Long-time forest friend Lanni Bassett of Jacksonville, Florida sent us the following:
I am a third generation Cook Forest lover. My grandparents, Carl and Ruth Blumer, used to own one of the cabins that Gateway Lodge now owns (I guess they still own them). I think my first visit to Cook Forest was before I was one year old.
Anyway, my mother Marion B. Bassett passed away last year and when we were cleaning out her house I found an old picture of MacBeth’s store – probably from the late 30’s / early 40’s.
When my grandparents first started going to the forest, they camped down by the river near Johnny MacBeth’s cabins. Then they bought the property and built their cabins. My mother told me that the orginal part of the cabin my grandfather built was from a kit. It was very small and when we first started visiting, we would have to sleep in a tent because there wasn’t enough room in the cabin for us. One of the things that amazes me is that they used to store their belongings in the bushes during the winter.
We always had a wonderful time at Cook Forest. During the day, we would hang out at the swimming pool – first the old one at Tom’s Run – and then the new one by the Saw Mill. In the evening, we would hang out at MacBeth’s watching people or Mom and Dottie Cook would take us to one of the ice cream stands around for ice cream.
I wished we lived closer so we could visit more often than ever couple of years.”
Lanni also shared with us another great find – an essay her mom wrote:
“She must have written this for a college class because she graduated from high school in 1941. The people mentioned are Ed and Chuck Grine and Jack MacBeth. The Mrs. MacBeth is Mary MacBeth (I think that was her name – George’s wife).”
“Cook Forest” by Marion Blumer, 1943
“You should go to Geneva for your vacation.” “You’d really have a wild time.” “There is no place like Conneaut for a super holiday.” “Why don’t you come to Staughton’s Beach this summer?” “You would have a perfect vacation.” I have listened to vivid stories of vacations spent at these places and read numerous advertisements describing winters and summers in Florida, the Pocono’s, and Canada. However, none of them have induced me to spend my leisure time anywhere else but Cook Forest. Through the past nine years, I have cultivated an infinite love for that place. I have many cherished memories, which I always enjoy thinking and writing about.
In the spring the beauty of the Forest is forgotten, for our summer home has to be put up. No cabin with electric lights, running water and soft beds for us. Tents are our home for the summer. Putting up the tent is one job which usually causes a family row. I am kept busy trying to steady the tent pole, while Daddy yells at me continuously. “For goodness sake, Marion, can’t you see that that pole is lopsided?” “You’d better put your glasses on.” “Where did the dog go?” “I thought I told you to tie him.” “Why don’t you use your head?” While he yells at me, Mother searches for something in the trailer, yelling at Daddy as she peeks in all the boxes: “Carl, did you pack the sheets?” “Carl, where is the coffee pot?” “How do you expect me to make coffee without the pot?”
Above all this noise, Wimpy can be heard barking at a chipmunk, scurrying up a tree. The cupboards and chairs have to be carried from the thick rhododendron bushes, where they have lain hidden all winter. The canvas cots, deeply creased from being folded for months, are setup and covered with five or six blankets. Although the days are warm, the nights are extremely cool and heavy blankets are comfortable. Just when I think I can rest for a minute Mother tells me to get some water. So, I trudge through the mud to the rusty old pump, which is beside Johnny’s number two cabin. I don’t mind going for the water, for the buckets are light, and it is fun to swing them around my head like a Ferris wheel until I crack one of them against my knee. I have heard that if you carry two buckets, it is easier, for the weight is balanced. I guess the rule does not apply to me, for one or two buckets, I spill half of the water in my shoes. I am so intent on watching the water, that I don’t notice the guide wire and stumble spilling some more of the water. Completing our camp making takes an entire weekend, but we don’t mind for we know we are now ready for a pleasant summer.
Every weekend in the summer the whole gang gathers in the room behind Macbeth’s store to laugh over our experiences of the previous summer and discuss the happenings of the winter. We never tire of hearing the same experiences over and over again. Ed, who is a student at the Mercersburg Academy, boisterously tells of the tricks for which he got guard duty – keeping ducks in the wash bowl – putting off a cap in chapel – putting itching powder in a fellow student’s tails when he was going to a dance at “Penn Hall.” Jack, a cadet at Valley Forge Military Academy, tries to interrupt Ed to tell us that the food there is awful. Chuck, a senior in high school, breaks in to the conversation joke.
Sooner or later our good times spent the summer before are brought into the conversation. We all laugh gaily as we recall Bernita trying to get some attention by pretending she had a sprained ankle. Ed proudly reminds us of how he killed the rattlesnake on Seneca Trail; of course he does not mention how his knees were knocking. We talk on for hours, or at least until Mrs. Macbeth tires of hearing our chatter.
All is noisy and gay in the summer, but in the fall all is changed. The Forest takes on a whole new appearance. The mountainsides, instead of being a dull forest green, are brilliant with the vivid red, yellow, and orange of the leaf trees. Here and there a few pine trees peek through the colors, appearing green against such brightness. The cold damp autumn air blows through the trees, sending showers of leaves to blanket the tire scarred roads. The Clarion River seems to lose its blackness, as it reflects the red maple, yellow oak and green pine trees. Everything seems ready for the long winter. Noisy summer crowds have gone, and the log cabins appear deserted. A few campers huddle around a blazing campfire, not to toast wieners as they did in July but to keep warm. The once enormous pile of wood has dwindled, and now there are but a few puny logs. Shorts and bathing suits have given way to wool slacks and heavy jackets. Macbeth’s Dining Room, for months a center of activity, now holds but a handful of weary travelers. The store, which all summer was alive with the laughter and jokes of the local gang, is now quiet. A tandem and ten bicycles stand idle. Some lack chains, others pedals as a result of three months constant use. At the archery, faded targets hang sloppily from their backing of sagging burlap and soggy straw. Ridge Campground is also deserted. The tents are gone, and only the weather-beaten platforms remain. The old totem pole stands rigidly, keeping a lone watch over the empty campground. Instead of looking longingly at the salt block from the bushes, the deer approach it without fear. Somehow they seem to sense that camping season is over, and that they can satisfy their hunger without being disturbed.
We all gather at the Forest to greet the New Year. The weather is usually perfect for skiing, tobogganing and skating. New Year’s of 1943 seemed different, however, from the others. We laughed and chatted as merrily as usual, but always in the back of our minds were the thought that we would probably have to make it our last good time together until after the war. If it is, we will always have memories of our good times and friendships to fondle over, and will keep on thinking that we will be one big happy crowd again sometimes.