Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Lost Summer Camp

Yesterday afternoon I drove out to Fox Lake, Illinois. I made it back to Chicago, barely, by 9:30 p.m. Moral of the story: do not presume, for it displeases the gods.

In the days of old, the P&C used to have a summer place in Fox Lake. At its peak, the summer place could hold up to seventy-five people, and the members went up there in the summer to go sketching and painting and to escape the city. A powerful nostalgia has gripped me since I first learned about the summer camp, and I have needed to find it and see what is there now.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea where to look for it--that was when I bumped into Frank Hensley as he made his way along a downtown street as I was coming out of a coffee shop. Frank got to talking, as he does, and he informed me that there was a map showing directions on how to get to the old place. Three days later, he gave me an envelope with a copy of the old map.

The map had been drawn by Otto Hake and published in the June 1928 club newsletter. Frank copied it out of there. The map is drawn and lettered beautifully in pen and ink, but it sits on the page cockeyed--north on the compass rose is pointing to the upper right hand corner of the page.

Here's what the newsletter says about it:
The Camp Deestrict as Otto Views It

Inasmuch as you travel in a northwesterly direction when going to the camp, Uncle Otto thought it would be a good plan to place that point of the compass at the top of the map which he designed for the club circular last month, and which we reprint in this issue.

The information as to automobile roads is guaranteed to be correct, however, and the elimination of unnecessary details makes it possible to find the way in the brightest of sunlight. Having this map in hand and the railway time table on page 7 for emergency use, any flivver navigator should be able to pole his way to our favorite sketching grounds without trembling or very much rattling. . . . Signs have been placed on the camp building and also on the main road and one at the railroad track, so you cannot get lost.
In my mind, the photos of the old camp were as good as posted on the blog.

Problem is, the Fox Lake of 1928 bears no resemblance to the Fox Lake of today--the Fox Lake of auto dealerships and fast-food joints, of malproportioned new houses planted one on top of another. Hake's map shows few roads and doesn't give the street names where you need to turn for the old camp. Google Earth just confused me--I couldn't figure out how to mentally overlay Hake's cockeyed map on the satellite image. Still, I thought, no problem. How hard could it be?

That is where I angered the gods.

From the expressway, the road made its way through rolling countryside with golden fields of tall corn, big oak trees scattered here and there, and everywhere a sense of fullness given by the slant of the afternoon sun, the golden color of the fields, and the smell of vegetation just beginning to go over.

In Fox Lake proper, I drove slowly, craning my neck here and there as I tried to orient myself on Hake's map. This infuriated the driver tailgating me. When I pulled over to let him by, instead of speeding off, he pulled up next to me and began shouting at me. I ignored him. When I turned off the main road to let him by, he turned off after me. Stopping, I ignored him and pulled out Hake's map again. He stopped behind me, got out and tapped on my window with a dirty fingernail. I rolled down the window.

"Did you ever hear of using turn signals?" he said. He had cigarette breath.

"Mellow out," I said.

He kept going about how I had been driving.

"Just mellow out, man," I said.

Then he saw the map. "Where you looking for? I'll tell you how to get there," he said.

So I got out of the car and showed him the map. I don't think he heard me when I told him about the map being from 1928. A dumpy woman with bad teeth got out of his car and began hollering into a cell phone. She thought her cousin knew how to get to the Palette and Chisel summer camp, but she didn't, and then they left.

My next stop was the police station. If anyone knew the forgotten corners and confused back streets of Fox Lake, it would be the cops. In the parking lot, I met P.O. Ostertag. He was about twenty-eight or so, five foot six, about two hundred and forty pounds, and he wore those modern sunglasses that make you look like you are about to run a marathon. His big head was shaved into a perfect mohawk. He was perfectly nice, and he was interested in Fox Lake history, but he couldn't figure out the map, either.

Next stop, the Fox Lake public library. I narrowed down my search and set off again in confidence. The sun was beginning to decline in the west, and I was in a hurry to get to the old summer camp in time to take some photos.

My research led me up a steep dead-end street above the railroad tracks. I made a spectacle of myself walking up and down the little neighborhood street, but I was sure I was close. I got back in my car to go around the hill to make sure.

The car wouldn't start.

As I sat there stranded, the guy who lived across the street came out to see what was going on. His name was Ed. Ed told me he had been living there about ten years; a former UPS driver, he hasn't worked for three years since falling off a truck while trying to close the door. Ed's knees were screwed up, there was a lawsuit, and I guess he's been living on the settlement since then. Ed makes leather crafts and sells them on ebay. I showed him the map. Although he lived next door the most probable location of the old Palette and Chisel summer camp, I could tell he wasn't impressed.

Ed tried to jump my battery, but he connected the starter to the battery poles the wrong way around. There was a puff of smoke when he switched it on. It didn't work after that.

When he arrived, the tow truck driver wore a bright orange jacket and had a slightly rodent-like face. He walked quickly and with exceptionally long strides. After diagnosing a dead battery, he said he also worked for a battery company. He had a brand new one at home. He offered to sell it to me but said "you can't tell anyone where you got it." I didn't show him the map. Auto Zone was happy to sell me a new battery and they let me talk about it freely.

I took the back roads all the way to Chicago. Somewhere in Fox Lake is the old summer place. But it doesn't want to be found so easily, I guess.


Blogger Phyllis schweiss said...

I have just discovered your article.
I am also interested in knowing where this location is.Here is the information for the local Historical Society. I hope this will help.

Fox Lake-Grant
Township Area
Historical Society
411 Washington St.
PO Box 224
Ingleside, IL 60041

July 07, 2012  
Blogger chris miller said...

Here's another post on the subject - together with a period map.

July 07, 2012  

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