Text: “Alright so basically it was like, so my sleepaway camp was on an island in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire and it’s like an all-boys camp whatever but basically the camp is all centered around this island and it’s all kinda in this one area and there’s this path you can take through the middle, and at the end of the path is this place called ‘the outpost,’ which is basically a little hut with a bathroom, it’s got a fire pit for camping and stuff–you could spend the night there if you didn’t want to sleep in the cabin, like people did cabin nights there. And so basically only older kids really spent the night at the Outpost, but there were these things called cabin nights where you go with your cabin and basically like post up at like a little beach along the island or play hoops for a while or you could like do random shit honestly-go swimming maybe. You’d camp out with marshmallows and do all that stuff. Basically older kids who could go to the outpost started the story, and essentially it says there’s a murderer in the outpost bathroom. All these kids are out camping, and this kid asks to go to the bathroom and basically gets like stabbed and like blicked. Nobody knows where he is after a while, but the counselor lets another kid use the bathroom–other kid pulls up, gets stabbed, whatever, blicked. At this point the counselor is like ‘yo what the fuck is going on.’ So two kids blicked, blood everywhere. Someone else gets blicked, then they run back to camp super far. One of the guys who works in the office, his dad owned the camp, and he grabbed a gun and killed the guy. It’s really scary when it’s told to you as a kid around a campfire at the outpost.”
Context: My informant, NR, told me this story while we sat together and played NHL (hockey video game) while listening to house music and eating frozen yogurt. This was a pretty ideal storytelling setting. He first heard this story as a middle-school-aged camper at a sleepaway summer camp in New Hampshire, and was scared by it at the time. He emphasized the combination of his youth, the campfire setting, and the storyteller’s authority as elements that enhanced the fear factor of the legend. As explained in the text, the camp was all-boys and the legend revolved around a remote location on the property known as the outpost, at which cabins (groups of campers) would sometimes spend the night outdoors. The legend is traditional at the camp. In hindsight, NR interprets the story as a classic scare-legend, told to encourage adherence to the ‘buddy system’ and to scare younger children.
Analysis: In my interpretation, the legend of the Outpost offers insights into summer camp and childrens’ culture, particularly through the classic campfire-horror trope. A few dynamics at play make the legend material to the young NR. For one, his youth relative to the storytellers enhances their credibility and thus the plausibility of the legend. In the days of early adolescence, age plays a major role in credibility–this legend is most popular/effective with young children, reflecting this truth. Also, NR’s unfamiliarity with the area adds to the legend’s effect. While he was a regular camper, the Outpost region was still not completely familiar to NR, which can create gaps in understanding that are prone to being filled in with horror legends such as this. In this case, his fear of the unknown, already exacerbated by the campfire setting, became manifested by the legend of a murderer who lived in the Outpost, reflecting a classic youth’s outlook on reality. On the flip side, I view this legend as a practical joke played by counselors on campers and as a cautionary tale leveraged to ensure safety. However, contrasting with many uses of practical jokes, I do not view this necessarily as a rite of passage or an initiation ritual–I believe it is more just a tradition that the camp can collectively identify with. Due to the temporary nature of the camp experience, there is no investment in seeing the children on the other side of understanding the reality of the story.