn things that can't be discovered elsewhere. For instance that CCC men were often called out to conduct searches for individuals lost in the woods. Sometimes the publications will give you a historic clue that you are thinking is wrong....was the camp orchestra really called The Rhythm Jestors or was that a typo? We may never know.
The newsletters for Camp Smith Lake came out monthly, and seem to have been written in large part by the permanent staff. As there was more going on in the summer than the winter those editions are larger. But there was activity in the cold weather months...
And Camp Smith Lake today, probably from the same perspective:
A pretty little hidden spot. But I have it on reliable authority that the fishing is not as marvelous today as it was described in The Northern Pine Whisper. Perhaps that was a bit of editorial license?
Later this week: Brewery caves of Prairie du Chien Wisconsin. Also a peculiar business model....