The following is an article by Peter Kihss that appeared in the August 5, 1940 New York World-Telegram. It was submitted by Virginia Holmes Powell.
Girls of Gerritsen Beach Make Their Own Fun
In the marshy sands of Gerritsen Beach Patricia Hammond, 11, scooped a little hole. In the hole she put a fire of sticks and paper. Over the fire she put a board. And on the board she set a tiny pot. "My mother told me not to eat too many sandwiches," said little Pat. "She said I'd get real sick. So now I'm going to make myself some soup."
It's a self-reliant world, the world of the girls of Gerritsen Beach, one phase of the children's time of the metropolitan summer.
Their Own World
The girls of Gerritsen Beach didn't leave New York for the summer. But they have made themselves their own summer world, their own camp, next door to home. Their tale is the inspiration of a freckled matron, Mrs. Lillian Holmes, who used to fly her own plane, settled down in Gerritsen Beach a year ago, and immediately talked up a Girl Scout troop.
Troup 84 had a couple of meetings, starting in May last year at P.S. 194. "Let's meet on the beach," suggested Mrs. Holmes. They did. Today the "ocean front camp" of the Girl Scouts is one of the community affairs of Gerritsen Beach, that self-centered 300-year-old neighborhood between Sheepshead Bay and Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn.
Only theoretically is it a Girl Scout camp. Little brothers and nearby Boy Scouts adopted it, on the ground that the girls needed "protection." Mothers showed up.
Plumpish Mrs. Josephine Ianiello, whose two daughters joined the troop, said she was "always timid in the water." But when the girls started swimming, she decided she could. "I learned to swim, and I'm a Girl Scout myself," chuckled Mrs. Ianiello.
Any Girl Scout anywhere can go along. Scout headquarters found out about the project only after it started. This summer they labeled it a formal day camp.
Nets for Crabs
To reach the camp, take a hideaway dirt road extending to Gerritsen Inlet from Everett Ave., in projected Marine Park. At the end, turn right along another dirt trail, through swamp grass four and five feet high. A quarter mile down, right on the sand, are the three tents, the American flag, and the shamrock banner of the Girl Scouts.
Officially the camp convenes Mondays and Wednesdays. Some 50 girls show up, ranging from Caroline Heisler, 4, whose mother is the camp lifesaver, to girls of 15 and 16.
Mrs. Holmes screws cast iron pipe together for tent poles--the pipe came from junk heaps; she begged the canvas. A couple of girls turn cartwheels in the sand. Some girls get housekeeping duty. A few brothers go on patrol to keep away bullies.
Ten girls go off crabbing. They make their own nets, stringing cord V-wise between two bamboo poles, knotting knots along the Vs. They drag the nets through the water at low tide--low tide seems to be when the crbs come inland to sun.
Another group plays games. The girls form a circle, two by two. The girls in the middle execute motions, which the others must follow:
"Here we go round the mountain, two by two,
Two girls in the center did a backbend. One locked her legs around the other's waist an got herself swung around. That ballet-dancer stickler stopped the game.
The sheep game is a favorite. The girls form a ring around a leader. The leader describes a girl without naming her. As soon as the girl realizes she is the one she must run from her place, run around the circle. The girl who is "out" has to catch the running girl.
Mrs. Holmes believes in having the girls do things for themselves. They take seaweed. Dried, it makes soup and puddings. They take dulse, a purple-red seaweed, with leaves growing in fanlike fingers. Gathered and fired in butter with laver, a reddish-purple weed like sea lettuce, it makes a sauce or soup thickening. Dried dulse makes a good candy.
The girls hunt through the grasses for swamp rose mallow, six to eight feet high, resembling hollyhocks. The root makes a paste--marshmallow paste. They also press seaweed. Sea moss, very hairy, is dried on glass, pressed against paper. The weed mucilage makes a print. The girls thought it was their own invention. They took it to a hobby show and, Mrs. Holmes recalls, "we found out it was an art, centuries old."
Beach-combing also brings up shells, such as the inch-long gray whorls called oyster drills. Mrs. Holmes says of these, "they're terrible; they destroy an entire bed of oysters, but they're beautiful, too." With drills, jingle shells, whelks and scallops, the girls make themselves bracelets.
Last year they made Indian costumes out of march grasses and other articles and staged a dance. Tom toms came from nail kegs surmounted by canvas. Neighborhood stores surrendered potato and flour bags for costumes. Colored grasses were woven into mats and baskets.
The dance went to a Girl Scout show. One girl, telling about it, mourned that it was almost too good. They saved us for the last, and everybody was going home when we came on," she said. "But we saw everything for free, anyway."
Swimming is one of the big attractions. Mrs. Holmes says a neighborhood doctor takes samples and he thinks the water is safe enough. The girls divide up by bathing caps. Red caps can't swim. Blue caps are learning. White caps have passed a test--swim 100 yards, know two strokes, float, tread water.
Jessie Wallace, 13, a petite blonde, set up last summer's swim record. A beach ball fell in the water. Jessie ran in after it. A breeze sent the ball skimming. Jessie kept swimming. Before she know it, she had swum across the inlet, about 100 yards wide.
Billy Halloran, 14, and Frank Witkowski, brothers of members, constitute a life-saving patrol. They paddle about in swim periods in their kayaks, Billy's one-passenger boat self-made, Frank's four-passenger one built by his father, a pattern-maker.
Mr. Witkowski is a camp hero. He supplies a regular tent--once he used it in a transcontinental camping jaunt. Virginia Holmes, 12, pridefully described her father Roland, an American Airlines mechanic--"he can splice rope and everything."
Mrs. Holmes hopes to have the girls build a couple of one-passenger kayaks themselves. She estimates it would cost $3.50 to $4 to build each one, mostly for canvas and strips of wood.
Last summer the camp's total investment for materials was less than $5--for paints, paper, glue, nails, drawing paper, cotton, wool, first-aid material.The girls then paid nothing.
This summer, according to scout regulations, girls in crafts have to pay 10 cents to register, 5 cents each camp day for materials. From this they make such items as muslin bags--out of 6 cents worth of muslin and tape.
The public library supplies a cabinet of nature books--the Burgess Sea Shore Book for Children, Low Cost Crafts for Everyone, Eva Butler's Along the Shore, Joseph Gale's Fair and Warmer.
One stunt is to collect fish eggs, bird nests, snails, toads, porgies, snappers, even a blowfish or two, come back, draw the specimens, and then identify and read about them in books.
The girls bring their own "nosebag luncheons," of sandwiches, fruit, cookies, and folding cup. A milk wagon calls at noon to retail "white milk" and chocolate milk at 5 cents.
Every so often there are campfires. Older girls may camp out overnight on the beach. One girl told about one proposed feast. She started frying frankfurters. The fat in the pan caught fire; she tilted the pan; the frankfurters fell in the fire; in the excitement the milk spilled into the sand--good-bye lunch.
Helen Wallace, 14, a dark-haired slender young lass with a perpetual chuckle, described another meal. "We took carrots and peas, onions, potatoes, tomato soup, corn and bacon, and we put it all in a pot--it was the most wonderful stew. How did we know it was ready? Why, we just cooked it until it smelled good.
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