The Cold Warriors of Otsego County


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Every year after the fall of the Berlin wall a small and peculiar group of men gathered at the Lake Louise United Methodist Camp.  These gentlemen brought no muskets or bayonets.  They prepared no canon and never marched in formation.  Instead the uniforms any of them ever brought or wore were black suits – with skinny black ties.  They were war re-enactors.  Not Civil, Revolutionary, nor War of 1812, but rather Cold War Re-Enactors.

They would show up early on a Friday and climb out of mysterious black sedans.  From the trunks they’d haul suitcases and crates and electronics.  Much of the equipment looked straight out of an IBM flea market, but others of the junk seemed to have a distinctly Eastern European flavor to it.

They’d set up microphones and tabletop maps of the world in Horner Hall.  They’d black out all the windows and always refer to each other as Agent Smith or Commander So-and-So.  The kitchen staff was instructed to prepare freeze dried food that came out of army green packages.  And a whole squadron of radio controlled model airplane B-52s circled the campgrounds non-stop at the hands of skilled pilots.  They flew day and night for the whole weekend, being refueled by equally skilled radio control operators flying tiny tanker planes.

At the center of the whole operation every year was one man in a mock oval office in a playhouse sized White House on the green beneath the camp flag.  In the office on his replica desk was one big red telephone.  At the appointed time the phone would ring and the man would pick up the phone.  Across the lake at the Baptist camp another red phone was handed to another man sitting in a fake Kremlin.  They would greet each other sternly, come to an agreement, and then rising up from the fire pits of each camp would come a mushroom cloud from pre-layed bonfires as a high pitched noise of the red telephones melting screamed out.

Some say that every year the re-enactors kept working on secret mine shafts at each camp.  Some say during the last Cold War Re-enactors retreat that not as many participants left the camps as arrived that Friday.  Some say, that far beneath the dining halls of the Baptists and the Methodists there are still remnants of that dedicated crew wearing skinny black ties and checking their radar screens for rogue model bombers.

Anarcho-primitivists Go To Camp.


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A few years ago, a church from the East Side of Detroit sent a majority of its youth group up to Lake Louise for Senior High Camp.  Now this was a unique church, reaching out to the communities on the East Side that were doing some experimentation with different forms of community etc.  On of the major influences at the time were a group of anarcho-primitivists who’d taken up their mildly nomadic way of urban life on some of the newly reclaimed grasslands of Detroit’s more abandoned areas.  Mostly while at “home” these youth survived by hunting the wild pheasant that had returned to the city, or by foraging for apples and other produce from the surrounding backyards.

But, an enterprising young United Methodist youth pastor had made some inroads with these youth and their families.  Over the Spring he’d organized a community theater from the flatbed of one of the clan’s trucks.  Recently he’d successfully encouraged them to make a tithe of their hunt – and now the Cappuchin’s soup kitchen guests enjoyed pheasant stew once or twice a month.

So, thought the young pastor, what better experience for these youth, than camp!  They are already naturals at it, and maybe could meet some other youth, not of their own tribe.

So the 12 or so youth arrived on Sunday afternoon with the rest of crowd.  Adorned in their traditional dress (black face paint, headdresses made from bits of construction site caution tape and dissassembled traffic barrels, etc).  The other youth arriving for camp saw them and were immediately excited.  They camp staff had gone all out with the themed costumes this year, they thought.  By Monday afternoon, almost every camper had adopted similar styles of dress.  Of course, those campers from more stayed suburban homes had to make do with headdresses made out of the ipod covers, kitchy ’80s leg warmers, and sacrificed J-Crew and American Eagle shirts in their luggage.

Tuesday brought a new afternoon activity to the camp.  Unbeknownst to the counselors and deans, the Anarcho-primitivist youth led the 12th grade guys cabin on a quest up Mt. Pisgah to find sustainance.  You can imagine the surprise of the faces of the kitchen staff when at dinner that evening three dead squirrels, a racoon, 4 morning doves, and a skunk were left on the counter to be prepared for tomorrow’s meals. (To be clear, the skunk was claimed by one of the suburban kids, but the anarcho-primitivists wanted to make him feel accomplished.  Besides, they’d dealt with smelly kills before, and at least this one had been found in the forrest and not down by the old scrap metal yard.)

Throughout the week everyone enjoyed their time together.  On Saturday, as all the other parents arrived in their mini-vans and suvs, the parents from the urban tribe came walking into camp from the wooded pathways south of C-48.  They had taken the week to make their way up to camp via the rivers, and we’re planning a great nomadic adventure for they and their youth on the way home.

No one knows why the youth never returned for a second year.  The pastor that had been working in the area was reappointed to the Thumb where he began a new farming-based youth ministry.  But some say that once the tribe arrived up at Lake Louise to pick up their children, that they found it so beautiful, they didn’t want to return to the City.  And cottagers nearest the East end of the lake sometimes claim that late at night they hear wild songs and see strange firelight coming from over towards Twin Lakes.  But in the morning there is never a trace of anyone there.

The Morningside Pizza Delivery Service


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As the 1950s and 60s came to an end up at the Lake a new era of summertime cottagers started to arrive.  No longer were families present with lots of kids for 8 or 9 weeks, moms at the cabins and dads working weeks and coming up on weekends.  Now as the 70s and 80s rolled in the cottagers came up for shorter stays.  Rather than moving in for the summer, they came and wanted to do everything Lake Louisy in the week or two of vacation they had.

As a part of this change eating habits around the Lake also started to transform.  Gone were the days of family meals with home-made potato salad and grilled chicken.  This new set of cottagers was in need of fast food, and they needed it quick between skiiing sessions out on the lake and hiking trips into the hills.  So, in light of this fact, some entrepreneurial residents over on Morningside decided to make a go of a new venture – The Morningside Pizza Delivery Service.

 Each morning two or three of the cottagers would get together and start baking pizza pies.  They’d prepare a variety of pies with various toppings.  Each would be thrown into the oven and by 11am they’d have a stack ready to go.  The first phone calls would come in and then one lucky grandson or grandaughter would be sent out in the old fishing boat to deliver the pizzas.  Sure, they could deliver right to your dock or beach – but that wasn’t really where the MPDS made its mark.

Realizing that the new Lake Louise vacationers’ time was their most precious commodity the Morningside Pizza Delivery Service developed, honed, and implemented the first high-speed, mid-cruise, pizza delivery service in the Northern Lower Peninsula.  Cottagers would call in with the approximate time of their skiing session or boating tour of the lake, a description of their watercraft, and an order for pies and the MPDS would deliver their pizzas by pulling up alongside their boats and handing the pizza boxes to them over the side while on the move!

The trick for the grandson and granddaughter members of the delivery team was figuring out how to maneavuer on the lake so as to not interupt the general flow of their clients boating experience.  Rather they would take careful stock of the whole lake with binoculars, first finding their mark, then plotting our a route that would bring them alongside each customer with ease and efficiency.

For a couple summers the MPDS was all the rage.  But, then with a precipitous drop off of youth who could captian their delivery boats with skill, the service took a turn for the worse.  Numerous entaglements with tubers left pizza boxes being towed by unsuspecting parents and former tuber floating alone in the water.  Then, one ne MPDS manager decided to switch their delivery boats to inboard/outboard vessels and to keep the pies warm by storing them in the engine housing.  Customers complained of the sometimes not so faint flavor of gas and oil that remained on their pizzas.  The last straw, though, was when the kitchen staff at Kinawind camp took over the management of the MPDS.  Customers stopped placing orders quickly after the ecologically minded Kinawinders started only offering “localvore” pizzas made from edible parts of the local forests and delivering said pies via kayak to make the whole process carbon neutral.

In the end, vacationers decided that during the day sandwhices on the beach would suffice and that for pizzas they’d really rather head into Vivio’s in Indain River anyway.  Rumor has it that the local phone number used to place orders still is connected to an answering machine exclaiming, “The Fastest Pies on Gitchi-Nidge-Nebish!”

E.E. Horner or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Stairs


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Outside of Tenant Chapel, just south of the old logging railroad bed now known as the Prayer Trail there is a set of concrete stairs leading up into camp.  These stairs are always a topic of conversation for chapel attendees and campers alike because of their seemingly too-broad spacing.  For the average climber these stairs are actually about 1 and 3/4 steps each.  One has to choose whether to take all the stairs in 2 steps, making one leg extremely tired, or switch half way through, making three teeny tiny steps on one slab.  Regardless, the question is always, “WHY?”

Well, our family is privileged to be one of the first cottager on Lake Louise, so we’ve been privy to some of the answers to questions like these.  It seems that Rev. Stanley B. Niles, my great-grandfather, was the pastor of the church in Eaton Rapids where the family who donated the lake worshiped.  This Horner Family had found themselves the owners of quite a swath of de-forested northern Michigan in the 1920s after the lumber boom.  By the depths of the Great Depression they were looking to unload some of this tax burden and help out the church. 

So one day one of the Horner Brothers, known as E.E., stepped into Stanely Niles’ study.  And when this gentleman stepped, he really did just that, because he was 7 ft tall…and 5 1/2 ft of his body was all leg.  Standing over my Great Grandpa he invited him up to see the lake property that his family was interested in donating.

The day of their trip north arrived and after a long drive up what were then mostly dirt roads, EE, Stanley, two other Horner Brothers and a committeeman from the Methodist Episcopal Church got out of their car and looked around.  It was almost dark, so the sightseeing would have to wait until morning. So they set up camp by firelight and planned to tour to property in the morning.

The next day EE got up and invited the group to follow him.  They set off along the trails and logging roads that circled the lake.  But EE was so tall that all the other men had to walk twice as fast as he just to keep up.  He took them past the old log mill at the southeast corner, through some marshy areas and a sandy beach.  And with each step he became more and more engrossed in this landscape that he loved so much.  Also with each step he became less and less aware that the rest of the little posse was falling farther and farther behind him.  Finally EE apparently happened upon a spot that really interested him because from the vantage point of the others he disappeared up a rather steep embankment covered in shrubs.  Stanley and the committeeman continued up the hill, stuggling all the way.  The other Horner brothers, apparently more familiar with both the view from up there and with their brothers excentricity stayed below and wiped their brows with pocket handkerchiefs. 

Each step was laborious for my Great Grandfather and the Methodist beaureaucrat.  Branches hit them in the face, pricker bushed caught their pantlegs.   But suddenly they came out of the undergrowth into a clearing and found EE there.  He was looking out across the waters of Lake Louise and for the first time  Stanley saw what all the fuss was about.  From this little lookout all three of the men started pointing to various spots around imagining out load how “a chapel could go there” and “cabins could go there.”  The sun glistened, birds were singing, and just before they were about to head back to camp a big elk meandered by on his way to get a drink from the lake.

Later, as the camp was being built steps were constructed on the hill from which the vision of the Lake Loiuse Camp was born.  They were built extra far apart to remind everyone that walks on them about EE Horner the tallest and first great advocate for the Lake Loiuse Christian Community.

The Rifleman Preacher


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Word had it, HE was on his way into town.  The residents of Boyne Falls knew that as the weather turned cold and the deer starting getting nervous, that the Preacher who spent his late Fall’s each year up at the lake and who was known to carry with him the most accurate hunting rifle in the county, would be arriving on the train from down South.

The rest of the year people up North in Boyne City and westward had heard that he was a mild mannered pastor.  He served a series of little white clapboard churches in a couple small bergs 30 miles out from Detroit.  Once, when he left his satchel in the local inn the owner had read through some old sermons he’d had with him.  They were sweet and caring, and the innkeeper wondered if the clergyman with the gun hadn’t held up some poor Baptist at gunpoint to get them.

He was the Rifleman Preacher.  Everybody eagerly awaited his innevitable series of sermons at Tenant Chapel.  They’d be filled with the vilest characters from the Bible.  He’d spit and growl while exposing the diseases of sin that infected anyone that would listen.  He had no patience for accolytes, and lit the Christ candle with a match struck on his own beard stubble.

The day that made him famous happened after a few seasons of visits.  One November he’d been preaching at the lake on the Plagues of Egypt and the crowds (for too many non-Christians attended to call it a true congregation – they came for the same reason people watch house fires, utter fascination with the horrible) had been growing steadily each week.  This particular sermon was on the plague of locusts and the Rifleman Preacher had reached his weekly pinnacle of wrath and fury.  Just when the crowd was sitting on the edge of their pine pews ready for the final castigation the Preacher got this terrible craziness in his eyes.

In a swirl of grizzle and leather the Preacher pulled from under the pulpit his trusty rifle and pulled off one round straight down the center aisle of the chapel.  The whole crowd jumped and gasped and  turned as one to see a 7 point buck drop to the ground just outside the doors of the chapel which were slowly swinging open.  The single bullet hole in one door’s small stained glass window was the only evidence of the great shot that happend that day.  Soon after, that stained glass was replaced with regular panes and to this day, for fear of future shootin’ preachers, no more stained glass has ever been put back in Tenant Chapel.

The strangest thing, thought the townsfolk, was that even with these and other amazing escapades no one ever saw the Rifleman Preacher ever actually leave town.  But those who worked at the train station did say that every year around Thanksgiving a clean cut Methodist clergyman always got on board with a one way ticket to Detroit, an extra long suitcase in tow, and a crate of newly smoked venison.

Oh, You’re Christo?


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In an unfortunate mix up a UMW Quilters Retreat once accidentally invited controversial avaunt gard international artist Christo to be their keynote speaker for their annual winter weekend.  “Honestly, I thought his web site said ‘Christ at the Gate’ not ‘Christo and The Gates’!” said the head of the speaker committee who also hadn’t been listening closely enough to the NPR story she’d heard about the recent installation piece in Central Park.

But both groups made hay out of the situation.  The ladies fell in love with Christo’s companion Jeanne-Claude and Christo himself enjoyed all the attention during the weekend.  By Saturday morning Christo had even had a vision!  Such a statement, such an artistic moment would be made by he and his newfound friends.  By Sunday afternoon when it was time to go the quilters and Christo had covered all tent cabins at Kinawind, now deserted for the season, in hand-made quilts.  It was a sight to be seen.  And eventhough the ladies didn’t know exactly what it meant they knew by Christo’s look of admiration on his own genius, that something truly artsy had happened between them.

Lightning Strikes Twice


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On a particularly storming day one late May thunderbolts hit radio towers atop the hills on both sides of the lake.  With no obvious physical damages, the camp directors at the Baptist and Methodist camps breathed a sigh of relief.  But, during that first week of camp, both camps experienced some strange happenings during their morning devotionals.  The Methodist campers kept jumping up during the message with loud “Amen!”s and “Preach It!”s.  After each outburst the camper would sit back down with an incredulous look as if to say, “Did I just do that?”  Across the water the Baptists were unusually docile.  Their rock band even turned their amps all the way up to 11 and nobody even raised a hand, let alone stood up.  By mid-week the Baptist campers had formed self-made committees and were planning a craft bazaar to raise money’s for the local food pantry.  Thursday morning a whole crew of Methodist Juniors and Seniors snuck out of their cabins at 6am to go have a prayer circle around the flag pole.  Calls were made to district superintendents and convention representatives, but to no avail.  No one knew quite what was going on. Luckily, by Friday another weather system blew through and this strange mixed up behavior seemed to dissipate, but all the campers from that week always remembered their strange and exciting visions of how the other half prays.

The Scary Sounds From Old Camp Jeffries


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Some say that years ago around Lake Louise on cool nights when the Northern Lights were showing that voices would drift through the forest.  Not quite a moan and not quite a wail, these noises reminded children that maybe there were monsters and reminded old folks that maybe they hadn’t seen everything yet.  One day the Methodist camp director decided he’d had enough of the ghost rumors and went out with a flashlight, his trusty dog Brueggerman, and a goal to get to the bottom of things.  Throughout the cool late summer evening he followed the whispering through the maples, trying to distinguish normal wind through the leaves from the paranormal.  The search lead him around the East End and soon he came to the rotted out fence of the Old Camp Jeffries.  No one had camped there for years and the buildings in the dark looked more haunted than the Director wanted to admit.  But he certainly could hear the noised clearer.  Even Breuggerman heard them, and was cowering behind on the darkened path.  Slowly the Director climbed the wooded hill atop which stood the big abandoned Chapel.  Overgrown trees were pushing on the dead roof, windows were broken.  But the sounds kept getting bigger and more scary.  Total wails now erupted, in a rhythm that was mildly reminnscent but still completley frightening.  The Director crept to the door and opened it up…

…and there, holding their semi-regular prayer meeting and old timey hymn sing were the members of the local biker gang.  The men all had beards and wore leather.  The women chewed gum and even some kids were there, no Sunday School for them!  The Director learned that when the Arora Borrealus came out the gang would sneak up to the old Chapel and sing their hearts out.  After looking around the Director saw how the gang had covered the windows in black cloth so their kerosene lanterns wouldn’t be noticed from the outside.  He even recognized a few cottagers who had learned about these secret meetings and joined in, “Not that the services on Sunday mornings aren’t great,” they assured, just that they came from a bit more of a pentecostal background than most.  The Director and Breuggerman stayed and prayed with the crew that night but afterwards let the story of the scary voices live on.

The Bible Tree



Mythical tree atop Mt. Pisgah underneath whose bark is inscribed the entire text of the Bible.  Pieces of the tree start to dissappear though when people find out about this wonder.  Some take a branch with their favorite scripture on it.  Others scratch out a part of the trunk with a particularly uncomfortable one.  Soon there is little left of this beautiful piece of creation.