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.
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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.