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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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The Gong Whackers

John L. Sullivan, '36

The Magpie, June 1936, v. 20, n. 2., p. 25.

It was a camping trip. The camping trip, if so it may be called, started on July third, when eight of the fellows, Ali Bey Goebel, Bud Conner, Moon Mullins, Frank Magee, Mercurochrome Dully, Subway-mouth and Burlesque Bob Cudahy started for Hyde Park.

Their conveyance consisted of a Model T Ford of 1926 vintage which, on one occasion had reached the marvelous speed of 20 miles an hour, (down hill in neutral). Into this, was piled over one hundred pounds of blankets, axes, matches, first aid kits, rifles, cooking utensils, and food. This mass was garnished with eight boys, loaded with ten gallons of gas, its radiator filled with H2O and its crankcase with oil. Without the usual fanfare accompanying such a hazardous expedition, the party started off—without me. My mother had thought it too wild a country to be out in alone, although I was one of the senior members of the group.

All went well until the safari reached the hill near Kensico Dam. Here labor trouble developed. The motor which had been laboring all day suddenly succumbed, and all efforts to turn the engine over proved of no avail. The only other alternative was to push the car to the top of the hill and, when the car had gathered speed, let out the clutch. After a half hour of exertion, the pioneers reached the top of the hill and discovered the cause of the trouble. One of the many bags had lodged on the clutch pedal and kept the car out of gear. Once the car was rolling they again took up their old pastime of trying to hit passing objects with their air guns while the car hit every bump on the road with such marvelous success that half of the baggage was thrown out.

After five hours of steady traveling, they reached their destination, discharged their cargo, and prepared to get ready for the night. First the tents were carted out and preparations made to erect them. By nightfall one tent was up, inside out, but nevertheless up. After a slight supper of beans, bacon, soup, petit fours, and coupe lolla, they hit the hay. How they managed to get eight boys, twenty-four blankets, and all of their baggage into the tent is beyond comprehension, for the black hole of Calcutta must have been a warehouse by comparison.

The next morning they were awakened by Burlesque Bob's laughing. On investigation they discovered a young deer licking the soles of his feet which protruded from the tent flap. After scaring it away with their air rifles they started to complete the day's work of putting up the remaining tent and cooking three good meals. The other tent was erected, but as for the meals only three of the gang had had any previous camping experience, and only Goebel had ever slept outdoors overnight (much to his embarrassment). The remaining five spent their time arguing which of the three would do the work. Connors was elected to the position of Chef and proceeded to turn out some third class meals. Boarding house etiquette prevailed and, whenever the cook's back was turned, a hand would dart out and the material would disappear.

One meal's menu consisted of Hamburgers a la Connor. The prospective eaters did not wait for the meat to sizzle, but ate it right from the pan without benefit of cooking. This, while it may he good for providing red blood for soldiers, was not suited to the stomachs of these boys and so caused an outlay for castor oil.

Discontent was rampant. The sun forever hid behind a cloud; the meals were few, uncooked, and far between; the out. door sports such as bee squashing, mosquito slapping, and snake hunting had proven futile, and all were afflicted with a case of home. sickness. Things came to a head one night when Woods, the philosopher of the group, was in deep meditation. Sitting like Rodin's Le Penseur, he happened to look down between his feet and noticed a large, copper colored object moving along in the grass. He let out a war-whoop that could be heard in the next county, which immediately brought Goebel and Magee on the run. Grabbing an axe, Magee swung at the moving object and succeeded in making it a foot shorter. Goebel continued from here and, with a well placed chop, decapitated the snake. On examination they discovered the snake to be about three feet long and a poisonous Copperhead.

The boys with their trophy marched over to a nearby road. stand and showed off their prowess as hunters. While discussing snakes, someone suggested that snakes usually travel in pairs and that a bite of one would cause the one bitten to swell up like a balloon and die within a few hours in terrible agony. These stories, liberally stretched, did much to lower the fortitude of the gang and only two, Goebel and Magee, had nerve enough to return to the tents. The other six spent the night at the roadstand keeping the neighbors awake with their songs and talk.

About twelve o'clock the next day, I arrived at the camp too late to witness the departure of the secret six for the city. Only Goebel and Magee remained of the brave group of eight. The place looked as if an enemy had attacked at night. Cooking utensils were everywhere, blankets and clothing hung from trees and rusty cans and other refuse lay about in conspicuous places. A large supply of food had been left and we soon had a good fire going and a meal in progress. The "New Deal" was in full swing; everyone did his share and there was little or no complaining. We dried out the blankets in the sun and then scattered them on the tent floor. At night we groped our way in and, choosing a certain layer depending upon the weather, climbed in. The next day it started to rain at intermittent intervals. Each time it stopped for a minute, we would go out and try to start a fire. As soon as we had it going brightly, the rain again would begin its downfall. In this way we started to make pancakes. We had the fire started and a very large cake on when the shower again resumed operations. The fire lasted long enough to brown one side and then went out. As soon as the fire was extinguished, the rain ceased and the sun came out. Again the fire was built and this time we succeeded in frying the other side, only to have the rain turn our beautiful specimen into a sponge. We finally had to admit defeat and used the pancake to patch a hole in the tent where, in our incessant fight with bats, one of our missiles had found an exit.

When the rainy season had finally died out, our meals would have done credit to the Waldorf. As a sample of our menus, I will mention a few favorite "vittles." The first course was chicken soup, which tasted swell until I tried to flavor it with salt, the cap of the shaker being missing. The result was that our meal turned into a small sample of Utah's famous lake. Second course, beans, "Nuff said"! Third course, canned chicken soup (without salt); fourth course, Spaghetti a la Mussolini. By this time we were so full that, with the remaining spaghetti, we wove a rug for a tent.

Our camping trip was brought to an abrupt ending one evening when Magee noticed a dog in our tent and threw a rock in its direction. The dog, which was of a very strange breed with a white stripe down his back and most peculiar odor, departed but not without leaving us a memento of his visit.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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