Camp Capers and Dead Ducks

The 1934 Camp Ki-Y picture. Sara is second row, second from left, then Mary Charlotte Clarke, Lena White Miller and Mary Hayes Crow. Rawa is in center on the back row. I think Tiny is in fifth row, just left of center.

“In the summer of 1934 I went to Campy Ki-Y in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with most of my friends. Rawa was our counselor and Tiny went, too. I stayed for ten days. It was my first time away from home, and I was homesick some of the time, but had a good time too. Mama had told me that one of the stipulations to my going was that I would not get in the swimming pool. The camp had a wonderful record of teaching kids to swim, and that would have been my opportunity, but I didn’t dare try it.

“The camp was pretty rustic. We had to go up a hill to the toilet, which was a board with two holes in it. When we took a shower, we had to use a room with no stalls or anything. Consequently, being very modest as I had been thoroughly taught to be, I bathed as little as possible and went to the bathroom as seldom as I could get by with.

“I made friends with a girl named Betty Sue Neves from Greenville, who was two years older than me, and I fell in love with one of the men counselors, at least seven or eight years older than me, Buster Smythe from Greenville also. He got a kick out of my crush and wrote me postcards after I got home.

Betty Sue Neves and Sara at camp, 1934

“We spent the night in the YMCA building in Greenville, on the floor, and caught a bus the next morning. We had to cross the Mississippi River on a ferry because there was no bridge at Greenville at that time. I wanted to go back the next summer, but Mama said we could not afford it. As I recall, it cost $11 for the ten days, but that was a lot of money in 1934.

“The city opened up the municipal swimming pool next to the high school in the early ’30s. I talked Mama into letting me go to Whittington Dry Goods Company, where they had good prices on bathing suits, so that I could go there with my friends. The summer of 1935 was one of my happiest. Every day we met at the pool and spent most of the day there.”

Greenwood Municipal Swimming Pool

Article from July 23, 1934 Commonwealth. Think it was hot that day, exactly 77 years ago?

Sara never did learn to swim and I don’t believe she ever encountered an outhouse again, unless it was a plastic replica at Disney World. She made sure Cathy and I had swimming lessons in that wonderful municipal pool just as soon as we were old enough, and we all spent many steaming summer afternoons bobbing around in the shallow end of that structure. I can still smell the chlorine in the bathhouse and feel that cold spray of water as you would exit onto the concrete sidewalks around the pool, and the peanuts from the Tom’s machine were somehow much tastier than those from anywhere else in town. After the pool closed in the mid-60s, Sara would drive me all the way out to the VFW on Highway 82 East to swim; it was usually just her and me, no lifeguard, and I have no idea what she would have done if I had needed rescuing. There was one memorable episode when I was in Junior High and we had gone to a Heinz convention in Hot Springs (yep, home of Camp Ki-Y). Sara, one of her friends and I took a duck boat ride on some large lake, which was just fine until the duck boat died in the middle of the lake. It was the only time I ever saw Sara panic over a water situation. It took several hours for another duck boat to get out there and “rescue” us, and she was fighting back true fear the entire time. The transfer from one bobbing boat to another was tricky as well, and for the first time I felt responsible for her rather than the opposite. The whole incident would have been funny had she not been so shaken up. Jessie, you should have taught them all to swim. You never know when you’ll have to abandon a sinking duck.

Ed.note: The Greenwood Municipal Pool was first proposed in the 1920s, and the old 1890s city jail was torn down to make way for it. The Depression derailed those plans until 1934, when federal money came in for a 200×75 foot concrete pool and bathhouse. The summer of 1935 was its first full season, and it was later used as water training for pilots at the Greenwood Army Air Base. Racial tensions led to its closing in the 1960s, but the bathhouse still stands.

About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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7 Responses to Camp Capers and Dead Ducks

  1. Teresa Nicholas says:

    I am writing a brief article on Camp Ki-Y for Delta Magazine and would like to quote from your blog. I will credit the quote to Sara Evans Criss and assume that will be okay, please confirm. Thank you. Teresa Nicholas

    • sec040121 says:

      I’d be honored to give you permission to quote my mother. She did truly love Camp Ki-Y, even though she had only the one summer there. Keep up the good work at Delta Magazine.
      Mary Carol

  2. Marsha says:

    I’m researching Camp Ki-Y for an article I’m wanting to write for the Garland County Historical Society in Hot Springs, AR . I would like permission to quote your mother. I was so hoping to find some former campers that have written about their experiences at the camp. You can image how thrilled I am to find your post. I look forward to hearing from you soon. If you have photographs they would be great too.
    Thank you,
    Marsha Oliver-King

    • sec040121 says:

      I’m so glad that you’ve found my mother’s memories helpful for your article. She loved her one trip to Ki-Y and talked about it even into her later years, always regretful that she never had the chance to go back. You may also be interested to know that there is an article in this month’s “Delta” Magazine about Ki-Y. One of my mother’s friends, who accompanied her to Arkansas that summer, was willing to talk with that writer, and I will gladly check to see if she would speak with you. I’ll try to send you some photos as well. Best of luck with your article.
      Mary Carol

      • Marsha Oliver-King says:

        Mary Carol,
        I’m so happy to find someone that knows anything about CampKi-Y. Thank you, I would love to read the “Delta” Magazine article about Camp Ki-Y. It’s still a real big mystery to me how the YMCA of Greenville, MS would have a camp in a very remote area of Hot Springs, AR. You can mail copies to me at: Marsha Oliver-KIng, c/o Garland County Historical Society, 328 Quapaw Ave Hot Springs, AR 71901.


  3. Bill Hanrahan says:

    Trying to locate Camp Ki-Y. Any help would be appreciated.

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