Sunday, July 5, 2015


My sister sent me an old, old photo, from back before I was born, way back from 1939. It’s a group of people sitting in front of the lakeside end of a small vacation cabin in Lake Shore Park on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Out of the picture, a dozen or so feet in front of them, would be a hardpacked dirt road running along the shoreline, the bed of a railroad that used to run there in the 19th century. To their left would be a sandy parking area that would hold maybe five cars; just beyond that, and among the pine trees on the land sloping gently upwards behind the cabin, would be scattered more campsites, with tiny two-room cabins and platforms for tents. The other photo gives you a good idea of what the park in general would have looked like in that era – small rental cabins interspersed with cabins and tents owned by folks who rented the plots from the park’s owners. Water was piped to campsites but there were no sewer facilities; everybody used centrally located outhouse blocks. There was a central Pavilion with a small general store and a dance hall, sandy beaches to swim from, big granite boulders to dive off of, woods behind the campsites for children to explore, a tremendous view across the broadest part of the lake to the White Mountains towering over the farther shore. People came back year after year; they sent the wives and children up from Massachusetts to stay for the summer and the husbands would come up for weekends and their two weeks of vacation in July or August. It was a helluva drive in the days before the interstate highways, but it was worth it.

That’s pretty much how it still was when I was a kid growing up in the ‘50’s – maybe some upgrades to infrastructure, permanent people buying what had been daily/weekly rental cabins, more cabins and fewer tents, even in the Tent City part of the park, but still those central outhouses (with plumbing, not pits, by then, though), still a close-knit community, and still a low-key paradise for kids to run wild in.

The man on the far left is my Grampa Graf; Gramma is in the middle; the man second from the right is my father, though that’s not my mother leaning against him; that’s dad’s “date of the week”, we’re told. Observe the little path paralleling the cabin where their feet rest; it plays a role in the story here.

My parents would go up to the lake every summer with us kids in the traditional fashion I’ve described above. Eventually they were able to buy the cabin directly behind this one for our own family, but in the early years we stayed with Grampa and Gramma, somehow cramming four adults and, over time, four children into a two-room cabin with an alcove-sized room for my grandparents’ bedroom. There were two sets of bunk beds in the rear room where we kids were deposited; in the summer I’m thinking of now, my sister, the baby of the family, was an infant, and her crib was placed against the front wall of the cabin, under that big picture window.

Good weather days at the lake were glorious, but thunderstorms that roared across the width of the lake from the mountains could be terrifying in their power by the time they slammed into the park. One such monster struck one night after we’d all gone to bed.

It was a furious storm with lots of lightning strikes. One bolt hit a towering old pine tree close to a cabin down the shore road from us, Pavilion-direction, just past the parking area. The people inside managed to get out just before the pine toppled over and smashed down through the middle of their cabin, destroying it, on an arc of doom toward the Graf cabin.

The tree trunk hammered into the ground directly in front of our cabin, straight into that clear area where those people in the photo have their feet, perfectly perpendicular to the wall. It missed hitting the cabin front by inches. The whole structure leaped off its supports from the shock of the impact (the tree was at least two feet in diameter!) and woke everybody up. Neighbors from other cabins rushed through the wind and torrenting rain to see if everybody was okay, took in the folks whose cabin was destroyed and offered to take us in too, even though our cabin was still standing. I can’t recall whether we went with them or whether the Graf adults, after checking the cabin’s structural stability, decided it was safe to stay there.

The scene the next morning was appalling: The broken stump of the great pine, the crushed cabin it fell through, its end walls sagging inward over the havoc, and the massive trunk lying from the ruins beeline to and across the front of our cabin, its heavy branches ramming into the underbrush a short way beyond. I shudder to think what would have happened to our cabin if the trunk hadn’t been bare of branches for the first 50 or so feet.

I’m 66 years old now, and must have been about five or six when it happened. I still get that “Holy cow!” feeling whenever I’m reminded of this – reminded, say, by an old photo of happy people sitting with their feet in the path of future near-doom.


Sent a somewhat shorter version of the story off to my siblings and got this response from my older brother, whose memory is probably better than mine where the stories conflict:

Great story and told much better than this but here is how I recall those events. I am adding the Penny’s back into this string as I will add some “history” as I recall that goes to their story and questions.

First the pic shows the camp basically unpainted, the many years later when we started, as kids, going it was painted and there was a bit of a wood deck on front where the folks were sitting. As I recall the story Laura told it was during the week as no Dads were there, many left for work during the week to return on weekends. I think it was Grandma, Mom and the 4 of us. No one could have slept through that storm, perhaps the most impressive T storm of my life. We ran about the cabin looking out the windows. A lightning bolt hit a very large tall tree that was just to the far side of the camp directly across from the Graf camp. Then great commotion as many adults ran about yelling, it was decided that that camp had to be abandoned as the tree would surely fall damaging the camp. But there were many that thought it would fall in another direction towards the parking area so all cars had to be moved. Keep in mind time is passing rapidly but the tree was still standing. Someone came to get Mom to come move her car and she ran out with the keys leaving us with Grandma.

Here comes a side note of history related to the Penny’s note. At that time there was no parking between Graf camp and this other camp (can’t remember their name) it was a badminton court with rows of raspberry bush’s down both sides. No one could park there because under the sandy court was actually the septic field for the old outhouse up behind the camps. It was surrounded by several well carved and painted totem poles. These were all made by our uncle Harris (the dentist) and grandpas Chris Craft boat was also called the totem and had a miniature totem pole carved by Harris that would be displayed in the boats rear flag holder when out for a ride. I don’t know which came first the totem poles or the boat name.

So the cars were parked much further away than now, about the area of the road going up to Railroad.

Mom left and shortly after much yelling and screaming as we were looking out the windows, the tree was coming down right for us! Grandma yelled and pushed, I mean pushed all of us into the back of camp bed room. Much crash and bag sounds and yes the camp did jump. We came from the back to get out with folks rushing towards the camp we meet as we came out the door including a Mom that was a bit upset. No injuries to anyone.

My picture of what happened - the tree more like three feet in dia. and perhaps 600 feet tall fell through the camp next door, in the first ten feet of the cabin and all commented on right through the door almost as it had planned to open the door, across the space between the camps and brushed down the front of the Graf camp. I recall branches all over the front to the point you almost could not see out the windows and it broke the eves off the front but no other damage. A great story either way.

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