Tag Archives: camp

“The Johnson Boys” Campfire Song

Context:

KR’s grandfather was a Scoutmaster in Ontario who led Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts on camping trips and also enjoyed going camping with his own family. He remembers this piece as one of the songs his grandfather used to sing around the campfire with them.

Main Piece:

“The Johnson Boys”

Verse 1:  
Oh, the Johnson boys, the Johnson boys,
They lived on a mill on the side of the hill,
Verse 2:
Oohh, the Johnson boys, the Johnson boys,
They lived on a mill on the side of the hill,
Verse 3:
Ooohhhhh, the Johnson boys, the Johnson boys,
They lived on a mill on the side of the hill.

Continue ad infinitum, with the “oh” being drawn out longer with each repetition of the verse.

Analysis:

KR remembers “The Johnson Boys,” as “the song with one hundred thousand verses.” He says it’s, “a fun little song that everyone gets to chime in on,” since the lyrics were easy to remember and stretching out the “oh” always made the kids laugh. This song fulfills the classic roles of a good campfire song: something easy to pick up and remember, but with a fun twist to entertain the children. Since KR’s grandfather was a scout leader, the trips he led were mainly composed of children, it makes sense that he would have a library of these songs that are easily accessible for anyone.

This facet of folk song is interesting to me because while it is folk culture, it is also in some ways an institutionally pushed song. By this I do not mean that it was integrated into standardized education, or utilized by the government/corporations, but it significantly differs from some other children’s songs because it is a song that was taught to children by adults, and generally performed between children and adults. Often, folkloric children’s chants and songs evolve within the young population, perhaps even against the will of the adults surrounding them. But this song, and other campfire songs like it, are more of a bridge between the cultural worlds of the child and the adult leaders. They are neither the children’s song (because the children did not create it or claim it as their own to change and sing on their own) but also not a song for the adults (because the adults sing it primarily for the enjoyment of the children).

One Eyed Willy of Chollas Lake

Context: H is a  23 year old American, born in California and lived there until moving to Denver Colorado for College. After spending nearly five years in Denver he moved to New Mexico where he currently lives and has lived for the past two years. This entry was collected over a Zoom call. 

Intv: “Do you remember any of the tales that came out of the summer camp we went to?”

H: “There was that one, of like One Eyed Willy… I wish I could remember the story better, you might actually be able to help me out a little.” 

Intv: “Hmm wasn’t there like a kid who was fishing or something?”

H: “I thought it had to do with a fish that took the eye of a fisherman? Oh, didn’t it go like The fisherman hooked the fish in the eye, and when the fish started to pull, he wouldn’t let go and got dragged down into the lake? Cause I remember there was that structure out in the lake and we all used to say that’s where the fisherman remained, and we were always told to look out for a fish with one eye when we would fish.” 

Analysis: I can’t say for certain, but I wonder if One Eyed Willy got his name from The Goonies. However, for a kid without any prior knowledge of The Goonies, it so easily became a piece of folklore that many children, myself included, believed. Outside of being a fun ghost story however, it also serves the purpose of informing young campers how to be safe while fishing. To be careful so that One Eyed Willy wouldn’t get you. 

The Boojum

BACKGROUND: My informant, ES, was born in the US. Her parents are mostly Irish and her mom is part-Cuban. ES has worked as a camp counselor for a few years now. This piece is a bit of folklore from her specific camp, told to her by past camp counselors. It is encouraged for the counselors to share the story with the campers and is considered an essential part of the unofficial camp history.

CONTEXT: This piece was brought to my attention through a casual conversation with my friend who is currently a camp counselor at a camp in North Carolina.

ES: So Camp Henry in like 1800 was this thing called Sunburst. And it was like a timber yard, like a whole like huge business. And, um, there’s this woman who lived there named Annie (mumbles) Annie went missing and it was believed that she was taken by this man called the Boojum.

Me: Who’s that?

ES: Boojum wasn’t really a man. He was like this old decrepit, uh, human, like person. [Had a] huge beard and the tail of a cat. (laughs) Um, he lived up in the woods by camp or by Sunburst and, um, he would collect gems, diamonds and whatever was in the river from all of the timber stuff, I guess. So, um, basically when Annie went missing there, her family was certain that the Boojum took her. But the Boojum was very — no one knew where his cave was and some people didn’t believe he was real.

Me: Do you?

ES: (laughs) Apparently if you walk along the river at night, you can hear yells like “Annie where are you?” Oh! And apparently the Boojum was in love with Annie. That’s also an important piece of information. (laughs) I’m telling this very poorly. 

Me: (laughs) No, you’re good, you’re good!

ES: But the main parts are: Annie is missing, her (ghost?) family yells “Annie where are you?”, and the Boojum’s in love with her and collected like gems and diamonds. And she was one of his “diamonds”. So now allegedly the Boojum is still there. He just like chills out. Sometimes the kids see him. Um, we have like our hangout spot for the, for our counselors is also called the Boojum. Um, and it also means vagina. I think, like, the counselors use that as like the, um, code word.

Me: (laughs) Wait really? What?

ES: Yeah, he’s not like a scary guy. He’s actually kind of nice.

THOUGHTS: I think it’s interesting that almost every camp I’ve visited or talked about with friends has some version of a “camper kidnapped story” in order to keep current campers in check. In most cases, it’s a way to keep campers from wandering off the site, staying on the trail, or not tampering with potentially dangerous areas. But something that struck me about this story is that the Boojum isn’t necessarily a scary creature or something to be feared. The way ES presents him is as a mostly harmless resident of the camp.

Girl Scout Pins

Background

The informant, Katie, is a childhood friend of the interviewer. They grew up next door to each other and have been friends for sixteen years. They both went to girl scout camp every year from kindergarten to fifth grade.

Context

Katie discusses the sharing of girl scout pins at camp and the meaning behind it. 

Transcript 

“Every year we went to this girl scout camp, retreat thing. This particular year that I’m talking about it was held at White Pines ranch. Girl scout troops from all over Illinois came to this. Every year we do this pin exchange thing where we basically create our own pins and we create like a ton of them and then exchange them with other girls at the camp. Every troop creates a different kind of pin and they always have some story or meaning behind them. So our troop this particular year created s’more pins. So we took little pieces of tan felt, serving as the graham cracker, and glued on little pieces of brown felt for the chocolate. We then attached a white pom poms as the marshmallow and added another piece of tan felt for the second graham cracker. Then we glued these on to safety pins. Every girl in our troop made like twenty. The meaning behind them was two fold. S’mores were a very important part of our troop. At every campout and get together we would always make s’mores and sing songs and tell stories. The s’mores also represented our troop because many different kinds of girls could come together and make something incredible, our troop, just like how all these different kinds of ingredients came together to make something incredible, s’mores. Kind of cliche, I know, but we were like eight so… Anyway, the first night of the camp all the girls from all sorts of troops all over Illinois would come to the fire and we were each given a blank hat. Then you were asked to trade pins with all the other girls and put them on your hat. By the end of the night, you’d have this really cool decorated hat with all kinds of pins. I think I may still have my hat somewhere in my mom’s attic. It was a really fun activity because you got to meet with all sorts of other girls and talk to them and explain the meaning behind your pin and listen to them explain the meaning behind their pins.”

Thoughts

As someone who also participated in this activity, I thought it was very fun as a kid and still enjoy looking back on it. It is an interesting thing to study from a folklore perspective because we were able to spread stories of our troop to other girl scout troops through the ritual of giving and receiving pins. After exchanging the pins, we would sit back down with our troop and talk about which pins we got and continue to trade even more for the really cool ones. By giving someone a gift you are showing that you appreciate them and they are doing the same to you by giving you one back. This is a great way to make friends. It also allows us to learn about other girl scout troops and the history of their troops. 

Three Consecutive Days Riddle

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between myself, GK, and the informant, CZ. 

CZ: Can you name three consecutive days without using the words: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

GK: I don’t know. How?

CZ: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.

Background: The informant had heard this riddle from a camp counselor when he was 10 years old. He says it is his go-to riddle because the answer is so simple, yet so difficult to come to when proposed with the question for the first time. 

Context: The informant and I discussed this riddle over Face Time

My Thoughts: This riddle is very interesting, but its the way the informant came across it that catches my attention. I feel like it validates the fact that riddles are extremely popular within camp culture. This is the case because lots of camps do not allow kids to bring technology with them, and thus riddles serve as one of the best forms of entertainment during that time. This news was refreshing for me to hear, as it reminded me of my time at camp, and how much fun it was to be without technology for that portion of time. I also sometimes think about how riddles would be a lot more popular if technology wasn’t such a major part of our lives.