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Walter Lord At Hyde Bay Camp

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Walter Lord at Hyde Bay Camp
by William D. Lynn, M.D.
June 16, 2002

      From 1927 through the summer of 1969, Hyde Bay Camp was Walter Lord and Billy LynnShangri-La on the shores of Lake Otsego, eight miles north of Cooperstown, New York.

      It was started by former Gilman history teacher Herbert Pickett as a summer tutoring project to help struggling students. The first camper was Page Smith. Like Walter, Page was a Gilman student who went on to become a renowned historian and much-published author.

      Over the 52 years that Hyde Bay was in operation, hundreds of boys --- many from Gilman - spent their summers on Lake Otsego. During much of the 1930s and into the 1940s, Walter Lord was a camper, counselor and ultimately The Commodore.

Walter Lord      The Commodore was a title he bestowed on himself, and his many friends called him that until the end. Despite Walter's later fame for the Titanic, Commodore was an odd choice of nicknames, because Walter did NOT know how to sail.

      The nickname DID come in handy each year when Walter would preside over Hyde Bay's Eight Inch Regatta. Campers would build something with wood and paper to resemble a sailboat measuring no more than eight inches. And one day each summer, perhaps a hundred boats would be dropped in the Lake for the Regatta.

      After some time and distance had been covered, a winner would be declared.

      In a ceremony with great pomp and circumstance, Walter, dressed appropriately as a Commodore, would present the Eight-Inch Regatta Cup to the youngster who may have actually won the race.

      To his final day, Walter kept the Eight-Inch Regatta trophy in his New York apartment, next to the priceless artifacts from the Titanic. The trophy was simply a cooking pot with a lid.

      Walter loved ceremony and pomp and circumstance, but underlying it all was farce and comedy. His "ceremony" was the kind perfected by the Marx Brothers.

      One ceremony was especially memorable. At Hyde Bay, there were a number of barnyard animals kept on the property - a few goats and chickens. One summer, a new pig was brought to join the other animals.

      It was Walter's belief that this pig, which was named Pearl, should have a party in her honor. It should be a debutante party.

      Walter made the plans and even had invitations made for those to be invited. In Walter's mind, a debutante party wasn't a first-class affair unless there was someone to CRASH the party. Walter appointed ME to be the un-invited party crasher.

      With no invitation, I was to arrive at a certain time and CRASH the party. Unfortunately I fell asleep in my tent. Walter sent a group of campers to wake me so I could be brought to crash Pearl's debutante party as planned.

      In 1985, I retired and Walter held a small retirement party for me with a handful of lifelong friends. One of the gifts given to me that night was from Walter --- a small tattered piece of paper. Fifty years later, Walter was giving me the original invitation to Pearl the Pig's debutante party from 1935.

      When people recall Walter, many will think of an ocean liner at the bottom of the Atlantic. I will remember an eight-inch sailboat, a party for a pig and many wonderful summers at Hyde Bay Camp.

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