06/20/02
Summer Camp, 100 Years Ago
    by Rita Smith

"The hurried steps of the father descending the stairs were heard through the closed door. The son turned away to hide the working of his face and examined the pictures on the wall through a film of tears."1 This is the beginning of a summer camp story written by Allen French which appeared in the June 1900 issue of St. Nicholas, a popular 19th century American juvenile periodical. Chester Fiske's father has just left him in the care of one of the counselors, in hopes that this summer experience will teach him some humility. Chester's mother is dead and he has been raised by aunts, sisters and female cousins who spoiled him. Fifteen-year-old Chester is conceited and doesn't have any friends. The father hopes camp will change that; the counselor assures him it will.

Chester's arrogance gets him in trouble initially especially when he rashly brags that he is going to win the Junior Cup, an athletic competition held at the end of the summer, all by himself, with help from noone. He works diligently on his swimming and running skills because he knows the contest will be mainly a competition between himself and one other boy, Marshall Moore, a self-centered surly camper. A couple of weeks before the competition, Chester realizes that he is going to need some help if he is going to beat Marshall, who is a superb athlete, so he swallows his pride and asks some of the older boys to help him with his running and swimming technique. It is a trial for him, always being told by them that he is not doing things right; that he is not working hard enough. Chester resents this at first, but he doesn't give up. He sees that they really are helping him and a solid friendship forms between them.

The day of the Junior Cup competition arrives. There are seven events and after six of them Chester and Marshall are tied, each having won three. Whoever wins the final race, the quarter mile, will win the Junior Cup. Chester stands at the starting line. There are seven boys in the race and Chester and Marshall have drawn lanes one and two. The gun sounds and they are off - all except Chester who lies in a heap along side the track, having been given a visicous push by Marshall. Undaunted, he jumps up, "black anger surges in his breast."2 The "caldron of his passion boils in his heart"3 and its force gives unconquerable energy to his moving arms and legs. He wins the race and his father, unbeknownst to Chester, is there to witness the victory.

His father knows camp has accomplished what he had hoped when Chester proudly introduces his new friends: "These are my friends, father, without whom I could not have won the Cup, and whom I prize more than the Cup."4 Good friends are the finest things a boy can have because, he admits, there is little anyone can accomplish alone.

1French, Allen. "The Junior Cup," in St. Nicholas Magazine, 1900, Part 2, p. 692.

2Ibid., p. 1083.

3Ibid., p. 1084.

4Ibid.

Sources:

French, Allen. "The Junior Cup," serialized in St. NicholasMagazine, New York: The Century Company. June-October, 1900.

Copyright 2002, Rita Smith

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