O’Hern adds book about camps, people who used them, their stories

Published Jul 12, 2017 at 4:00pm

Retired Camden teacher William J. O’Hern adds to his long list of books with “Adirondack Camp Stories: A treasury of true tales, lore, history, recreation, and colorful characters of the mountains.”

The prolific writer says he “never lost the feeling that I need to be outdoors,” describing his opportunities “to play in the surrounding forests, fields and meadows, along streams and rivers” as a child and his adult trips to similar venues. Along the way he stayed in a variety of “camps,” ranging from tents to buildings.

He notes that much has been written about the “great camps” of the Adirondacks “but surprisingly few stories have been recorded about the social history of the lives of common men and women at their camps.” So he tells us about “camps” from simple shelters to hotels, the people who lived in or visited them, stories about them and stories those people told.

His May book has seven sections: Camps: An Adirondack Culture; Adirondack Guides; Guides and Teamsters; Game Wardens; True Camp Stories; More Camps and Tramps and Way Back in the Mountains in 49 chapters.

The book includes more than 300 photos, including some with women with their guns and bows (for shooting arrows, not decorative) and hiking in their long dresses. A reader finds some surpising, such as a photo of a lean-to with vertical logs instead of the usual horizontal.

Readers learn how settlers fished, trapped, hunted, and tended gardens to sustain themselves and provide for paying guests — “sports” visiting. Besides those pursuits they did things like gathering “spruce gum, which had a commercial value then.”

O’Hern tells how they did what was needed to survive and sometimes ended up with strange arrangements to make things work. One story told of hunters renting a camp near Mitchell Ponds wondering why the wood-burning cast iron stove had the legs propped up off the floor on four three-foot long logs. No one wanted to ask why such an arrangement came about (with how air is heated up, convection, conduction, radiation, among the theories) until finally they asked. “I ran out of stove pipe,” the builder explained.

Among O’Hern’s earlier books are one on the camp memories of the Rev. A.L. Bryon-Curtiss, Adirondack Stories of the Black River Country (North Country Books, 2003)

He includes some more stories from “B-C,” described as “an extraordinary collector of human history and Adirondack lore.” They tell about:

  • Assisting with a South Lake resident who had died -- and the balancing requirements while getting the body in an undertaker’s basket across the lake in a small boat
  • His new daughter-in-law from Brooklyn, who was warned about not leaving food outside since wildlife, especially skunk, porcupine and bear “could be counted upon to come looking for an easy meal.” She was left sleeping in camp while the men went on a Horn Lake fishing trip. When they returned she told how she had met a little black and white “cat” which had followed her inside after she fed it and it was still hiding under the kitchen range

Among other Adirondack characters, we are told about Adirondack hermit Noah John Rondeau’s 10-year battle with the Conservation Department until the department featured him at the 1947 Sportsmen’s Show in New York City.

Adirondack Camp Stories: A treasury of true tales, lore, history, recreation, and colorful charcters of the mountains, William J. O’Hern, softcover, $27.50, 6” x 9”, 354 pages, more than 300 photos, In The Adirondacks, PO Box 526, Camden, NY 13316-9998, www.adkwilds.com.