Friday, July 28, 2006

Brant Lake Camp

In June of 1932, little Stanley Ruby was packed off for his first summer away, attending summer camp in Brant Lake in the Adirondacks, 80 miles due north of Albany. In that year, Brant Lake Camp was in its 15th year of operation. It was run by the Gerstenzang family as a nominally Jewish camp--almost all of the campers were Jewish but there was little or no religious observation.

According to Bob Gersten, the nephew of the founder who is now 86 and still active managing the camp, later on in the 40s and later, Sabbath services were made available to campers offsite. For seven-year-old Stan and his campmates, Brant Lake was an entirely secular but culturally Jewish experience.

What he did there was learn every athletic skill imaginable: tennis, horseback riding, swimming, golf, basketball, boating, archery, shooting, crafts, you name it. Several of these Stan would enjoy as lifelong pleasures, and his abilities for these sports can be traced directly to his three or four summers at Brant Lake.

Unlike camps today where a session might run four or six weeks, Brant Lake ran one summer-long session for 11 weeks. During one weekend each summer, the camp would have visiting days for parents to visit their children. We are fortunate to have a wonderful record of several of these visiting days, when Selma and Walter Ruby, along with several other relatives, visited Stan at Brant Lake.

It turns out that Walter Ruby was a motion picture buff, and that he owned an early 8mm movie camera and projector. He made films of at least two of the Brant Lake visiting days. Stan must have known of the existence of these films, but we never knew of them until we discovered the ancient reels of films and projector among the stash of artifacts that turned up after Stan's and Helga's deaths.

We have since transferred the grainy old film to digital files and sometime soon I will make them available for viewing or download from this site. When you view them, you'll see all the footage of Stan doing camp activities and of a happy Ruby family, including wonderful scenes with Walter and Selma Ruby, their daughter Joan, and several Ratner sisters. In addition, there are other films from Long Beach and New York that will be available.

Walter Ruby the younger and I visited Brant Lake Camp two weeks ago. It is still family owned, and is thriving in its 90th year of operation. We got a grand tour from Bob Gersten himself, fit and active at 86, with sharp memories of Stan both from camp and from Long Beach, where Gersten was also from.

More on that in an upcoming post. For now, here's a teaser closeup of Stan in a group picture we found during our visit in the Brant Lake archives.

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