Early on the bright sunny morning of June 30, 1959, six young women from this area, wearing Girl Scout uniforms, were driven by their parents to Xenia. There they boarded a Pennsylvania Railroad train bound for Chicago.
Upon arrival in Chicago, they were met by an official Girl Scout who said, “Follow me.” Everyone was wearing a dog tag and a name tag for the duration.
The group was led by Sally Schultz from Wilmington. The group included Gail Brester, also from Wilmington; Patricia Maull, Morrow; Rebecca Brumbaugh, Blanchester; and Carin Cartmell and Susan Bate from Greenfield.
One adult Girl Scout, Sue Schultz, accompanied the group. The selection process and training for this event lasted about six months. Tents, equipment, and personal trunks were shipped two weeks before by Railway Express.
The official Girl Scout walked the group through Union Station in Chicago where there were hundreds of young women in uniform. The small group joined the large group and learned quickly that others were from points east of Chicago, all headed to the 1959 Senior Girl Scout Roundup in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for two weeks.
The large group broke into song, at a time when singing was a hallmark of any group of gathered Girl Scouts. People stopped to listen and to look at all those uniforms. Soon the doors to the Burlington Northern railroad tracks opened, and we were directed to the train which would take us west, far west. The entire train, and other later trains, carried only Girl Scouts, and it was a long train.
Population at the Roundup was ten thousand girls and adults.
There were no reserved seats, but there were plenty of seats. It soon became obvious that a lot of planning and execution of plans had been done by a lot of people, with the help of several corporations, over the preceding three years, since the 1956 Roundup which was held at Highland State Park, Milford, Michigan.
Day bags were put overhead, and everyone settled into seats. First order of business was to turn around and find out who was from where, and how far they had already traveled to arrive in Chicago.
Lunch was an adventure. Everyone was directed to walk to the back of the train. We walked across couplings while holding hand rails on both sides. The group came to a brand new railroad car, with a kitchen built into one side. In front of that was a cafeteria line.
Each picked up a tray and utensils, indicated orders to servers, found a beverage, and looked around for what came next: an adult, directing girls, one at a time, to walk across another coupling, while balancing the tray! The last new railroad cars on the train were set up with picnic tables.
The group was traveling due west, and so was the sun. There was a lot of late night chatter and getting to know one another. Sue reminded the group that sleep was important for the next day. There were no sleeper accommodations so all had to sleep in seats.
Next morning we learned that there were conductors on board, just like any other passenger train of the time. They walked car-to-car giving a wake up call. Dawn had not yet broken. Long lines formed at the restrooms, and we learned that we had fallen asleep somewhere in Iowa and awakened somewhere in Nebraska.
Later that day, the train pulled on to a siding in a huge rail yard at Mc Cook, Nebraska. There had been an incident somewhere which necessitated allowing another train to go through. It was a long wait of a few hours.
In the afternoon of July 1, someone spied mountains in the distance. The conductors came to call “Colorado.” At Denver, the train turned south to Colorado Springs. Several large buses waited in a row for Girl Scouts headed to Roundup. Two local ranchers had loaned their adjacent land for this event. The distant western view was a snow covered Pike’s Peak.
We were warned about altitude sickness. Every person received a wide-brim western-style hat, a good idea for protection from sun. There was check-in, the camp’s bank pointed out, where to pick up food for each meal, and directions to individual group camp sites.
Our local address for two weeks was 3 B 08. When we found it, we found all our luggage and equipment there! Each group also found a pile of new lumber, with printed instructions on how to assemble a picnic table, one for every six girls.
What happened to the 1,600 picnic tables when this event was over? They were distributed to national, state, and local parks, and other public places.
Every day there were numerous opportunities to attend events: music, dancing, and singing; cooking, such as how to make hush puppies for those who had never heard of hush puppies; historical costumes from the old South; photography workshops; how to tie sailor’s knots by girls who lived near water; and lariat skills and rope tricks by girls who had traveled only five miles to the event.
Everyone had been instructed to bring swap items — something to represent your home town to trade with others.
Irwin Auger Bit made tiny screw drivers for us. We also took arrowheads from below the spillway.
My swaps collection includes a tiny container of anthracite coal from a mining town, a wild animal tooth from Alaska, sea shells from Lake Michigan, a picture of Wright Brothers’ first airplane from Dayton, a miniature hat of the type worn to garden parties, a buckeye from Columbus, a tiny replica of the Golden Gate bridge, natural flint from Michigan, a tiny roll of paper towels manufactured in Maine, and ticker tape from the street below the New York Stock Exchange.
Everyone went on a day trip while there. The trip included Garden of the Gods, lectures by local tour guides, lessons in landscape photography, and more. The nearby Flying W Ranch served a plentiful chuck wagon lunch, with entertainment. Two guys in western clothes played guitars, sang, and told the cleanest ever funny jokes. They had even bothered to look up some of our songs.
Every day there were numerous flag ceremonies in the various sections. There was an Avenue of Flags, one for each state and country represented. There was a natural amphitheatre on site. As I think back on this, it was an idea borrowed from ancient Greece. Something worth while happened in this place every day.
On the evening of July 4, 1959, the highest ranking Girl Scouts in the land were there, and the guest of honor was First Lady Mamie Eisenhower.
To the national President of the Girl Scouts, Mrs. Eisenhower presented the first official fifty star flag. The girls from Alaska and Hawaii stood up and cheered.
Everyone joined in. It was the kind of patriotism we saw consistently after the end of World War II.
Gail Brester Langham resides in Cincinnati. Her email address is email@example.com.