Once upon a time? No, this is a true story. Let’s provide a more specific time frame: the late 1950s. But we shall withhold some specifics in order to protect the innocent.
The tale that follows occurred at an absolutely wonderful boys’ camp. Perfect for its purpose in every way: a large reservation in a magnificent wood and water setting, far away from civilization; great leaders, some with the special gift of being able to bring out the best in a boy; rich traditions; and a wide-ranging program making the camp experience a peak event for the boys lucky enough to be sent there.
Well-established campsites were assigned to troops of boys who knew each other before they came to the camp. Many campers would return to the same campsite, with the same adult leaders, year after year. Veteran campers became junior leaders themselves.
During one summer’s typically tranquil camping season, a series of cascading events changed the experience entirely. A boy was missing. He had been staying with his troop at an “adventure” campsite, on the periphery of the main reservation. Despite diligent efforts of those immediately in charge of the boy, he could not be located. A larger search would be necessary.
That evening, in campsites throughout the reservation, campers became aware that something important was going on, and that parts of the camp routine might be impacted as a wider-ranging search was undertaken.
By the next morning, the camp had become a very busy place, with numbers of police and military personnel and vehicles around the place. Loud speakers began to be used, and campers could hear amplified voices saying the missing boy’s name, and asking him to signal his location.
The camp program went on, but all discussion began to focus upon the developing saga. Through camp “scuttlebutt” campers learned that the search was going to be expanded even more, with helicopters and National Guard troops brought in to fortify the effort to locate the missing boy.
Later, throughout the camp, campers and their leaders listened as a helicopter swooped over forest and lakes. As night fell, swirling search lights punctured a black sky. And, shattering the usual quiet of a woodland night, the sound of the amplified voices: “Please, if you can hear this, give us a sign, let us find you.” It was a haunting sound, and many of the campers huddled in their bunks, getting little sleep that night.
After such a night, the plight of the lost boy completely dominated the camp. There was little else discussed, and everyone, even young campers, became acutely aware of the disaster that loomed if the missing boy was not found soon. Stories circulated about the incredibly tough terrain that the searchers were encountering.
Suddenly, later the second day, following considerable rushing about by camp officials, it became apparent to even lowly tenderfoot campers that something big had happened. Great news! The lost boy had been found! Alive and without serious injury!
But, then, questions began to circulate within the camp. The boy had been found several miles away from the camp reservation. He appeared to be in good condition, but could not provide details about his experience. According to what was being discussed around the camp, his condition was too good. How did he get through the woods and underbrush that had been cutting searchers’ clothing to shreds over the last two days?
After their stay at the camp ended, campers learned from their families that virtually no reports had gotten out into the media about the search for missing boy. Campers described their week at camp to disbelieving parents.
In today’s world, all campers would have been sent home during the search. They would have been offered counseling.
Back then, the situation was treated as an occasion for character formation.
That it certainly was.
Most who lived through this experience still remember the haunted night of the search, and wonder, what really had happened to that boy?