Chapter 1

A Test of Community

A group of young Woodlanders bushwhacks up Mount Garfield, crosses the ridgeline and descends rapidly toward the farm in Fox Hollow, on the opposite side of the mountain from Camp Woodland. No one knows how long Herdmans have been farming there, but the paved road leading to the farm is named Herdman Road.

Amasa Herdman and his work horses are gathering hay, and its intoxicating aroma is everywhere. Mr. Herdman smiles an enthusiastic greeting while his dog Tippy prances among the visitors. The farmer invites his guests onto the hay wagon for a ride that ends at the old barn, where they jump and roll in the hayloft until hay sticks to their hair and clothes. Then they all collapse under a shade tree and open their paper bags to eat the lunches they had prepared after breakfast.

As the Woodlanders begin their return climb, Mr. Herdman remarks to a counselor that he knows the summer is coming to an end because he just received his invitation to Camp Woodland’s end-of-the-season banquet.

At Camp Woodland, the end-of-the-season banquet was a major event; the entire camp community gathered together to sing songs collected from neighbors, tell stories and say good-byes till next summer. The dining hall was expanded into the social hall, which Woodlanders decorated with wildflowers, hemlock boughs and other greenery collected from the camp grounds. Two dozen or so mountain neighbors who had been part of the summer—farmers, lumbermen, musicians, singers, a forest ranger, a fire observer, a blacksmith and others from the nearby communities—usually joined in the festivities.

Norman Studer, the camp director, always presided over the banquets. He was the indispensable bridge between the racially and ethnically diverse city kids who attended Camp Woodland and the camp’s rural, traditional neighbors. Yet Norman was noticeably absent from the August 1955 gathering. He had been subpoenaed to testify before the Larkin Committee, which was authorized by the New York state legislature to investigate “subversive training and indoctrination of children” in summer camps.

At the hearing, Norman spoke through Senator Edward Larkin’s attempts to gavel him down. He said he was happy to answer questions about the camp’s program but refused to answer questions that invaded the privacy of his personal political beliefs and associations. “I happen to come from a Mennonite background of many generations in America,” Norman said. “As a boy, I was brought up on the Martyrs Mirror, a bloody catalogue of martyrs who were tortured for their beliefs and often forced to testify against themselves in the Inquisition.” He added that later, as a student of American history, he had learned that the constitutional safeguards against self-incrimination grew out of the abuses of the Inquisition.

Norman described the camp’s programs to the committee. He recounted praise from a neighbor named Orson Slack, a shrewd, homespun New Yorker whose forebears had been among the first settlers in the area and who himself had lived at camp for part of three summers. “If someone had told me of a place where all peoples lived and worked together, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Orson had said. “It’s just wonderful.”

Hurrying back to camp after the hearing, Norman was apprehensive about reactions to the day’s events. McCarthyism recently had reached its high water mark. A few years earlier, only 70 miles away, the Peekskill riots in 1949 had demonstrated that rural and small-town New Yorkers could react with violent intolerance to outsiders with different beliefs. Paul Robeson, a Black singer who was active in left-wing politics, had planned to perform at an outdoor concert near Peekskill, New York, for the benefit of the Harlem Civil Rights Congress. A crowd of several hundred men, many wearing American Legion caps, had broken up the concert by burning crosses and screaming racial and anti-Semitic epithets. Robeson was able to sing a week later, after organizers ringed the concert with a human defensive perimeter, but buses and cars carrying concertgoers home were stoned while local law enforcement authorities looked on.

Woodlanders were singing a farewell song when Norman arrived at the banquet. After the campers went to bed, camp’s neighbors and staff usually gathered around the large stone fireplace in the social hall to reminisce, tell stories and socialize. But on this occasion, they listened intently as Norman recounted the investigation and his refusal to answer questions about his political beliefs and alerted everyone to what they would read in the newspapers. “You know who we are. You have enough to judge us.”

A period of stunned silence was followed by questions. Then, neighbors spontaneously expressed their support as they related their personal experiences with Camp Woodland and its dedication, in the words of one neighbor, to teaching the history and folklore of everyday life, to teaching real Americanism. “I’ve come here every week for 14 years during the summers,” one farmer said, “and I’ve never heard a mean word.” Some guests did not speak directly about the investigation but showed their support in hearty handshakes, pats on the shoulder and the farewell words, “I’ll see you next year.” The support of Camp Woodland’s neighbors attested to the resiliency of the friendships that had formed over the past decade and a half.

As the evening ended, they joined together in singing “Friends and Neighbors,” a lyrical song of parting that Camp Woodland had collected from the surrounding community. The song borrows its tune from the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and begins,

Friends and neighbors, I’m going for to leave you.

I have no doubt that you think it strange.

But God be pleasèd, I never have robbèd,

Neither have I done any wrong.