A recent posting on church assemblies in the mountains has led some readers to reflect back on their own summer camp experiences. It also sparked Asheville journalist Jon Elliston to bring Camp Catawba to our attention. Elliston (with the help of illustrator Phil Blank) recently penned a short history of Camp Catawba for the Asheville news weekly, Mountain Xpress. The Blowing Rock camp for boys was started in 1944 by Vera Lachmann, a poet, classics scholar and refugee from Nazi-era Germany. In addition to offering such traditional activities as hiking, swimming, horseback riding and volleyball,
Lachmann provided lessons in the classics Lachmann shared her love of the classics with campers. Campers read The Illiad and The Odyssey She retold The Iliad and The Odyssey in her words and guided campers as they staged performances of works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare and Moliere. Tui St. George Tucker, Lachmann’s companion and a composer, directed the camp’s music program, which included an orchestra, choir and private music lessons.
While rich in culture, Camp Catawba perpetually lacked cash. It limped along financially until 1970 when Lachmann and Tucker hosted their last group of boys. Lachmann died in 1985 and left the camp to Tucker, who moved to the camp full time and continued to compose music. Tucker eventually sold the camp to the National Park Service, but she remained on the property until her death in 2004.
Campers, many of whom hailed from the New York City area, shared their memories of life at Camp Catawba in a 1973 book. We found the pamphlet below in our collections. Lachmann’s forbiddance of comic books (see p. 6) makes us wonder how she’d feel about having her camp memorialized in the comic-book style.
Elliston and the Mountain Xpress have created links to other Camp Catawba-related items from collections elsewhere.
11 thoughts on “Camp Catawba Remembered”
It’s a great pleasure to find the 1947 brochure about Camp Catawba on your website. As the de facto historian of the camp, I hope it’s all right if I comment on two small features of your accompanying note.
–You write, “Campers read The Illiad [sic] and The Odyssey.” In fact, unless in private or in Greek lessons from Vera, no one at Catawba read the Homeric epics. What Vera Lachmann, the camp director, did, was to review the nightly portion of the epic for the camp season and then TELL the boys the story. Her unusual accomplishment was that she was in effect Homer himself, who told (or sang) the Iliad and the Odyssey. She never read a word of Homer in translation or the original to the boys at storytime unless it was to help them understand her telling the epic.
–You write: “Lachmann’s forbiddance of comic books (see p. 6) makes us wonder how she’d feel about having her camp memorialized in the comic-book style.” The accuracy of the article and faithfulness and seriousness of the cartoon-style artistry that accompanies it makes me think Vera would have been thrilled with it. The article hardly favors the notion or purpose of comic books that she tried to prohibit at Camp Catawba. If anyone knew the difference between art with a high purpose and art without that purpose, it was Vera.
Please don’t take this amiss. I deeply welcome the ever-widening understanding of the cultural and historical significance of Camp Catawba.
Many thanks for your comments and corrections. On students reading the classics, I’m glad to have you set the record straight. There’s always a risk in working from secondary sources. My mistake is a case in point.
I’m also glad to have your thoughts on Vera Lachmann’s take on the work by Jon Elliston and Phil Blank. I agree that their piece is art with a high purpose.
Finally, we at the North Carolina Collection are appreciative of all the work you’ve done to document the camp. Your book makes our collection all the richer.
Did Vera really perform a Schiller play? If so, which one?
Unfortunately I’m unable to answer your question with the resources we have at our disposal here at the North Carolina Collection. I checked Charles Miller’s book about Camp Catawba and found no references to Schiller. I’m hoping that Mr. Miller might chime in at some point with a response. He’s eminently more qualified than anyone here at the library.
The Schiller play “William Tell” was performed by the boys at Camp Catawba. Vera directed the play.
Charles, I attended Catawba in the summer of 1960. It’s very important to me to be in contact with someone associated with the camp to inquire about some things that happened that summer concerning the Camp.
I would be so appreciative if you contact me via e-mail.
I just found Chas. Miller’s book while passing through Blowing Rock, and it brought back fond, if rusty, memories of the summers of ’62 & ’63. I was thrilled to see myself on the cover pic. I recall a huge white-faced hornets’ nest at the U-turn between the Bolick’s stables and the camp, and archery ‘mattress shooting’, a pretty foolish and daring ‘sport’.
I attended camp in 1960 and am looking for campers who had experience with the pottery instructor from that season, as Chuck notes in his book, that being the year a kiln was first obtained, pottery pieces ” all over camp. ” Any help would be greatly appreciated, I can be contacted via Facebook or this site. Thanks.
Len and I attended camp catawba around 1953 when i was 8 and he was 11. i went for 3 years, he two (he couldn’t handle the cold showers, to this day i’m comfortable going into Atlantic at our westhampton beach summer home–Long Island– end April, 59 degrees). My wife and I are going to Ashville 10/31 to 11/4/2018. i’m planning on going to blowing rock and climbing grandfather mountain; would like to know where i can buy chuck miller’s book and get more stuff on the camp, perhaps even the address of camp or Bolick’s farm. the camp was the most interesting and enjoyable one ever went to (and went to half a dozen). Can one find a camp today where climb up a mountain every week, gallop on a horse in a huge field on an english saddle, read shakespeare under the apple tree in the outfield of a baseball park, take a cold shower, swim in a mudpool filled with melted snow from the mountain, put on a play for the parents at the end of the summer, grow up…..
Do any of you recall a fountain in front of the house with Greek inscriptions? I believe it was near the oak trees.
I attended Camp Catawba during four summers between 1949 and 1953, when my family lived in New York City. My wife and I and a friend and his wife briefly visited Camp Catawba, meeting with Vera Lachman, during the summer of 1969. Today I still have the article that appeared in the local newspaper, describing Camp Catawba and the phone conversation with my parents on the occasion of my birthday. I would welcome hearing from anyone with shared experiences.