Camp Malabar

Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh,

Here I am at Camp Grenada

 

Camp is very entertaining

And they say we’ll have fun if it stops raining

I went hiking with Joe Spivy

He developed poison ivy….

 

You remember Jeffrey Hardy

They’re about to organize a searching party

Take me home, oh mudduh fadduh

Take me home, I hate Grenada.”

 

Allan Sherman, who wrote and performed “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” was a very popular comedian in the early 1960s. Allen’s comedy style was Jewish Humor and he adapted standards from The Great American Songbook into parodies with very clever lyrics and the public loved it. He has some of the biggest selling albums in his day and he was a popular nightclub performer with many TV appearances to his credit. Allan was obese and used his odd looks and weight to great comedic advantage. I pulled out some old Allan Sherman CDs before writing this column and I’ve really enjoyed listening to them again.

Camp Malabar was not exactly Camp Grenada. In fact, it was a very well-organized camp with all sorts of sports and activities for the campers. Gunny Eldredge ran the camp on property off Barn Hill Lane in West Chatham. Boys from 7 to 14 went to the camp and enjoyed swimming, sailing, rowing, archery, riflery, tennis and baseball among other things. Gunny was the son of the legendary “Gunboat” Eldredge, Chatham’s first police chief. Gunny had always liked the outdoors and he is renowned for once living for a week in the wilds of Morris Island like the native Americans might have done centuries ago. Gunny ate nuts and berries and fished for flounder and did well, other than the fact that he was nearly eaten alive by the mosquitoes. Gunny was an expert on flora and fauna, and, for a while, in the winter he taught biology at The Kiski School in Pittsburgh.

The camp was nautical in nature. Usually there were between 40 and 50 campers and they were housed in small buildings scattered all around the camp. Deck 1 for the youngest campers, up through Deck 2 and Deck 3, the Boathouse and Turret 1 and 2 for the oldest campers. Chatham resident Don Scott graduated from the University of Virginia in 1950 and responded to an advertisement Gunny Eldredge ran in a local paper. Don was hired as a land sports counselor. Don told me that a fellow UVA grad, Ernie Helfenstein, was also hired. Ernie was named the riflery instructor, although he had never previously held a gun in his hands. Ernie and Don enjoyed their summer despite the meager pay, $200 plus room and board for eight weeks.

Daily instruction in swimming, rowing and sailing made up part of every day. Each camper had what resembled a class schedule and moved from activity to activity by the hour. Through the years, lots of Chatham boys went to Camp Malabar. I was one of them. I was there in 1951, the year Gunny closed the camp. I made some great friends, some of whom are still close friends today. Duke Courtnell, Tim Pennypacker, Paul Hammond, Bill Muldowney and Gunny’s late son, Michael, were among the youngest campers in 1951. I asked Duke and Paul if they had any memories of Malabar. Duke mentioned that he remembered having a mortal fear of the “legendary Pirate Pete,” a swarthy character who supposedly roamed around the camp at night. Gunny Eldredge often spun lighthearted tales of “Pirate Pete” and most of us recognized that the “Pirate” was simply a myth. Duke, who then had and continues to have a most vivid imagination, took those tales to heart. Duke had one other major fear. He was deadly afraid of the water and he couldn’t swim. One day, several counselors ran by Duke yelling that they were being chased by Pirate Pete. Duke quickly jumped in line with them and the counselors kept running and jumped off the end of the dock into the Oyster River. Not one to be caught by Pirate Pete, Duke also jumped into the water. As he dog paddled back to shore, he received a standing ovation from the very same counselors. A great memory.

Paul Hammond remembered the trips in the houseboat. There was a houseboat trip each month for every camper, one month to Monomoy and the next month to North Beach. In reality, it wasn’t much of a houseboat. A rudimentary shack was mounted on a barge with a small outboard motor, but it was just perfect to us. We would load our sleeping bags and other necessities onto the houseboat and slowly make our way to Inwood Point. Monomoy was incredible, with remnants of World War II everywhere. There was an old yellow pyramid-shaped wooden target from the era when Monomoy was used as a bombing range. We campers searched everywhere for small metal bomb casings. Gunny and the counselors made sure we didn’t handle any unexploded bombs. At night they made a large bonfire for cooking and for warmth. More tales of “Pirate Pete” and “the yoo-hoos” as we sat around the fire. Most young campers were even more on edge than normal.

“You-hoos” had been rumored to exist on Monomoy for centuries. During World War I and II, patrols walked Monomoy to guard against the enemy. A patrol meant walking alone several miles to a half-way house where, for a brief moment you had the pleasure of company coming from the other direction. Monomoy can be brutally cold with fierce winds and it can be totally socked in with fog. I am told that, in the deep fog, you could hear someone crying yoo-hoo. Maybe someone was there, maybe not, but I know the yoo-hoos were definitely there the night I went to Monomoy as a Malabar camper.

Gordon Pratt told me today that he had gone to Malabar in the '40s with the late Paul Carr Jr. He remembers making Indian bonnets and bows and arrows. I tried to speak with Hunk Eldredge about his memories, but was unable to connect. Hunk was a small baby in 1951. Maybe he had some good stories, but that will have to be for another day. For me, and for Don, Duke, Paul, and Gordon, there are fond memories of Camp Malabar. Camp Malabar was indeed nothing like Camp Grenada.