Halloween is for the kids. So is Christmas. And if you believe that, you probably fall for every April Fool’s trick in the book.

I’m convinced that nobody has more fun with holidays than the adults, and some of them like to double-up on annual celebrations. These people are often seasonal campground residents who develop special friendships in those compact summertime communities.

For nearly 40 years, my wife, Judy, and I enjoyed summers at the Hemlocks Campground on Tripp Lake in Poland. Her father, Cleba Spofford, was its owner. A lot of our campground neighbors lived in the Lewiston-Auburn area and they played a big part in the wonderful times we remember.

Spook walks in August and Christmas in July are traditions at campgrounds far and wide. At the Hemlocks, we all invested many hours in preparation for these events. Our children, and dozens more at the campground, will recall Santa’s arrival by boat, dazzling Christmas lights for a couple of special evenings … and the blood-curdling shrieks that came from the secret pathway in the woods on a particularly bewitching night.

Halloween brings out the kid in some of the biggest, burliest men you may know.

It was an unofficial competition among the dads and all the other men to create the most ghostly station along a top-secret walk through the woods.

For days in advance, all kinds of construction sounds could be heard, but no one was allowed near the “haunted” area. Finally, on a certain midsummer Saturday night, the Hemlocks was weirdly transformed. Guides with flashlights assisted those who dared to enter the sinister forest.

What would they see? Over there, a coffin. And the lid is slowly lifting. Ghosts here, a werewolf there, a hangman’s tree and other heart-stopping surprises at every turn. The campers, young and old, emerged with tales of terror and warnings to friends and family that they must NEVER go in there.

At the end of the trail, campers encountered a witch stirring a steaming cauldron of her mysterious brew. Judy and others had created a tasty concoction of Campbell’s Soup and it was a welcome conclusion for chatting around the campfires with friends.

Judy has an indelible recollection of one young camper’s obvious anxiety at the creepy transformation he was seeing along his familiar campground roads.
Campers were giving trick-or-treat goodies to the area’s kids. At our trailer, we were playing some tape recordings of ghostly sounds to set the scene for little visitors.

Judy watched from our porch as this lone trick-or-treater approached, taking each step slower and slower. We didn’t know him. His family had probably just arrived for their first weekend with us.

The boy reached the corner of our picnic table beside the fireplace. He stood there a moment, and then slowly sank to his knees and slipped under the table. He was looking for a safe spot where he could consider whether to go ahead, or high-tail it out of there.

We figured it was time to ease his fears, and we called for him to come for his treats.

The first spook walk at the Hemlocks was truly unforgettable. All afternoon, storm clouds were gathering. Thunder rumbled as night approached. When the last spook-walkers came off the trail, a tremendous clap of thunder and lightning hit, and the rain clouds opened up for a befitting climax.

The Christmas in July weekends were also very special. Santa Claus reigned over a gift-exchange in the recreation hall. Christmas carols sounded from tree-mounted speakers throughout the campground, and many campers brought their holiday lights and decorations to create some off-season festivity.

All of this was a lot of fun, for the most part. However, because we were related to the owner, we got a close look at how hard it can be to keep these celebrations within reasonable bounds. There will always be a few campers who didn’t bargain for the fake holidays. Some wanted nothing more than restful days on the beach and quiet nights under the stars.

We apologize … sort of.

Although the Hemlocks was not the peaceful getaway that some people sought, it was a wonderful place for families. Such places go through changes over the years. We can’t go back to the Hemlocks as it was, yet I know there are other campgrounds in Maine that are much the same. I hope you have known some of them.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.