Post 2 of 3 on Charles D. Mahaffie, Jr. at Camp Wachusett
Before they even arrived at Camp Wachusett for Charlie’s first summer at the camp, he and his school pal Dave Slingluff were dubbed the “Brothers Orchid”. That nickname appears in the first pages of the 1940 season Wachusett Log, in the account of the ship journey by some of the campers on the S. S. Dorchester from Baltimore to Boston.
The boys or their counselor escort on the trip came up with the name. “Brother Orchid” was an alias taken by a mobster in the 1940 film Brother Orchid, when he took refuge from his life of crime at a monastery that tended flowers. Played by Edward G. Robinson, Brother Orchid was street tough and wisecracking. Charlie and Dave Slingluff earned the nickname in their first days on the S.S. Dorchester.
At at stop in Virginia Beach, “The Brothers Orchid played beachcombers with Webb Abbott’s comb, returning it, needless to say, in a despicable condition.” They had decided to pretend you needed a comb to beach comb. Exactly that sort of gag is strung throughout the Wachusett Log. The Brothers Orchid were ready for life at the camp.
Converging on the camp
Wachusett campers worked their ways to New Hampshire at the end of June each summer. By ship, train, and station wagon, boys arrived at the camp on the shores of Little Squam at the beginning of July. Charlie’s group in 1940 arrived on the Merchants and Miners liner S.S. Dorchester sailing from Baltimore to Norfolk, visiting Virginia Beach, then sailing on to Boston.
The trip itself was an adventure, the sort of thing Charlie had probably never done before. The boys roughhoused their way north on the deck of the Dorchester. Other passengers were reportedly wary, if not alarmed.
Slinger — The Other Brother Orchid
Dave Slingluff was a pal from school. He and Charlie were pals. Their antics, which became a feature of camp life, and having started even before their arrival at the camp, did not let up for three years.
From the Log: “Early risers the next morning found themselves on the blue Atlantic, well out of sight of land. They also found … Slingluff and Mahaffie slapping each other around on the deck. . .”
And the next day, “those on the foredeck were able to see such sights as Mahaffie borrowing Slingluff’s key, dropping it on the deck and booting Slingluff when he reach for it. . .”
Settling in and standing out
The Brothers Orchid settled in to camp life and quickly got to the task of becoming camp personalities. Wachusett had its own culture and ways, and it seems Mahaffie and Slingluff—generally called Slinger, took to it. In 1940, though only nine and new there, Charlie, with considerable help from Slingluff, became a notable camper . In most Log entries, it was Mahaffie and Slingluff together, wisetalking, no doubt like Edward G. Robinson’s Brother Orchid.
Camp life was all about hiking, camping, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, aquaplaning, and fishing, plus a lot of entertainment and rituals like the Council Fire, where the boys and the counselors read the Log out loud and told stories.
In a camper ballot, Charlie turns up under: “Talks most and says least” no doubt showing that show-offy, quick-witted trait ascribed to many a current generation of Mahaffies.
The Brothers Orchid (try to) report a typical day at the camp
Saturday, July 25, 1942
The day started off by David Slingluff’s crackling voice singing to the cabin: “Sleepy lago-o-o-o-n, a tropical moon, and three on an island,” Mahaffie answered “Who is the third one?” The answer from Bat-face Slingluff was “The mother-in-law.” There was a deep silence for twenty minutes until Weir broke out into a loud giggle. (I still don’t see why.) When he stopped laughing, Slingluff started in again, but immediately three clocks, two tennis rackets, one bed-spring, and Bobby Griswold’s alarm clock were collected in his face.
The cabin from then on was in silence, until Bobby (I get up at seven o’clock and blow reveille) Griswold (author’s note: he does?) started to the main lodge at 7:15 and got there at 7:30. We still don’t know what he did between the Bears’ Den and the Main Lodge.Finally reveille was blown, and those mighty, husky Bears’ Denners went in for a dip. Meanwhile, the cabins could hear those stinkers in Kiowa throwing rocks off their dock, fulfilling their perfect dip record.
First call found Bird (call me crow) Cromwell and Burke (I’m always up early) Mathews getting up. Second call found them just getting back from their dip, and cereal found them stumbling into the dining room. Chapel came right on the heels of breakfast, and then came that race between the flag and the bugle, or flag-raising. As usual the flag won. (That’s why it’s called flag-racing.) Next came cleanup, which those mighty, peppy, husky, muscular, gigantic, herculean, honest, truthful, clean, healthy, powerful, gargantuan, almighty, skillful, strong, fabulous, immense, enormous, handsome, brave, daring, smart, bright, tough, king, thoughtful, friendly, helpful, courageous, outstanding, respectable, famous, brilliant, unbeatable, zestful, ambitious, excellent, terrific supermen that are just brimming over with muscles — the Bears’ Denners — went to work so amiably and either won the shield or courteously gave it to another cabin. Next came assembly at which classes (ain’t they always) were signed up for. (Author’s note: we are rushed for time like the very dickens, so Bobby don’t think it’s too sketchy.) (Editor’s note: don’t worry about that; I’m rushed for time myself.) (Author’s note: not that those two literary geniuses Slingluff and Mahaffie could write anything that isn’t the best.) (Editor’s note: oh, of course.)
During classes everything happened that ordinarily happens during classes and lots more but we forget what. Next came our weekly bath in the form of a soapy swim, in which we were supposed to wash ourselves, but most of it got into our eyes. After all this came lunch at which Clayton Triplett had a birthday, and we all profited from it in the form of ice cream and cake. We then carried each other down to the cabins for an hour of what we should not be doing during rest period. That afternoon everybody fished. Eddie did not catch any fish, but we are proud to announce that Eddie caught a fish on the White Oak Pond Trip — at least he says he did, and who would doubt Eddie’s word. (Author’s note; I would.)
Next came swim. Nothing happened during swim except everybody got wet (authors’ note: we pulled that one in our last log, but won’t you please laugh anyway.) Dinner came and we all et (that is, we all et dinner). Dinner in the diner was followed by boats and canoes, in which Irdie Superman Cromwell and Dick Columbine Coupland turned over and did practically everything to Wawa Patch’s kayak. Slinger’s super-baritone voice rang out for a good five minutes trying to catch Joe’s attention with a steady “Slingluff checking in, Slingluff checking in, Slingluff checking in, Slingluff checking in, Slingluff checking in, Slingluff checking in, Slingluff checking in, Slingluff checking in, Slingluff checking in.” Slingluff finally checked in.
After boats and canoes, everybody played In and Out, after which the camp had a midnight dip. After taps we had a story about a crazy man getting mixed up in a building with six corridors and a stupid girl who went around falling into cellars. Everybody was asleep for the other story, so we don’t know much about it, but we know it must have been good because Bobby Griswold told it. (Ed. Note: Am I crimson!) (Author’s note: No, you’re Griswold.) (Heh, heh.)
(Signed) Brothers Orchid
Overnight camping, featuring the usual hijinx from Slinger and Mahaff
Counselor Bob Griswold (Oz-Griz) picked up one camping trip narrative:
On the water, “Slinger and Mahaff had rigged up an elaborate bit of paraphernalia consisting of two paddles, one sheet, and various and sundry bits of wire, string, shoe-laces, and adhesive tape; this intricate affair which was supposed to be a sail took fifteen minutes to arrange, then after three minutes in use it collapsed completely and dismally, and had to be rebuilt. . . . The stretch down to Potato Island was made without mishap, and Slinger and Mahaff finally got their so-called sail working again. It fact it was working beautifully, billowing out over the side of the canoe gracefully like a balloon spinnaker, but Mahaff began to lag on the job, and the balloon spinnaker was abruptly transformed into a plain old damp sheet as it trailed over the side gathering most of the lake into its folds. At this point the canoe began to look like an advertisement for Lux soap, were it not for the tattle-tale gray color of the sheet. What with the canoe leaking and Slinger and Mahaff arguing and the sheet dragging in the water, we wonder that they ever got to Loon. Get there they did, however, though not before Mahaff dropped his canoe paddle overboard, and Bobby Fleming — of all people — went back to pick it up for him.”
Mahaffie, we didn’t go fishing this morning
Per the Log, this was commonly overheard at camp: “The camp woke up as usual with Slinger saying to Mahaff: ‘We didn’t go fishing this morning, did we?’ Mahaff would say he didn’t know and then they would both go back to sleep.”
And one more morning: “The day started at 6:30 A.M. when Slinger whispered to Mahaffie: ‘Mahaffie, we didn’t go fishing this morning: I forgot to wind the alarm clock.’ Mahaffie poked his head out from under the covers and said, “We wouldn’t have caught any fish anyway.’ Slinger and Mahaff went under the covers for five minutes until Slinger poked his head out of the covers and said ‘Davey is going to be mad.’ There was a short mumble from Mahaffie’s bed, then silence ‘til reveille.
Starting his own ghost story tradition
Charlie took his turn telling Council Fire stories. It was only early July 1940, the first week of camp, when the Log notes, “Charlie Mahaffie uncorked one about a haunted pair of pants which hadn’t been sold for six months.”
A camp tradition were stories, often ghost stories, told around the. But the camp also used an in-house radio system to broadcast bedtime stories into the cabins.
The Log noted, about the first camp show of the summer, “broadcast down to the huts over the camp radio system, the more professional of our amateurs being Charley Mahaffie, Todd Noyes, Dick Boyce, and Pete Truit, whose performances at the microphone were polished and gongless.”
His performing extended beyond campfire stories, too. “Our second stunt night of the season proved even more amusing than the first, as Tommy (Houdini) Weir, Tommy Mangan, Pete Clapper, and a miniature combination of Superman and Sherlock Holmes with the rather weird little Floy-Joy the Wonder Boy (Charley Mahaffie) strutted their stuff before the Wachusett floodlights.” They may have used the 1938 song “Flat Feet Floogie” by Slim and Slam, which had “Floy Joy” in the lyrics.
So Charlie was willing to ham it up, perform in front of others. That aligns with how we knew him later, always the toastmaster, the one with the song lyrics, telling stories with funny voices.
In 1942, late the first week there was a council fire atop Shepherd Hill across Little Squam lake. Charlie was among the boys who “sent chills down our backs (and, we suspect, down their own) with some of their choicest tales.” Some of the boys also read out Wachusett Log entries over the camp radio and council fire gatherings. Charlie was a part of that, getting plaudits for hamming up the readings. He also was part of the camp theater in skits and plays.
In early August, each cabin put on a play. “Dave Slingluff, Charley Mahaffie, Art Hall, and Jenkins Cromwell bringing down the house in a version of Cinderella which would have amazed Mother Goose.”
Charlie was ready to entertain in most any setting. On one camping trip, “The first sound to reach our ears Thursday morn was Mahaff’s fog-horn voice announcing to the assembled company (in Latin) the amazing fact that ‘the girl is a table.’”
The Brothers Orchid end as they started
Post 1 is at this link.
More photos from Charlie’s camper years are here.