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Mr. Personality

Post 3 of 3 on Charles D. Mahaffie, Jr. at Camp Wachusett

Charlie amongst the counselors and campers, 1946

When we last saw Charlie, he was a boy of 11 years. With the United States fully in the war, Camp Wachusett did not open for the summer of 1943 and stayed closed for the two summers after that.

In 1946, the camp reopened. Camp leaders Bill Triplett and Ward Bates were back from their military service. Charlie was back, now as a counselor. He was fifteen years old.

Dave “Slinger” Slingluff, unfortunately, was gone, also no longer at The Landon School after the school year of 1942-43. At some point during the war, his family had moved from Washington to Rhode Island, likely because of his father’s position in the U.S. Navy.

Charlie Mahaffie, on right, with his charges at Camp Wachusett

Counselor duties

Though Charlie was only fifteen, he was assigned to manage swimming. The boy who hadn’t liked “dips” was now one of the swimming counselors. He was also one of the editors of the Wachusett Log.

Among Charlie’s other duties was umpiring baseball. About his work at this the Log reported: “The rest of the campers participated in a hotly contested baseball game, hotly contested between the players and the decisions of the umpire who looked at baseball with a slightly jaundiced eye as the Senators plunged toward the basement. Who the umpire was is beyond the ken of this log but it was noticed that Charlie came home with a handful of empty Moxie bottles and a few scars.”

Charlie was also “inspector”, the counselor who checked each cabin after morning cleanup, and picked which one was tidiest. He was presumed biased in his cabin inspections. “Charles (Inspector) Mahaffie checked the cabins; as usual Kiowa won because Mahaffie lives there.”

Trouble with Beaman (there’s always one)

As one of its editors, the Log correspondents went after Charlie Mahaffie more than ever. An early Summer 1946 entry read: “The next noise [just before Reveille] was Charlie (’they don’t have to be beautiful; they don’t have to be cute; but they gotta have personality’) Mahaffie as he got an early morning start trying to figure out which foot Ralph Beaman’s shoes went on. Apparently he was unsuccessful for Ralph turned up for the third consecutive day with his shoes neatly tied but on the wrong feet.”

And built into that story was, with the “they gotta have personality” comment, the first in what would become a steady mocking of Charlie’s interest in girls. Before long he  becomes Mr. Personality, maybe not because of his own, but because he apparently wanted a girl with a personality, and, soon, he’s “Lovesick Charlie” because, allegedly, none of his attempts to woo ever worked.

The boys of Charlie’s cabin, Kiowa, do a banzai charge (1946)

Managing Ralph Beaman was a fixture of Charlie’s days as a counselor that summer. A Log entry has Charlie tagged as “Beaman-cut-that-out Mahaffie” (Beaman was the boy with the shoes on the wrong feet). I could not find out more about Ralph Beaman, but he didn’t return to the camp the next summer.

“Knock it off!” Even without Beaman

That next summer (1947), the Log tells us: “The rest period fumbled along, punctuated with ‘Knock it off!’, the favorite saying of Charlie Mahaffie, the hunchback of Camp Wachusett. Charlie had better watch out, or somebody may do just that to his head.” That evening, “as the story faded away, they fell into dream of Charlie, tied into a sack, slowly sinking beneath the waves with a cannon ball tied to his feet.”

Still entertaining the camp

As a counselor, Charlie was still, as he had become as a camper, part of the entertainment. One 1946 entry notes, “At night “Zoot” Mahaffie read the Log, his usual clowning getting the same old laugh.” (It’s hard to say what that fleeting nickname “Zoot” might be about).

A Wachusett skit. Charlie appeared in a number of these

That Charlie was a camp ham is clear. The “What Would Happen If” list that summer put, after Charlie’s name, “told a funny joke?”

Charlie’s storytelling continued. On a 1947 overnight trip to Mt. Morgan, “Supper was succeeded by the customary story-telling around the campfire, Mahaffie contributing an endless tale of a raccoon coat containing exactly 999,999 hairs.”

Charlie continued also to be in the cast of camp plays and skits. In mid-July 1947, he was “Cousin Martin” in a play, donning a “crisp New Hampshire accent” and portraying a taciturn New Englander.

More Hijinx, even without Slingluff

“We deem it advisable to scotch any malicious rumors to the effect that that utter blackguard Win Wilson was pushed into the lake late Friday evening by that lovable lad, Charlie Mahaffie. Any careful consideration of the unblemished character of the lovable one will show that he is incapable of any such misdeed. Indeed, it was the evil intent of the prevaricator himself that brought about his own doom, for it was while vainly trying to dunk that paragon of integrity, Charlie Mahaffie, that his foot slipped and he himself slipped into the foaming brine.”

That 1947 Wachusett Log entry, which was unsigned, was clearly written by Charlie himself.

On the prowl off the grounds

A minor mystery from the summer of 1946 forward is exactly what Charlie and several of his fellow counselors did on periodic forays off grounds in the evening. They clearly had permission to leave the camp for off-duty adventures. What did Charlie get up to?

The Log noted for Monday, July 8, 1946 “Bright and early Monday morning we heard a disturbance down by the canoe slip: Casanova Sandy and Lovesick Charlie had returned from an evening of fun and frolic. It seems that Charlie met with failure (Louise). Sandy had his usual luck.” Poor Charlie (or perhaps poor Louise). Tuesday’s Log continued the ribbing: “Charlie was his usual jilted self as he appeared at breakfast.”

Then there was more. “The launching of the Chris Craft was a great thing, complete with its Moxie christening, but few noticed the unrestrained rejoicing of the Personality Kid for at last he had thought of a way to please his hard-to-please Juliet. We hold little hope for him, but here’s to you Charlie. Never say die.”

It’s possible the young men sometimes visited a girls camp nearby, or the Perkins Tourist Cabins up the lake, explaining why some outings were by canoe or rowboat. If the Log cartoons are to be believed, they had packed suits and ties in their footlockers for the occasion.

Yet another nighttime outing happened a week or so later. “Camp was quiet soon after taps, disturbed only by the noisy departure of Ward’s station-wagon filled with the camp gay-blades, accompanied by ‘Coke’ Mahaffie.” Charlie’s regard for Coca-Cola continued in his adult years.)

On a late July Saturday night in 1946 we learn: “It was 11:30 when the two sharply dressed characters returned in the shiny black Chevrolet after an evidently unsuccessful hunt. They were not disheartened, however. Realizing that it was personality they lacked, they set out once more for Center Harbor this time taking the old standby, ‘Personality Mahaffie’. I am not sure what time they returned, but Bob ‘Tums for the Toomey’; reported that on his way to church in the morning a shiny black Chevrolet sped past headed in the direction of camp.”

About an August Sunday morning the Log reported “We could also mention the strange coincidence of the lifeboat being tied up in front of Perkins’ cabins and Charley’s having visited a reputed beauty there the night before, but since it might embarrass Charley, we won’t say a word about it, nor will we even ask why he left so precipitately that the boat was forgotten completely.” A few days later, another Log correspondent was relating some story about the canoes and said, “The other canoes were under the charge of Charlie (I always forget to bring the rowboat back after a date) Mahaffie.”

Ideas of Charlie as a romeo lost out to his attempts at comedy on the “Wachusett Goes Hollywood” page that summer. No heartthrob, but rather Jack Benny was tapped as his Hollywood equivalent.

In his first counselor year (1946), the Log’s “Counselors at a Glance” page read:

Charlie Mahaffie
Nicknames: Muscles, Personality.
Favorite sport: Keeping up with Bates
Favorite haunt: Away from Eagle Lodge
Dislikes: Swimming beginners
Ambition: To be a character
Favorite saying: “Beaman, cut that out!”

Summer of 1947

In the summer of 1947, Charlie returned to Camp Wachusett as a counselor and again co-edited the Wachusett Log. Instead of swimming, he was assigned canoeing. He still had the role of inspector—the counselor who checked each cabin’s orderliness and tidiness.

Charlie the scribe

Charlie the scribe was by then well established. One Log note reported, “Charlie (Hunt and Peck) Mahaffie and Bob (Columbus system: discover a key and then land on it) Toomey spend the afternoon typing up their logs in the office between mouthfuls of marshmallows found hidden in a bottom drawer.”

Charlie’s log entries were long, sometimes erudite, and generally clever, full of word play, literary references, and entertaining asides. For example:

“Unlike Gaul, Wachusett is divided into two parts: those who are quiet during rest hour, and those who are not quiet during rest hour. The schism between these elements was made horribly evident during Monday rest hour as several of the counselors embarked on an ill-fated expedition into the realm of Morpheus, only to be cast back into reality by the whooping and hollering of such as Bubonic Buchanan or Antelope Anderson.”

As Log editor, he continued to add his remarks into the log entries of campers and other counselors. Phil Carr wrote: “Then we had a council fire in which all the boys that had not passed their Mt. Prospect story telling test told a story.” Having written it as “council fire in which,” Charlie added: “Ed. Note: All the boys who were compelled to tell their stories in the fire were immediately rushed to the infirmary where Mrs. Goodman made sure that their skin had been burnt off clear to the bone.”

In another log, a boy reporter explained a game: “Get fourteen boys and divide them in half.” Editor Charlie inserted, “(One at a time?)”

“Counselors at a Glance” from 1947:
Charlie Mahaffie
Nicknames: “Mahaff”, “Lovable”
Favorite sport: inspecting
Favorite haunt: infirmary
Dislikes: dips
Ambition: to write a log as well as Wilson
Favorite saying: “Knock it off.”
That summer, the “Wachusett goes Hollywood” page had him as Bob Hope.

Also that summer, the Log page of vital stats fails to report Charlie’s end-of-summer weight and height, but he started the summer at 165 and 5 foot 11.

A last summer at the camp

For the Summer of 1948, Charlie’s final one at Camp Wachusett, he had sole editorship of the Wachusett Log, and his only other official assignment was cabin inspector. With his past work on the Log, Charlie had proved he didn’t need adult oversight or help. He was 17 years old.

“Counselors at a Glance” in 1948:
Charlie Mahaffie
Nicknames: Muscles, Lovable
Favorite Sport: Typing
Favorite Haunt: Log-room
Dislikes: Late logs
Ambition: Virtually none
Favorite Saying: Shad ap on da porch

The Brothers Orchid reunited

At the end of July 1948, Charlie’s old school and camp pal, Dave Slingluff, who had not been there since 1942, came for a visit. Charlie recruited a Log entry from him. Slinger had not written once on his own for the Log when a camper. In his post he revived the nickname Brother Orchid.

Manhood upon Charlie

Charlie’s 1948 vital stats page, signed by camp nurse Ruth Goodman, R.N. had the following:

Weight at the start: 168 1/2
Weight at the end: 170
Net gain or loss: 1 1/2
Height at the start of the season: 6 feet
Height at the end of the season: 6 feet
Charlie was a grown man, and, to Mrs. Goodman’s satisfaction, was no longer wasting away.

And home

At the end of his last summer at the camp, Charlie took the train home with the campers. He wrote, in the final Log entry for the season, “. . . the train ground to a halt in the Union Station and disgorged its load of campers. The boys met their parents with memories of a swell summer at Camp in their heads and all sorts of souvenirs in their bags. Thus, as the Director sank into the arms of a kindly porter who carried him out to a waiting taxi, the nineteen forty-eight season came to an official end. (Signed) Charlie Mahaffie


Post 1: Charlie Mahaffie, the boy that became the man

Post 2: The Brothers Orchid

Photos from Charlie’s counselor years are here

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