Howard Talbot, November 14, 2013

Title

Howard Talbot, November 14, 2013

Subject

Cooperstown (N.Y.)
Camp Chenango
Ostego Lake
Leatherstocking Corporation
Baseball Hall of Fame
World War II

Description

Howard Talbot was born in 1925 in New Berlin, New York. Talbot grew up in Edmeston, New York, where he lived for most of his childhood and adolescence. Talbot was drafted into a Tank Destroyer battalion during World War II, eventually serving with the U.S. Armored Field Artillery in the Philippines. The draft prevented Talbot from achieving his high school diploma, but he did attend the Utica School of Commerce after the war. After graduating, Talbot was hired by the Leatherstocking Corporation as an accountant and later worked at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Throughout the early half of the twentieth century, there were a wide variety of youth camps established on the shores of Lake Otsego, including Camp Chenango. These camps provided organized and educational, yet entertaining, activities for both boys and girls who spent their summers there. Talbot shared stories about his time at Camp Chenango, as well as some stories about his life in Cooperstown after World War II. Talbot had asthma as a kid, which prevented him from working at his father’s feed business. A family doctor suggested that Talbot attend Camp Chenango to help with his asthma, and Talbot did not observe any symptoms after going to the camp. Talbot started out as a regular camper at Camp Chenango before becoming a counselor there.

Talbot’s recollections provide insight into the activities provided by some of the camps on Lake Otsego and the significance these camps had in the development of campers. The stories portray a strong camp community where boys from all places, even metropolitan areas like New Jersey and New York City, were able to spend the summer and be introduced to nature. While Talbot does not think that his time at Camp Chenango affected his experiences in the army, he credits the camp for providing him a strong foundation.

I interviewed Mr. Talbot at his home in Cooperstown, New York. Talbot’s daughter entered the house during the interview, which accounts for some of the sound that can be heard in the background. I have edited the transcript in order to put Talbot’s thoughts into more complete sentences. This is intended to make it easier to understand the interview when reading the transcript; however, I would suggest that researchers listen to the interview in order to receive a more complete understanding. There were a few words and terms that I was not certain of, but I have placed suggestions in brackets when applicable. I also use brackets to denote any words or gestures that were important to reading the transcript but were not said.

Creator

Keith Sten

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2013-11-14

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
28.8mB
audio/mpeg
28.8mB
audio/mpeg
9.1mB
image/jpeg
4000 x 2250 pixels

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

13-11

Coverage

New Berlin, New York
1925-2013
Cooperstown, NY

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Keith Sten

Interviewee

Howard Talbot

Location

95 Pioneer St.
Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

HT = Howard Talbot
KS = Keith Sten

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]
KS:
This is Keith Sten interviewing Howard Talbot in his kitchen for the Cooperstown Graduate Program. Today’s date is November 14, [2013]. Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up in Edmeston?
HT:
Edmeston was a very small town. It had only about 800 people there. I enjoyed it. I had a lot of friends over there in school and we were all very close as far as that is concerned. They had a good school system I thought, although I was not a professional student by any means, but I enjoyed the school there. My father was in the feed business and I tried to go down to work for him, but unfortunately I had an asthmatic condition so I could not be near the feed dust. So I had to give that up. But I enjoyed it immensely, and if I had to grow up again I think I’d like to go back and do it again in Edmeston.
KS:
What kind of activities did you do while you were growing up?
HT:
In school I was in sports. I was in baseball and basketball; and they were just starting football. But I never got into that because I really wasn’t big enough or hefty enough to participate in that. I played tennis quite a lot on the tennis courts, and when school was out in the wintertime we did a lot of sliding downhill. We had a large hill there which we would walk up and come down, and fortunately in those days cars weren’t on the road. Most people if they had a car, would block it up; put it on blocks. So we didn’t have to worry about traffic, coming down the hill. I did go do a lot of fishing with a couple of fellows. There was a stream, or creek, that ran right through Edmeston where we did a lot of fishing. We used to catch perch and suckers, which is some form of carp. That really was about it. But I used to go out in the fields somewhere nearby, and in the summertime I would just lie down on my back and count the clouds and had nothing in particular on my mind. I used to love to do that too.
KS:
You mentioned that you weren’t a professional student, but were there any subjects in school you really liked?
HT:
Not really. I was not a student; I’ll put it that way. I went through school and I passed every grade. I wasn’t held back at all. But I got up into high school, and at the beginning of my junior year I was much more interested in sports, and going out on dates with girls, and things of that nature, than I was in homework and schoolwork. My parents realized that so they made an arrangement to send me to the Manlius Military Academy out near Syracuse. I went there for two years, but they set me back one year, so instead of being a junior I went back to my sophomore year. I finished that, and I was in my junior year when World War II came on. I went home for Christmas and I had to register. They said I would be taken momentarily, so I never went back to Manlius to graduate. I was drafted in World War II. I came out of the service after the war was over and I had not even had a high school diploma. But I did go to the Utica School of Commerce and took up business courses, which I enjoyed. Then I came home after I graduated the School of Commerce, and I went down to IBM in Binghamton and applied for a job down there. I was told there were no openings because of the shortage of materials after the war, and I should go back home and get a job doing anything - pumping gas or whatever - and when there was an opening they would call me. That’s what I did, but in the meantime people here in Cooperstown at the Leatherstocking Corporation had read in the paper where I had graduated - and they needed somebody - so they called over to have me come over for an interview. Which I did. They hired me and that was the beginning of my work career here.
KS:
Can you tell me a little about your mother or father?
HT:
My father was born in Edmeston. My mother wasn’t; she was born in Hartwick. As I said, my father and his brothers ran a feed store in Edmeston and that’s what he did for over 50 years. He was in the business for over 50 years. My mother was very active in the women’s club over there. She belonged to a bridge club, and they used to have friends in for dinner at night quite frequently. She enjoyed that type of life very much. They got along beautifully; they were wonderful parents. I attribute a lot of my success to their getting me off on the right foot to begin with. They were wonderful, and I appreciate very much what they did for me.
KS:
Did you have any other family members who were important to your years growing up?
HT:
I did have a sister that was born when I was about six years old. Unfortunately, she didn’t live long. She got spinal meningitis. Back in those days they didn’t have the drugs or the ways to cure things, of that nature, that they have today. She died when she was about six months old. That’s the only one. Otherwise I’m a spoiled brat; an only child.
KS:
Can you tell me a little bit about how you went to Camp Chenango?
HT:
As I said before, I had an asthmatic condition and many times I was bent way over gasping for breath; and my nose would run, and my eyes would run. I really was a mess at times. I did take ephedrine to help, but that was just a temporary cure, so to speak. The doctor that we had in those days in New Berlin traveled around from house to house. You didn’t go to him; he came to you. He had heard or knew about this Camp Chenango over here on the lake, and he just seemed to have a feeling that maybe if I came over here on the lake, and the environment here, I’d be free from my asthma while I was over here. So my mother and father looked into it and they did register me here for two months - July and August - and I came over and I was perfectly free from asthma. I didn’t have an attack while I was here at all, so that’s how I came to get into Camp Chenango.
KS:
The camp was located on Lake Otsego?
HT:
Yeah, it was located on the east shore of Otsego, probably about halfway up the lake. If you’re over on the west side it would be between three and five mile [point] actually. It was a camp, when I went there, for boys only. But it was primarily boys from down around the metropolitan area; New Jersey, New York, and so on. There were a few from up here, there was one from Canajoharie. There were a couple from Cooperstown that went up there that had been living in Cooperstown for years. There were, the first year I went there, probably about 70 or 80 boys. We all slept in tents on a platform, normally four or five in a tent. We sat up on the hill. We had the beach down there; probably one of the best beaches on the lake because it’s big enough that you can look down and see Cooperstown, and look to the north and you can see Sleeping Lion. It was a wonderful spot.
KS:
What kind of activities did they offer at the camp?
HT:
They had everything. They had what we called the carpenter’s shop. They had counselors for each tent, and each counselor was responsible for a certain activity. The one that was in charge of the carpenter’s shop always had frames to build sailboats. It took most of the summer to build a sailboat. They had a good sized building with tools, and they made other things too. They also had art class, where they would take them out and they would paint pictures of the scenery in that particular area. That was another one of the activities they had for them. They had what they called a nature course, where you would go out and you would pick up lichen in the streams, or little animals around the streams - salamanders - which we used to pick up. Then we would build a cage to put them into, with other moss and things like that, to go along with it. They also had horseback riding. They had a fellow there with a degree [in equestrian] who taught riding, and we would go into a riding ring. They had an area probably a quarter of a mile away from the camp where you go into a ring and ride. [For] those who advanced well enough, we used to go up on the bridle trails and go all through the side of the mountain over there on those bridle trails. They always had a horse show once a year and gave awards for different things. They had musical chairs, and things of that nature, which went along with it.
KS:
What kind of activities did campers do on the lake?
HT:
They had swimming twice a day; once in the morning, once in the afternoon. They would test you to see how good a swimmer you might be, because some of the boys were probably only between 10 and 11 years old. They took them up until they were about 16 or 17, so there were different groups that could swim better than others. Those who needed it got swimming lessons so that they could compete. We had water sports, whereby you had to swim against others in a race. They had boating. They had rowboats, they had canoes, they had sailboats. Before you were allowed to take any boat out alone, you had to pass a test. You had to swim a certain distance. With the sailboat you had to swim at least 200 yards before you were allowed to take a sailboat out. That was primarily for the older boys. We would have water meets right there with diving. We had a diving board, both low and high diving. We’d have diving contests, as well as races. We did a lot of water sports. They had a motor boat, and they would put a board behind the boat and go around, and you could get on that and ride around behind that if you were capable of doing it.
KS:
Did you learn to swim before going to camp?
HT:
I swam a little bit, not as well as I did after I went there. My mother and father took me down to Asbury Park in New Jersey - right on the coast - one year before I went up there, to help get rid of the asthma. I and my mother stayed down there all summer. There was a fellow there who took me out on the ocean to help me swim, but you don’t really swim in the ocean much, you go with the waves. I did know a little bit about swimming, but most of it came from camp instruction up there.
KS:
Did the camp have a program to teach water safety and life saving?
HT:
No, they did not have a regular program. You could not get a lifesaving certificate there. Even though you might learn all of the things, they were not registered with the Red Cross or any other organizations so could give you a diploma for lifesaving.
KS:
But, all the counselors at the lake…
HT:
All the counselors were college students. I had a counselor who went to Yale. He became an attorney and lived in Vermont when I was going to camp. One year, after camp closed he had me come down to spend a few days with him and his family in Vermont. But all the counselors were college age, and they had different abilities. Paul was good at writing the weekly newsletter, which I’ll show you. Joe Domericki was a great gymnast. He would have the bar up here, and he would swing around the bar. And some who were musical, [Ted German] played the piano. We always had a certain schedule every week. In the morning you would get up and we would go down to the beach and do calisthenics. Then we would take a dip if we wanted to, go back up and get dressed, and then go to the mess hall and get breakfast. After breakfast we would have an assembly in the lodge. They had a big fireplace in there, if need be, and we would have an assembly, and there were songs that were sung about Camp Chenango. Then “Pop” Fisher, who was the director of the camp, would say what the schedule for that particular day would be. When that was over then we went to these different classes, like the carpenter shop, and the arts, and so on. That lasted until about 11 o’clock or so. Then we would go back to the tent row and change, get into our swim trunks, and go down and have a swim. Then after that we would come back up, get dressed, and go for lunch at the mess hall. After lunch there was always an hour’s rest period. We had to lie down in our bunk for an hour. After that we played games; capture the flag, things like that. We even had a baseball team that was probably half a mile or so away from camp. We would go down there to practice, and we would even come down to play the boys in Cooperstown. They had a team here that would play during the summer. We never won, but we played them at least anyway. At probably about four in the afternoon we had another swim session, and then after that we would have a little free time. Maybe we could go down to the beach, or whatever we wanted to do, until dinner time. We would have dinner, and after dinner we would go back up to the office. Each person had a little bank account there, of maybe 10 dollars or 15 dollars, so that you could go up and buy a candy bar, or some gum, toothpaste, or something like that. Then we would go down to the beach and had free time to go boating, or whatever. When it got dark we would go to bed, taps would be blown, we would go to sleep, and then get up the next day.
KS:
Were all campers encouraged to play baseball?
HT:
No, just anybody who would like to. There were certain duties that certain ones had to perform; for example, there was a fellow who came with his horses for the riding. They had to be brushed down and taken care of every night, and always somebody was assigned to go down with him to help brush the horses and clean out the stalls, and so on. There were no mandatory jobs really. But then certain nights we did certain things. Sunday night we had a council ring and each tent was given an Indian name. Each tent sat together. We had up in the woods - probably about 400 or 500 yards up in the woods on a hill - a camp fire and a ring. There was quite a ceremony to go up there. This was Sunday nights. “Pop” Fisher, the one who owned the camp, always put an Indian blanket around his shoulder and he ran the show, so to speak. He would ask for any news from any of the tents, though they were called whatever name they were given. Then they had contests, one tent would challenge another tent to an Indian Wrestle. You would lie down on your back, and you would lock legs and see who could pull one over. Things like that. Shadow Boxing, where you go like this, but you would not touch someone; just do it so you would make the other fellow lose his balance and have to move. There were games like that. They did some Indian singing - a couple of Indian songs - and then “Pop” Fisher would read us a story. Many of the stories were out of James Fenimore Cooper’s book. We got to know a lot about him that way. Then at the end we all stood up and we did a little ceremony to close council and went back down to the tent row to sleep.
KS:
Can you tell me a little about the Woodcraft league?
HT:
About what?
KS:
The Woodcraft league. Is that what you were [just] talking about?
HT:
You mean the carpenter shop? That made sailboats?
KS:
Did they ever take you to some of the areas around the lake that are described in Fenimore Cooper’s Books, like Natty Bumppo’s Cave?
HT:
You mean did we ever go to see them, like Sunken Island or Hutters’ Point? Yes, they would take us out in the motor boat and we would go to these different spots. We would also take an overnight hike. Sometimes it was just to go down to the lake to the next point, cook our supper there, spend the night, and come back the next morning. The older boys would go across the lake to three-mile, and then we would hike up to the top of Mountain Otsego. That was quite a hike. I had done that numerous times. We did those overnight hikes, and included a lot of the things that we had heard in the stories “Pop” Fisher told us at the council ring.
KS:
Was there a favorite camp activity you always enjoyed doing?
HT:
I enjoyed a lot of water sports, I think for me personally. I enjoyed swimming, diving, boating, and so on. I remember once – this was after I had gotten to be a counselor - every Fourth of July we picked up a lot of junk lumber that was around and we made a big bonfire. On the Fourth, we would always have our picnic supper on the beach. After that we would have watermelon and go around spitting the seeds. After the Fourth of July party - at night - we had to clean up the beach the next day because there were nails around from the lumber wood. I was in charge of that on the beach patrol that particular day, and I thought “well, this is going to be easy. I’m going to pull an old canoe up here and fill it with stones, nails, and whatever junk there was there. Then I’m going to paddle out, tip the canoe over, and that’s it.” Which is what I planned to do. Everything went fine; we got the canoe loaded, with this smaller fellow helping me. We got it loaded pretty well, we got off the shore and started to paddle out. We got out to about where we thought it was deep enough to turn the canoe over. We tried to do it together and we started to tip it, but it didn’t tip far enough so the next thing we know the canoe sunk right below us. We had no canoe anymore, so we had to swim back to shore. I had to go out and tell “Pop” what had been done. He just looked at me, he never said a word, but he never let me forget what had happened about getting rid of that canoe. That was quite an experience for me.
KS:
Can you tell me a little about the other campers you went to camp with?
HT:
Most of them I have never kept track of; where they are and what their status would be. One fellow by the name of Ridley Enslow, who lived down in New Jersey, still comes back up here, or has every year, to the opera. He always calls me up, and we go out to dinner with him, so I do keep in touch with him. There was one fellow that I used to keep track of - but I haven’t in recent years - who lived in Canajoharie. His father worked for the Beechnut Company. He went on to school and became a professor and he taught up at the college in Oswego. Our daughter lived up there for a time. We used to go visit her, and once or twice while we were there we stopped down to say hello to him too. Other than that, no, I have not kept track. I do know that there were two people in Cooperstown. Paul Kuhn who lives over on Chestnut Street, he went up there after I had been there. There was another one, [Robert] Seaver, who donated the park down here in the back of the Great American Store [now Price Chopper]. He went up to Camp Chenango. Other than that I don’t know of any others around here.
KS:
Can you tell me a little about the camp counselors? Were they approachable?
HT:
The counselors?
KS:
Yeah, the counselors or the staff. Were they approachable, or were some of them hard to talk to as campers?
HT:
They were all very nice. They loved kids to begin with I think. They loved working with them. There was one counselor for every five, six boys. I went there from 1936 or 1937 up until World War II. I kept going as a camper as long as I could, and then when I got to a certain age they made me a junior counselor. Then, eventually a regular counselor. I stayed there every summer from ’37 until I went in the service in World War II. They were all approachable, yes, they were great people.
KS:
Did you have to apply to become a counselor or did they suggest it?
HT:
That I don’t know. I don’t know as I went through the regular routine to do that. Most of them came from a college, or their homes were down and around Oradell, places in New Jersey, or that area. I think maybe “Pop” Fisher might have known of some families because he was in education himself. He was a teacher for many years down in New Jersey. I think he maybe went to certain families or fellows and said “look, would you be interested in this?” It started that way. Then there probably were some who came back two or three years in a row because they liked it so much. There were always new counselors every year.
KS:
What was the goal of the camp? What did they want campers to learn or achieve?
HT:
The only goal that I can actually remember is just the fact that it was a summer camp where you could learn something about the outdoors, first of all, and what camping is. It’s a great thing as far as I’m concerned. You had a chance to do certain things. Cooking was all done normally by college students, like over here at Delhi, learning to cook. The first year or two they had - I have a picture here - colored fellows. I played the trumpet at that time too.
[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]
They always called them to their meals with “Come and Get Your Beans Boys” on the trumpet. This one colored fellow always called me little horn blower. I would have to come a little early to call when they were ready. They’d have homemade ice cream occasionally and we fellows would have to turn the crank to freeze the cream. Things like that that just cropped up now and then.
KS:
So the camp was a good chance for kids, especially from the city, to see nature?
HT:
Many of the boys that were there, that lived in and around the city, never had a chance to be near a lake or go swimming like that. Or go out in the woods and explore the woods. For them it was a big treat. Of course it was for me too, because I didn’t do all that as much - organization-wise - at home as we did at camp. It was well organized; there weren’t many times when you had nothing to do. They did have the rest period every afternoon. They had a church service there. Sundays in the lodge. If a rainy day came along we would all get in the lodge and play games or do something. Each minute was pretty well organized.
KS:
How did the camp try to work with the idea that boys will be boys; they want to go out and do things, be active and rugged?
HT:
We never even thought about that, or I never did. There was no deviltry or anything like that. We played jokes on someone every once in a while. We might double sheet their bed - I don’t know if you’ve heard of that or not. The top sheet you would fold back down and over, so that when they got in they could only go halfway. We used to do things like that. But other than that, there were no drugs or anything like that that we have to worry about today. It’s too bad there aren’t more camps of that nature. I think it would help to get rid of some of that. It was strictly a boys’ camp. When I went in the service in World War II - the first year that I was not there - they added a girls’ camp to it. They had boys and girls after that, until it closed.
KS:
Did you hear anything about how that worked out?
HT:
It went very well. In fact, I think it got to the point where the girls outshined the boys. There were more girls there at the girls’ camp than there were boys. There is a big ravine there – if you ever get down in there - by the offices. The boys were on one side of the ravine and the girls on the other. But their camps were run individually, so the girls had their own schedule, and places to go, and things to do; the same as the boys. They did get together maybe once a week and they’d have a dance or something in the lodge. I don’t really know that much about their schedule.
KS:
While you were at camp did you hear anything about other camps [that were also in the area]?
HT:
Yeah, there were quite a few other camps. There was a camp just north of us called…
KS:
The Ethical Culture [camp]?
HT:
Well, the Ethical Culture [camp] was up near Hyde Bay, and there was a Hyde Bay camp. There were two of them up there. Then there was a camp down towards Fairy Springs which was Camp Fenimore. These were all for boys and girls. There was a girls’ camp just north of the one - I can’t think of its name right now.
KS:
The Pathfinder [Lodge]?
HT:
Yes, the Pathfinder. That was where Pathfinder Lodge is now, which is a Baptist camp. Those days it was just a girls’ camp.
KS:
And there was also a Boy Scout camp?
HT:
Yes, there was a Boy Scout and Girl Scout camp. The Boy Scouts and Camp Minnetoska. All of that was down near Cooperstown from Camp Chenango.
KS:
Did you ever hear whether the Boy Scout Camp did different activities than Camp Chenango?
HT:
I don’t know that much about it, but I think they did certain things like the scouts. They would work towards some merit badge that the scouts had, and you could do certain things to work those in. It was well organized as far as I know.
KS:
Was there ever any chance for campers to go to Cooperstown?
HT:
Yes, those of us that stayed there for two months would make two trips to Cooperstown. It was always in the motor boat. We would get X number going down on one day, and X number going down another day. We used to come down to get our hair cuts. They’d take us to the barber shop, we’d get our hair cut, and then normally we would walk to Sherry's Restaurant on the corner of Main and Chestnut. We would order what we called a Dingbat. That was really just vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, marshmallow, and a cherry on it. That was delicious; we’d look forward to those Dingbats.
KS:
How well did you get along with most of the campers?
HT:
I got along very well with them. Once in a while we’d get in a disagreement over something, but nothing serious. We always got along very well with each other as far as that goes.
KS:
Were there any events that brought any of the different camps together, or did they stay separate?
HT:
Not very much. As I said, we used to get together and play baseball on Doubleday Field, but that was with Cooperstown boys - no camps. I don’t ever remember really getting together with any of the other camps for any activities. It was pretty much just right within the individual camp, like Camp Chenango or Pathfinder.
KS:
What kind of things changed during the years you were at camp?
HT:
I don’t know if a lot changed during that time. The basics stayed the same. I mean they had the working groups in the morning, and swimming in the morning and afternoon. One thing I didn’t mention was that once a week we had to take a soap bath. We would go down on the beach - go over to the north side - and we had a big board-thing made to put down on the water to bring the canoes up on. We used to go down on that and have a soap bath. We had no clothes, no bathing suit. Nothing on. We’d go out there on the water, soap up, then rinse off. We did that once a week.
KS:
In the later years of when you were at the camp, did news of World War II spread around the camp?
HS:
What was this now?
KS:
During 1940, when you were still in the camp, was the news coming out of Europe about the war ever spread around camp? Or were you separate from that?
HT:
No, I used to go back up to camp after I got out of the service. I got to know the Larbigs very well. That was “Pop” Fisher’s daughter and her husband, who ran the camp after Fisher died. We were very good friends with them; in fact, my wife and I used to go out and play bridge with them after everything had calmed down at night. They had a cottage where they stayed in. We’d go up and play bridge with them and we were real friendly with her and her husband. Her husband ran the boys’ camp, and she ran the girls’ camp. Then he died and that was about the end of the camp. That’s when the camp closed down. But she remarried to another fellow and they still live down in South Carolina somewhere. They moved down there.
KS:
Did your camping experience influence your experience during the war?
HT:
I don’t think so. I mean I had wonderful times at Camp Chenango, but it didn’t have much to do with my being in the service, or affecting what I did while I was in the service. I was with the tank destroyers to start out, and wound up with the Armored Field Artillery. But it made me appreciate camping and taught me a lot about camping. We have been very fortunate - ever since our girls were about five, maybe six, years old- we rented a camp up here from the Clarks, and we’ve had a camp all our life since we moved up here, one place or another. Right now the camp that we have is right up at Camp Chenango. It’s what used to be the nurse’s cottage. We always had a nurse on duty there, and if someone was really sick she had a building that she could take them to and separate them from the rest of the campers. If they got really sick, then we just had to take them down to the hospital. In those days the road up there was just dirt. If we got a heavy rain - and there wasn’t a lot of traffic in those days - it was enough that I’ve driven that with ruts that deep in the road [measures with his hands]. You just got in the rut and you just stayed there, you didn’t get out. It was quite a deal sometimes to negotiate that road.
KS:
Can you tell me a little more about what you did in the tank destroyers?
HT:
I took basic training in that. Then I also got pneumonia. I was in the hospital for a week or so, and I missed some training, so I had to join another outfit. It was basic army training. You learned to march, for example; although some of this I knew because of my experience at Manlius Military School up in Manlius. You learn to march together, and you learn to disassemble, assemble, and clean all kinds of weapons, guns, so on, right up to the 75 millimeter howitzers. You learned to drive a tank; you had to be able to drive even though there normally was just one driver. But you had to be able to drive in case something happened to him. Each one of us had to take a session at whatever post we were at; aiming the gun, firing the gun, loading the gun, cleaning the whole thing, so that we were all familiar with each other’s jobs. There was a certain rhythm when you were firing that you had to use to get the shell ready to be put into the gun. Then it’s ready to be fired. Sometimes for physical ability we would have a 20 mile hike. We always were doing something physical like that to keep us in good shape.
KS:
Were you ever deployed during the war?
HT:
I was, but fortunately I never saw any action. I went to basic training, got through, and then I came home on furlough. Then I went back, and that’s when I was transferred from Texas to the Armored Field Artillery. Our orders were to join the 10th army, in Hawaii, to join in on the invasion of Okinawa. We went to Seattle and departed this country from Seattle. I had to go with the troops’ equipment. Those were just flat cars. I rode on a flat car from Texas to Seattle, Washington; up over the Rockies and all. Just to keep an eye on the equipment and make sure nobody messed with it. We left Seattle for Hawaii and our ship broke down. We were late getting into Hawaii. The 10th army had gone through what they call jungle training; and that’s what we were supposed to do, and go with them. But unfortunately they didn’t wait for us because of our ship breaking down. When we got there they had already gone. We stayed as [coal fuel barracks] and all we really did while we were there for over six months was to load and unload ships in Pearl Harbor. Finally they sent us over to be in the invasion of Japan. So we left Hawaii on an LST, and headed for the Philippines. It took us a month to go on the LST over there. We stopped at Okinawa on the way over, but only stayed overnight. We landed in Tacloban, which is right now where this terrible hurricane and typhoon hit - destroyed the place. We were there until the war ended. Then when the war ended, my number came up I went to Manila and we came home. So I really saw no action. The only thing that I will say we did with the Japanese; they were holed up in the caves up in the mountains of Layte. They would not surrender to the Filipinos, because if they did they knew they would be killed. But, they would surrender to U.S. troops, so I went up through some of the caves with our outfit and brought down Jap prisoners. That was the closest to combat that I ever came to.
KS:
Then after the war you eventually returned to Cooperstown?
HT:
Well I was not in Cooperstown; I was still in Edmeston when I was drafted. So I went from there and then I came back - after the war - and I still hadn’t graduated from high school. I didn’t have a high school diploma. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I tried the feed business again once with dad, but it just didn’t work. My asthmatic condition took over. I was not going to be miserable for the rest of my life. So I did go to the Utica School of Commerce, in Utica, and took their courses and graduated. I then came back and started looking for a job, and that’s when they heard that I graduated from Utica, and called me over here for an interview. That’s my start here in Cooperstown.
KS:
And then you went to the Leatherstocking Company?
HT:
I went to Leatherstocking first and I was there probably two years, maybe two and a half years. Then they decided that it was all accounting work that I was doing. For example, the Baseball Hall of Fame was one of my first accounts; and the Cooper Inn, and the Otesaga. I used to have to go over twice a year to the Otesaga and take inventory of every piece of furniture in there. Then they decided to take those who were doing the accounting in Leatherstocking and put them in the organization that they were working with. So they asked me if I’d like to go over to the Baseball Hall of Fame and do all the book work, and add other responsibilities because the book work took maybe ten minutes a day sometimes. That’s when I said, “Yes, I like baseball and I’d be very happy to go over.” So I did.
KS:
What has changed about Cooperstown in the many years that you’ve lived here?
HT:
When I came back here to work, after the war, there really were not many changes here in Cooperstown at all. It was pretty much the same as it used to be when I was up at Camp Chenango. But since that time, many changes have taken place [such as] business on Main Street. There is no longer furniture stores or clothing stores. They had a special meat market and Augur’s [bookstore]. Of course Augur’s is still there. No furniture store and no meat market, and things like that. It’s all baseball, which in my estimation is not good. I don’t like it. But on the other hand, it’s better to have something in there to keep it going, other than having it boarded up. There is a good point to it.
KS:
What was it like getting started at the Hall of Fame? When you first started, what did you have to do on a weekly basis?
HT:
There was a fellow over there, with the name of [Derkey?] who was a jack of all trades, master of none. He actually was a teacher and taught up here at the school at the end of the street. Of course, when I went over I had my book work to do - which as I said took maybe 15 or 20 minutes a day - cash up from the people coming in before. But it was just everything. If we got a new baseball, bat, or uniform it was up to me to put it on display in a case or do any kind of display work like that. Then the gift shop was just a window almost, in the small office where the ticket counter was. I would have to unpack souvenirs and mark them and put them up for sale. I even swept the floor and shoveled snow off sidewalks. When I went there I think there was only four people working. One was the director, who sat out in the middle of the room - at a desk - and he was there to answer the questions of people coming through. That’s all he had to do. Then we had one girl who was selling the tickets and souvenirs, one custodian to clean the place, and one who came in to sell tickets on weekends and nights, so that was the regular girl could go off (and myself) and that was it. But it grew from that. The tickets we used were printed up here at the print shop. We had to tear them off from a book as we would give them to people. It got to the point we couldn’t keep up with it. That’s when I bought the Gold Ticket Company machine, where you push a button and out comes your ticket. You could push “1” to get one, or you could push “5” to get five. You could put through five, ten, fifteen, twenty, in a matter of minutes. Things like that we had to improve as time went on, to accommodate additional people who were coming in.
KS:
Other than the Hall of Fame inductions, were there any other events you think that were huge and defined what it was like to be living in Cooperstown?
HT:
Very few. They selected Cooperstown for certain events. For example, when the World Series was going to be played in Philadelphia – I’ve forgotten the year of this now- they sent three fellows from Philadelphia to Cooperstown. We had to autograph three balls, and give it to them. They took those three balls that we had autographed and they ran from Cooperstown to Philadelphia to deliver those balls to the World Series. They were the first balls thrown out at the World Series. That’s one thing. We had other things similar to that. Hall of Fame weekend was the highlight of every year. Some years there was not very much to it, because there was no one going in who was a well known player. Some years there was nobody. We’ve had years, like when Brooks Robinson went in, that were monumental. That was always something we looked forward to every year. It also helped our attendance because the publicity we received from the induction ceremony from the Hall of Fame weekend enticed other people to come and see it.
KS:
If you permit me to go back to the topic of the camp, how did you feel when Camp Chenango closed down?
HT:
I felt rather sad in a way. Not that it made a big difference to me, because it had been so many years since I had been a part of it. It was a wonderful thing that they did for all of these boys that went there. In fact, I believe that next year they’re having a reunion in Cooperstown. I can’t tell you the dates or anything about it, but they will be having –sometime in July - a reunion. Now as I said, we have a camp there, and my daughter’s up there every summer. Each week she goes home for three days and comes back here for the rest of the week. She has seen people walking down and she’d go talk to them –they’d be strangers - and they would say “we used to be campers here years and years ago and we were just stopping by to get a look at it.” So there are people like that that stop occasionally. It’s too bad because it did a lot for me, and I’m sure it did a lot for others too. The lifestyle that we lived and being outdoors; it was just a great experience.
KS:
What was the most rewarding thing about being a camp counselor?
HT:
I don’t know if I have any one thing that stands out in my mind. I like kids to begin with, and they always seemed to put me with the youngest group. I don’t know if I can think of any one thing that sticks in my mind.
KS:
Are there a couple of different things you would use to answer that question? Or was it just overall a rewarding experience?
HT:
Well, the whole thing was such a rewarding experience. I had a great time as a camper, participating in all the events that I could. And going back as a counselor, my job primarily was on the beach. They always had someone in charge of the beach, so somebody wouldn’t just come in, jump in the lake, and take a swim without permission. [I also liked] to help teach things about boats; how to use a sailboat, how to row a boat, and paddle a canoe. That was something I think I enjoyed a great deal. That was mostly my responsibility as a counselor.
KS:
Were there any roles you had as a counselor that were challenging?
HT:
Not really. Not that challenging. They were all pretty good kids and we never had any real fights or anything like that. I can’t think of anything that was real challenging. I don’t think they ever put anybody in a position to do something or teach something that they weren’t familiar with. You always knew what you were doing, or what you had to do. So there were no surprises like that. There was not much pay to it. The little pay we did get as counselors was not enough to live on by any means. It was just a summer job for people who liked to be out camping.
KS:
Were any new buildings built while you were a camper?
HT:
No, they were mostly all built after I left, and that would have been over in the girls’ camp. There weren’t many buildings at the boys’ camp. All the boys slept in tents and the office was a small building. Then, of course, the mess hall was the biggest building. We also had the lodge. They were all made of rustic wood; that is, not regular siding. They would cut a log in half and use logs to build
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all the buildings with. That’s all the buildings they had at the time when I was a camper.
KS:
But they built more after you were there?
HS:
Yes, after I had left. There was another building where the Fisher’s lived. There was a camp maybe a couple of yards from the boy’s camp. Then they built another cottage when the Larbigs took over the girls’ camp. They had to build a lodge for the girls. They slept in tents, but they had a couple of lodges that they built. There was also a cottage for the cooks, right next to the kitchen.
KS:
And you said that the tents held five or six campers?
HT:
Each tent had four or five, because the tents were of a size where if you get more than four you had a pretty small area to walk in there. They were all good tents, they were heavy tents, and they all had a fly going over them for heavy rain.
KS:
When it was lights out you were expected to be quiet? No interruptions during the night?
HT:
Yeah. I didn’t mention this, but every Sunday each boy was to write a letter home. It could be just a postcard; it didn’t have to be a long letter. They came out with a newsletter, which you put in your letter to send home, so your parents got a chance to see what you were doing and what was going on. I’ve got some here I can show you.
KS:
What things were put in the newsletter?
HT:
Maybe, “This past week Howard Talbot passed his test for taking out a canoe. We congratulate Howard on this.” That would be one thing. Or “Last week the chefs outdid themselves by giving us a steak dinner.” Things like this, one sentence type things, not a big epistle. If one camper did something unusual, it said whatever it is he did.
KS:
Your parents enjoyed getting those newsletters each week?
HT:
I would assume so, they did I guess. In fact, my mother saved all the ones I wrote. I guess she must have enjoyed it.
KS:
We’re getting close to the end of the interview, so are there any other stories you haven’t shared about Camp Chenango that you would like [to]?
HT:
Not really. When I was a camper we used to play hide the flag. There were two teams and you had the whole woods to work with. I was going to hunt for the flag and I was on the edge of the ledge just above the beach and water. It gave way and I fell down and knocked myself out for a few minutes. That was one thing I remember. I remember once, when I was a counselor, I took my tent group of boys in the sailboat and I took them out for a sail. I could do that as a counselor. My mother and father were camping across the lake. So we sailed over to where they were camping, and I let them get off on shore to meet my mother and father. While we were there, this terrific storm came up - wind and rain - so we just simply stayed there. People at camp were worried sick because they didn’t know where we were. So I finally got on the phone and called camp, and said we’re over here and told them the location. As soon as the storm was over they sent a motor boat to tow us back to camp.
KS:
Were there any other times where you got injured? You mentioned that you had fallen off [the ledge].
HT:
No, I don’t think I got injured. I might have got a bruise once in a while. I can remember coming down one night from council ring. We had a trailer going down. I had gone horseback riding earlier in the afternoon, and I had my jodhpurs on. All of sudden I felt something moving in here [pointed towards his leg]. So I stopped and one of the other fellows shined his flashlight down there. I got my pants open and…
KS:
In your lower leg?
HT:
In my pants, between my leg and pants inside. I got in there, finally, and it was a frog. Somehow it had gotten down in there at council ring, so I had to get the frog out of my pants before I went any further. I was named camper of the year. They always had a banquet at the end of the year and they named one camper of the year. I have a cup here that you can see. Each year somebody was given that cup. After camp closed, they gave it to me to keep because I was still in Cooperstown. You can see all the other names of the ones who won camper of the year.
KS:
Were there certain things that caused campers to be elected for camper of the year?
HT:
I don’t know all the things they used for criteria. I think it was in general a good camper. You never caused any trouble or problems. You were always ready and willing to do whatever you might have been asked to do. You participated in everything; you didn’t back off and stay away from it. I think it was those type of things they were looking for.
KS:
Was there ever any competition over who would get camper of the year?
HT:
Not really for the cup. In fact, a lot of the campers didn’t even know about it until the end of the year, particularly new campers. We were never told much about it. We had the final banquet at the end of the year before they went home. They never really said much about it until that night. One thing I didn’t mention, though, was the laundry. They took the laundry and drove it up to a place on Route 20 to have it done every week. They had uniforms that you normally bought. Special shirts, shorts, and so on. They took the laundry up there and this one woman would do all the laundry, and they would go back in a couple of days and pick it all up. Then you’d have clean clothes. That was how that was done. A lot of your food chain trucks would stop there to drop off whatever they needed in [food line]. There was a local fellow named [Ernie?] Chase - who lives here in Cooperstown now - who lived on a farm out in Whig Corners. They had a bunch of cows, so they furnished the milk for many of the camps, most of them. They would come around every day and deliver milk.
KS:
Ok, thank you for talking with me. Were there any other stories you wanted to share?
HT:
Not that I can think of. I think we’ve covered the high points. It was just a wonderful experience and I am very pleased, at this stage in my life, to be able to look back and see that I was able to go there. I’m sure it had a bearing on my lifestyle and what I’ve done with my life as a result of being there at camp.
KS:
Ok. Thank you for sharing your story
HT:
Ok. Glad to do it.

Duration

30:00-Part 1
30:00-Part 2
9:30-Part 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Citation

Keith Sten, “Howard Talbot, November 14, 2013,” CGP Community Stories, accessed December 3, 2022, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/167.