I WENT TO A NUDIST CAMP
In clothes at Camp Forestia columnist Scott was covered with confusion. The next day he took them both off. And found that nudists are just ordinary folk
A FEW miles south of Seattle, Washington, in the late afternoon of a bright summer day I turned my car off the main highway onto a secondary road and proceeded seven miles, as instructed, until I reached the red barn. A hundred yards on I came upon a rough, newly bulldozed road leading up into the woods of a small mountain.
There was a barrier across the road and a bold sign, “Private Property! Keep Out!” I removed the barrier and went up through the evergreens in low gear.
It was a new kind of assignment for me and, frankly, I was nervous about it. At the end of this road, up on the slope of the mountain, was a nudist camp of 250 Canadian and American “sun bathers” gathered here for the fourth annual Northwest Sunbathing Conference. I was to be the sole outsider and 35 years of conventional living were in revolt.
Every few feet there were “Keep Out” and “Private Property” signs nailed to the pines. The road went about half a mile steeply up through the woods. Then there was a Hharp switchback curve and my car came out into a clearing. A sign bade me “Welcome To Camp Forestia.”
I averted my eyes from the sight of several dozen naked men and women, mainly because they were curiously watching my arrival. I didn’t want to give the impression of staring. But at that moment that was the only look I had in me.
Ping! Went My Poise
A HUGE, bandy-legged man with a barrel chest covered with grey hair and with stars tattooed on his shoulders approached with the smile worn everywhere by greeters. He was tanned the color of mahogany and nude except for tennis shoes and socks. I had time to notice that he carried a pack of cigarettes tucked in the top of his socks; this cleared up one of the minor questions that I hoped to answer.
He introduced himself as Rudolph, president of the Seattle Club, host for the convention, and we exchanged some remarks about, the splendid weather.
“Did you want to take your duds off now or later?” he asked. I explained that I was t he special, non-nudist guest and not one of the crowd. “Well, you’ll l>e one of us before long,” he assured me.
Rudolph led me down the road to where a motherly middle-aged woman, wearing only a bandanna on her head, was standing by a card table labeled “registration desk.”
I had l>een trying to maintain an air of poise and at t he same time gain some “first impressions.” As we approached I realized that my first scattered thoughts were about the lady’s appendectomy scar.
She greeted me heartily and asked if I had the letter from my wife. It had been one of the stipulations that if I came alone I would carry a letter from my wife giving her “approval and consent.” I produced this letter and then signed a form stating I had no cameras. (Cameras are permitted, I learned later, only on the understanding that subjects snapped give their permission and that the negatives are developed by a member of the club.)
The woman at the card table then handed me a small blue booklet outlining the rules and objects
of Fraternity Snoqualmie, the name of the co-operatively owned Seattle club.
An exceedingly handsome and bare young woman came up to speak to Rudolph and, to cover my confusion, I made a show of reading the pamphlet.
It mentioned that a code of morals and ethics was necessary “to obtain complete security and peace of mind for all members.” The rules included warnings about “undue interest in the opposite sex,” and “overly demonstrative actions or undue familiarity with one another.” Divorce actions and separations would be cause for indefinite suspension. No smutty stories allowed. No profane or obscene language. No alcoholic beverages. No dogs.
I was studying this when a man approached the table and called me by name. I did not recognize him for a moment without his clothes. It proved to be Don, the president of the Canadian Sunbathing Association, whose members held their own convention in the Fraser Valley in late August.
Don is a man of about 48, a well-known and respected resident on one of the British Columbia Gulf islands where his “hobby” would doubtless startle many of the British expatriates who are his neighbors. He was tanned darkly all over and looked much younger than he had in a quiet, double-breasted suit.
Don asked me if I would like to meet the executives first or stroll about. I suggested we walk.
As we turned to move away a small sport airplane roared across the clearing, not more than 60 feet above the treetops. “It’s from the field near here,” Rudolph explained wryly. “1 hear they’re charging passengers $5 a ride for a look at us freaks. Air-borne Peeping Toms!”
1 was surprised at the reaction of the people about us. I had half expected them to dash for cover. Instead they looked up at the little plane with amused indifference and one or two waved at the pilot, who waved cheerily back.
As we walked about I began to get my bearings. The clearing is the site of an old farm property on a bench of the small mountain, a southern-exposure sun trap. It is entirely surrounded by a heavy second growth of timber and seemed a perfect secluded site for either a nudist colony or the moonshine still which operated here in prohibition days.
At the upper end of the property was a cherry orchard. From there the ground sloped away, part of it in grass, to a large and inviting swimming pool formed from a dammed-up creek. There were two small farm buildings, bright in new white paint. Under a grove of firs were picnic tables and beyond them several children’s swings, a horseshoe pitch, volley-ball and badminton courts.
In the Buff With a Cello
Such geographical detail is easier to describe than the activity taking place across its face.
Everywhere I looked there were naked men, women and children of all ages, shapes and sizes working and playing in the warm late afternoon sun.
As we walked by the orchard two buxom teen-aged girls called down a greeting to us from the branches above and threw us a handful of cherries.
In the shade of one tree a woman whom I guessed to be more than 70 was sitting knitting something, concentrating intently on her needles. She wore nothing but an incongruous pith helmet.
On the grassy slopes several family groups lay stretched out on blankets, sun bathing.
A mixed group of more athletic young people played volleyball boisterously.
An elderly, bald gentleman walked by us carrying a battered cello under his arm and looking like something you might dream about after too many pimento cheese sandwiches.
Most of the activity centred about the pool where all of the children were pumping on the swings or splashing about in the cool water and paying not the slightest attention to their bare elders. It looked like those pleasant scenes titled “The Old Swimming Hole,” except here there were both boys and girls, all of them browned by the sun.
On the far side of the pool was a well-known Vancouver artist, just about the last person, except myself, that I ever expected to turn up in a nudist camp. He was standing before his easel, as unclothed as the golden young lady posing for him. Don and I walked over and watched him work, but my eyes kept straying to the open slope of the camp.
Every few minutes a new car would pull in as delegates arrived. A battered old Ford pickup was followed a few moments later by a large, black Cadillac. I watched an elderly, wealthylooking couple get out and calmly begin to disrobe, stripping off the evidence of financial success. Everyone disrobed placidly in this open manner and frequently their first act was to walk to the pool for a quick swim.
About the perimeter of the clearing were parked cars and several aluminum trailers with the license plates of British Columbia, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, which are included in this particular “conference.”
Several small tents had been set up and a number of women were clustered about an open-air stove preparing supper. In the orchard were two large American Army marquee tents which Don explained were used for communal sleeping quarters. Beside one of these, two attractive girls, wearing grass skirts, were practicing a hulahula they planned to give at a concert the next evening.
1 had expected to be able to describe some typical person. Outwardly there was nothing to answer that description. There were rotund gentlemen who looked as if they might be average businessmen, old ladies with white hair, muscular young people. The only similarity was that none displayed the slightest evidence of self-consciousness. Nor was there any apparent evidence of an overcasualness that I’d anticipated.
I Did As the Romans Do
The sun had now set and most of the older people had put on shirts or sweaters. Curiously enough this heightened the impression of nudity. I noticed that my companion scorned such protection. When I mentioned this he smiled.
“If I had my wav I’d go without clothes 12 months of the year,” he said. “In any event. I certainly didn’t come 400 miles to be all swaddled up.”
As we chatted, a stocky, pleasant commercial photographer from Portland, Oregon, named Mervin, the president of the conference, came up and suggested that I should be on my way to the nearby village. Accommodation had been arranged for me in an auto court. “Tomorrow will be the busy day,” he suggested, “and I’d advise you to be here bright and early.”
About 9 the next; bright, hot morning I returned to the camp, this time determined for the sake of my story to do in Rome as the Romans do. 1 parked my car, got out, slowly disrobed and began to walk toward the swimming pool as at least a temporary cover.
I was half way across the clearing when I heard my name called. I turned and saw that several of the picnic tables had been put together to form a conference table near the volley-ball court. A dozen or more male members of the executive and half as many women were having a business session. I realized unhappily that I was being introduced by one of the Canadian delegates. President Mervin got up and began to explain to the others my purpose in being present.
I assumed a pose with my arms folded across my chest and gave myself up to looking self-possessed.
“Mr. Scott was invited here to represent Maclean’s Magazine,” Mervin explained. “The only stipulations are that he will not divulge the location of our camp and will refer to members by their first names.”
I murmured my greetings and took a seat to listen to some of the business being discussed, all of it recorded by a secretary who wore nothing but a pair of earrings yet managed to look as briskly efficient as a secretary at a CPR stockholders’ meeting.
Among the correspondence read were letters which opened, “Dear Skinfolks” and ended with “Barely yours.” One invited the delegates to attend a “real old-fashioned buff social” at an Idaho camp known as Restful Haven. Another submitted a theme song for
nudism which it urged the convention to adopt. (“Ray!” the lyrics went, “Guess what? We don’t wear sarongs, we’ve joined the nudist camp and we’re happy all day long.”)
During the reports of outside clubs one of the Canadian delegates, a Vancouver post-office sorting clerk, gave a somewhat pessimistic summary on the movement in Canada.
“We are holding our own with nine small groups in the major cities,” he reported, “but our membership can’t seem to climb over 500. The three clubs in British Columbia represent our best growth, but this may be only because our climate is better suited to nudism than in the east.”
When the meeting had adjourned this Vancouver delegate came up to me, said, “Uncle Danny wants to meet you,” and began leading me to one of the small farm buildings. He explained that Uncle Danny is the 70-year-old Rev. Ilsley Boone, of New York, executive secretary of the American Sunbathing Association and editor of its official journal, Sunshine and Health.
As we walked across the clearing my poise was submitted to its second severe test. The camp’s outstanding beauty, a statuesque blonde who had been crowned Miss Nudism of 1948, came running up to us.
“They want me to brand you,” she said. T must have looked alarmed, or something, for the girl laughed. Then she printed my name in India ink on my right, shoulder.
“Now you’re one of us,” she said and ran off.
In the small building we found Uncle Danny cooking an early lunch of boiled wieners and sauerkraut. He is a short, white-haired, rosy-complexioned man with a startling resemblance to Charles Winninger of the movies. He was born in Brooklyn and is a one-time Baptist pastor.
Uncle Danny poured us glasses of grape juice and said, “Yes, I might still be in the ministry except for what happened in 1929. In 1929 I went to Europe for a holiday, saw what they were doing in the nudist, line there and returned to New York a converted man. And I mean ‘converted’ the way the churches mean it. Why, I’d been like any other man. Plenty of cobwebs in my noodle about sex, about women. I found a whole new mental, physical and spiritual freedom in nudism and I decided to devote my life to it.”
Nice People in the Nude
When I asked Uncle Danny what makes a nudist he replied, “There are all sorts of nudists. Social nudists like this club, domestic nudists, or people who like to go about in their own homes in a free and easy manner, individual nudists like Hemingway, Churchill and Stokowski who like to do their creative work alone in the nude, isolated groups of say a half dozen people who go swimming or picnicking in the nude— why, you’d be surprised how wide this movement really is.”
But what about organized camps such as this?
“Our aim is the healthy mind in the healthy body,” Boone said and I had the feeling he’d said it many times before. “We aim to make nudism not merely a fad, but a new social practice. We believe nudism can rid the world of sex ignorance and prudery by making the human body familiar and accepted without eroticism.
“People ask us why we’re organized, why we don’t just practice nudism as individuals. Well, sir, we believe in this thing, we want it extended and legalized in public places, not merely in such hidden spots as this.”
Did he advocate nudism primarily as a health measure or for its moral effect?
“Both!” said Uncle Danny with a slap on his bare pink thigh. “We believe that sunshine and fresh air are basic factors in maintaining health. You’ll never find a real nudist who has a cold. The moral effect comes later as a discovery, wiping out all prudery and false modesty.”
At this point Boone’s pot of wieners boiled over. I excused myself and went down to the pool. There were more than 100 people in and about it.
I was surprised to find that I had no feeling of being conspicuous as I’d had the day before in my clothes.
I had my swim and then sat down on the grass slope by a young married couple. The husband introduced himself as Chuck, a U. S. Army captain stationed at a nearby post, and his wife, Alma. Their four-year-old son was wading in the pool. I mentioned some of Uncle Danny’s remarks and Alma laughed.
“They certainly make a big crusade of it, don’t they?” she said. “If you talk to most folks here you’ll find they’re nudists just about the same way that other people belong to golf or tennis clubs. We like to come up here for a week end to relax and partly for the sense of . . . well . . . elation and freedom.
“Chuck and I got interested in the idea when we were both in the Army in Germany. When we got back we tried to find private places on the beach, hut there were always people coming along. We heard about the club and joined.”
I said I couldn’t see that there was much difference in wearing a modern bathing suit on a public beach and being completely nude.
“Everyone asks that,” Chuck said. “The best reply I know is to say, ‘Don’t ask me why I should go naked. Ask yourself why you don’t.’ To tell you the truth I never go on a public beach without being disgusted. To our way of thinking a woman in one of these modern bathing suits is indecent.”
We were joined by Flora, the wife of the Vancouver delegate, a tiny, vivacious woman.
Peepers in the Sky
“What appeals to me is the effect on the children,” she said. “You know, we keep it a secret from most of our friends. Not that we’re ashamed of it, mind you. It’s just that nudism is one thing people can’t understand unless they try it themselves.
“A few weeks ago our 13-year-old daughter, Fay, came home from school and said that some of her girl friends had heard about her going to a nudist camp. They asked her if she would draw them pictures of the male body. Do you know, they hadn’t any conception of it at all? I think that’s disgraceful.”
1 asked Flora how she had corne to join the movement.
“Oh, Ray, my husband, had been interested in it for many years and used to visit a camp regularly,” she
said. “I was horrified by the idea and we had a showdown about it. He asked me to go with him one week end on the understanding that he would quit if I didn’t approve.
“Believe me I had to take off 30 years of inhibitions that first morning. I think it was the worst 10 minutes of my life. But I became a convert right there and then.”
She looked at me quizzically. “It isn’t so difficult is it?”
“Not now,” I agreed, “but I may think so later.”
I had been invited to lunch by Matt, the young editor of a small-towr Washington newspaper. We sat on the stoop of his small, orange trailer eating a salad from paper plates and watching the strange, busy scene before us. The airplane was now coming over in what seemed to be regularly scheduled flights.
“One thing 1 don’t understand,” I said, “is what keeps a club like this together. After all the only interest you share is nudism. Is that enough?”
“Well,” Matt said, “it works out better than you’d suppose. You have to remember that most of these people are ordinary, middle-class folks. All of the clubs try to get married couples and family groups. They rarely let in single people. New applicants are screened pretty carefully. It’s very rare that any crackpot gets in. Well, we come up here week ends. Work on the property. Get to know each other. Make friends.”
He began to point out various people in different jobs—an engineer at the Washington atomic plant, a truck driver, a furniture salesman, a husky police matron, the sales manager of a tractor agency—but was interrupted by shouts from the swimming pool.
Came Two Uninvited Guests
We walked down in time to see the election of a king and queen of nudism. Nearly all of the 250 delegates had gathered on the grass slope.
A master of ceremonies of the familiar extrovert type called on all the male candidates to line up along the edge of the pool. They stood there like some burlesque chorus line, men of all ages and shapes, most of them with their arms folded across their chests, apparently a characteristic pose of nudists. As the m.c. held a hand over each head the spectators applauded to show their approval.
The contest narrowed down to a choice between Rudolph, the Seattle club president, and Chuck, the husky Army captain. It was Rudolph who emerged as royalty, a triumph of personality over physique.
The contest for queen was conducted in a similar manner except that the women seemed more modest and there were fewer candidates. When the m.c. held his head over one very beautiful young woman there were wolf whistles from several of the men. Again it was not the most attractive but the most popular candidate who was selected.
Several camera fiends shot pictures of the king and queen.
I wandered away to watch the volleyball, but a great shout from the pool drew me back. Someone had spotted two Peeping Toms in the bushes by the pool and King Rudolph and three or four other husky specimens grabbed them and brought them up into the clearing.
The whole population of the camp had run down to the spot and were hooting and taunting the interlopers. They were both sharp-faced, middleaged men in city clothes. They were plainly frightened.
Rudolph gave them their choice of being thrown into the pool fully clothed or disrobing voluntarily and going in themselves. Both men began to take their clothes off to the accompaniment of jeers from the crowd. With their clothes off they looked chalk-white and undernourished among the sepia-skinned campers.
The peepers walked into the shallow edge of the pool and, looking straight ahead, squatted in the water. As they did so the jeering turned to laughter. Several of the nudists applauded and shouted “Attaboy!” and “Good for you !”
The two men began to smile sheepishly and when they walked out they were surrounded by men who shook them by the hand. The men lit proffered cigarettes and sat down. One of them, acting as a spokesman, was apologizing.
Later that evening when I went to one of the Army marquees to see the informal concert I was surprised to find the peepers still present, still in the nude and with the first pink glow of an
all-over sunburn. They seemed perfectly at ease.
The concert was not an artistic triumph, but everyone seemed to be having a good time. Rudolph swung a pair of Indian clubs with abandon. The two girls did their self-conscious hula. The old, bald gentleman sawed his cello. A group of younger people tried the nudist song with conspicuous lack of success.
It was warm in the tent and nearly everyone was naked. Two bare women in front of me gossiped about the new clothes they had recently bought.
When I went out to get in my car the old couple with the Cadillac were climbing into their fine clothes. The old gentleman called me over.
“If you’re writing a piece on nudism,” he said, “there’s an excellent quotation you might use: ‘Your
clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.’ ”
I thanked him and hurried on to get into my trousers.