Silver Bay, YWCA, 1928

“On that last evening we gathered, all of us in white, in the big auditorium. The lights were dim, the great crowd hushed. The words of a ritual composed for the occasion were spoken, but they seemed strangely insufficient to conclude all the hopeful earnestness of those ten days. Strangely thin under the shadowy roof, beneath the high black summer sky — wistful rather than assured — sounded the chorus of the Silver Bay Prize Song of 1923 — ‘New lamps for old.’

“When the building had been completely darkened, came the ceremony of the candle lighting. Beginning at the front, each one present lighted the candle of the person on her right, until all of us stood there in the dark, holding high a silvery taper. Then, marching, we passed down the aisles and out into the night, where an immense ring of shadowy white was formed, outlined by tiny candle points. And up into the black immensity over our heads floated the words of that other Silver Bay hymn — beginning ‘And we who would serve the King.’

“As the last notes died, the circle broke, and all still holding the burning tapers. stuck in a bit of paper, carried them to the dark lake-edge and set them afloat. It was amazing how far those little individual candles went, how high and convincing them loomed out of the darkness! It was hours before the last brave adventurer of them bobbed out, lost in the brooding shadow of overhanging mountains.”

— From “God in the Girls’ College” by Winifred Kirkland in The Century Magazine, November 1928

And so we trace the origins of the closing night’s candle ceremony back to the YWCA. The lyrics for “New Lamps for Old” can be found here, and the story of “that other Silver Bay hymn” Kirkland cites, which is “Follow the Gleam,” here.

Silver Bay Prize Songs

A song-writing competition was a regular feature of YWCA collegiate women’s conferences at Silver Bay.  In 1920, the winner was “Follow the Gleam,” a song which had a long life, sung at the close of the Lutheran Summer Conference for many years. I’ve since found two more Prize Songs; I’m afraid I have only the words at the moment, but you can imagine young women’s voices raised in song:

Smith College Prize Song, 1921

Sunlight is gleaming o’er mountain heights,
Earth’s radiant loveliness thrills with her youth.
Moonlight shines over the water
While Silver Bay beckons to follow the Truth.

Join now in brotherhood, spreading the Gospel
That warfare and discord may cease.
Let us in humble devotion march forward
And follow our Christ, Prince of Peace.

“Aladdin’s Lamp” (“New Lamps for Old”) Silver Bay Prize Song, 1923

In the land of dreaming bright with colors gay,
Strolled a care-free singer at the dawn of day.
He was called Aladdin and he sang his wares
In the land of dreaming never touched by cares.

Old lamps for new,
Tarnished ones for true,
Aladdin is selling
Old lamps for new,
Old lamps for new,
Old lamps for new,
Old lamps for new.

In the land of dreaming bright with colors gay,
Strolled a care-free singer at the dawn of day.
He was called Aladdin and he sang his wares
In the land of dreaming never touched by cares.

Old lamps for new,
False ones for true,
Silver Bay, we are bringing
Old lamps for new,
Old lamps for new,
Old lamps for new,
Old lamps for new.

In the land of dreaming bright with colors gay,
Strolled a care-free singer at the dawn of day.
He was called Aladdin and he sang his wares
In the land of dreaming never touched by cares.

New lamps for old,
Silver ones for gold,
Silver Bay you have brought us
New lamps for old,
New lamps for old,
New lamps for old,
New lamps for old.

Allen B. Ballard at Silver Bay

This is a story of young man, Allen Ballard, a student at Kenyon College, who worked four summers at Silver Bay. At Kenyon, he was elected student body president. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and studied for a year in France. He was accepted for graduate work at Harvard, but he first served in the U.S. Army, completing Basic Training at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, just outside Fort Smith. Next stop, a train back east, and shipment overseas, back to Europe. But his train wasn’t due to leave for several hours, so Allen Ballard went to the USO in Fort Smith, to sit and read a book. But at the USO, he was told, “No, colored troops aren’t allowed in here.”

Nor was Allen Ballard allowed to sit down in a nearby restaurant, or on the white side of the train station’s waiting room, nor in the white car of the train to St. Louis. Such was America in 1953. He tells his story in Breaching Jericho’s Walls: A Twentieth Century American Life (2011), and although it was the chapter on Silver Bay that first drew me to the book, I’ve found myself unable to stop reading as his story took me from the Philadelphia of his boyhood to sidewalk cafes in Paris, collective farms in Russia, and an academic career in New York City.

But to go back to Silver Bay: In 1948, after graduating from high school, Allen and his cousin Charlie got summer jobs as “firemen” and pot washers. Allen Ballard writes:

“Silver Bay. To me, the name is wonderfully evocative. It’s a place in upstate New York on the northern end of Lake George, where it looks like God himself scooped out with his own mighty hand a mile-long piece of earth, place a bay with clear blue water in front of it, then commanded high pine-forested mountains to hover over it. And across the water stands one round mountain top, perfect in its symmetry, where the creator sits down in his quiet time, admires his handiwork, and watches over Silver Bay and all who pass through.”

However, Allen Ballard’s days were somewhat less pastoral. As a “fireman,” his job was to rise at 3 a.m., fire up the kitchen’s and bakery’s wood stoves and bank them down with charcoal, so they would be ready for the cooks and bakers at 5 a.m. Allen and Charlie had a break from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and then it was back to work until 7:30 p.m. But unlike the Emps, who received $15 a month plus room and board, Allen and his cousin received $100 a month.They were men of means.

But at Silver Bay in 1948, there were strict though unwritten rules about the kitchen help socializing with white women. Allen and his cousin were not totally in accord with that stance. Especially Charlie. Allen writes, “As in all things, Charlie was first with the girls… We’d go over to the store for an ice cream cone, he’d sit with a girl, and before I knew it he’d be gone with the girl and I’d be left with my cone.”

Allen had his own loved one, a young woman to whom he recited lines from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by moonlight on the lake shore, but the relationship could not survive outside of Silver Bay. I invite you to read the whole Silver Bay chapter of Breaching Jericho’s Walls. And I am sure you will not be able to stop there.

* * *

Do visit Allen Ballard’s website. His photos of three recent summers at Silver Bay will reward you, in Photo Galleries, under Events. Below, his photo of “one round mountain top, perfect in its symmetry, where the creator sits down in his quiet time.” Peace.

The Last Hike of Edward Parlin

It was September 3rd, Labor Day, 1945. The war in Europe had ended in May; Japan had surrendered on August 15th. Mrs. George Parlin, whose husband and older son were both in uniform, must have thought she was in the clear. She was living at Silver Bay with her younger son, Edward Parlin; he was working as an assistant hike leader for the Silver Bay Association. He was 16 years old, but looked older. He was on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, and his hiking merit badge was next. For that, he needed to take a 25-mile hike. On Labor Day, he set off on his own, wearing bluejeans and a white “Silver Bay” sweater.

When he did not return the next day, he was declared missing. Rumors flew. A local sheriff said he’d seen rattlesnakes on Tongue Mountain; the boy must have been bitten. Someone else suggested he had hitch-hiked home to Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Major George Parlin was stationed in Italy; one can imagine Edward’s mother’s feeling of helplessness as the hours turned into days. The boy’s uncle, Charles Parlin, a New York City attorney, offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to Edward’s return, and searchers began ranging farther and farther from Silver Bay. Finally, on September 16th, a party of six — three from Hague and three from Silver Bay — found the boy’s body on Catamount Mountain, at the base of a 75-foot cliff. He had lost the trail and plunged to his death.

The site was about seven miles east of Silver Bay, and seven miles from the nearest road. One man stayed behind to guard the body while the others hiked out with the news. The next day, 14 men spent six hours cutting a trail to carry the body back out, taking it to a funeral home in Bolton Landing. The coroner ruled that the boy had died of shock and multiple fractures. Edward Parlin’s body was buried at the Valley View Cemetery in Ticonderoga.