In the summer of 1960, the Boy Scouts were celebrating their 50th anniversary. I was an 11-year-old second class scout lucky enough to go camping at the organization's Camp Wauwepex in Wading River.
For two weeks, Troop 540 from North Bellmore slept on cots in two-man, wood-floor tents, ate in a mess hall and went swimming, boating and hiking. In a harmless initiation, first-timers were marched around blindfolded and asked bogus questions about how to use a "left-handed monkey wrench" or the least deadly way to trap a "snipe" -- and doused with water for wrong answers. We sang songs, told jokes and carried on like kids.
The highlight was the campfire in the thick woods. The fire began at dusk. Pitch black darkness surrounded our circle. A jolly assistant scout master kept us in stitches until Rick, the senior leader, declared he had a story to tell. Silence fell over the group.
Rick was a bright young man, a straight-A student with movie star looks and a bright future in engineering. The story he told was, of course, "true," and unfolded in 1935, the Boy Scouts' 25th anniversary in the area that became Wauwepex.
The tale began innocently enough: From time to time, scouts claimed to see what appeared to be a white rabbit in the woods. White rabbits were not natural to the area and it didn't quite look like a rabbit, but what else could it be?
Then one morning, he continued, a terrified scout claimed that some creature crawled onto his bed and began choking his neck. His tent mate heard his gasps and screamed for help, scaring the creature away. The story progressed with reports of unspeakable atrocities against scouts who'd gone alone at night to use the latrine.
Rick explained that some at the time thought the "white rabbit" was actually the animated hand of a vicious bigfoot-type creature that years earlier had been hunted down by torch-carrying police and farmers and left for dead in a deep well.
"Or was it really dead?"
Rick's last words hung in the silent air before he suddenly yelled, "All right, break camp! Everyone to bed. I'll see you in the morning. That is, I expect to see 'most' of you in the morning!"
We all raced to our tents as if running for our lives. While trying to calm each other down, we tied the walls of our tents with double knots. A kid named Mel, whose tent mate had left the previous day with flu, begged to move his cot into our tent. Of course, we welcomed him, figuring there was safety in numbers. One problem, no one would go alone to the latrine beyond our camp circle. But ever resourceful, we formed flashlight convoys and went in groups.
The next morning came and we filed into the mess hall, quite relieved that no one was missing, while jabbering about the "creature of Camp Wauwepex."
None of us would speak of the story when our parents came to pick us up on Saturday. Of course, we were afraid that if we told them, they wouldn't let us come back the next summer.
Reader Lou Capitano lives in Copiague.