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[at-l] ATN article, 1936 Scout Hike
- Subject: [at-l] ATN article, 1936 Scout Hike
- From: email@example.com (Arthur Gaudet)
- Date: Tue, 11 Jun 2002 22:11:59 -0400
As promised, here is the transcription of the 1994 article that
appeared in ATN describing the Scout hike of 1936. Thanks to Brian
King at ATC, and to Rami for the gif images of the article. --RD
"The Summer of 1936: A flickering memory recalls a thru-hike by Bronx Scouts"
(Picture on page has the caption: "One of the few photos left from
the 1936 hike shows 15-year-old Max Gordon in Bear Mountain Park
(N.Y.). On the next page are photos of him as a young Scoutmaster
after World War II on the A.T. again and today.")
In 1936, a year before the Appalachian Trail was completed as one
continuos, unbroken footpath, six Boy Scouts from the New York City
area followed the route from Maine to Georgia. It was a 121-day
odyssey into manhood and its significance as perhaps the first
thru-hike of the A.T. wasn't realized until recently by one of the
participants. (Earl Shaffer is credited as the first person to
thru-hike the Trail as a completed footpath. His solo hike was in
It was only in the last year that Max Gordon became aware that the
Appalachian Trail Conference still existed. An ATC membership
solicitation he received stirred fading memories. He responded by
joining ATC and then searching through boxes of old photos and
mementos. Slowly, he was able to weave together bits and pieces of
the summer of '36 when he and five other teen-aged Scouts made their
journey on the Appalachian Trail.
The boys were members of Scout Troop 257 in the Bronx at a time when
Harry T. (Pop) O'Grady, a leader in the area Scout council, suggested
that a local veterans group sponsor an A.T. hike from Maine to
Mr. O'Grady "may have been some kind of entrepreneur ... Whenever
there was a problem in Scouting, he was called in. He was a very
persuasive person. He even went to my school principal and talked him
into letting me out early enough in June to go on the hike. Pop
always seemed to be there for us," recalls Mr. Gordon, whose father
had died four months before he was born.
The veterans, led by a Mr. Grabow, used their World War I bonuses to
provide equipment and expenses for the trip, and they met the hikers
at various points along the Trail to replenish their supplies.
"One of the veterans had a truck, and it was our life-line," says Mr.
Gordon. Since the support vehicle couldn't reach many parts of the
Trail, the boys carried up to two weeks worth of provisions between
"We were poor kids. We couldn't have done it without them," he says.
"My mother made my sleeping bag, and it wasn't fancy at all, no
feathers, just a couple of blankets sewn together. I could pull part
of it over my head to keep the dew off..., and we used ponchos when
it rained. Most of the time we slept out in the open rather than in
shelters." The boys had boots from L.L. Bean, and Mr. Gordon recalls
that his soles finally wore out somewhere in North Carolina.
Most of the boys were 16 or 17 years old. At 15, Mr. Gordon was the
youngest and, because of his first-aid training, "was the doctor of
the hike." He doesn't recall any serious medical problems along the
way, and all six completed the hike together.
The older boys charted the course (from maps provided by the
veterans) and led the way. The fact that he walked fifth or sixth in
line was a real blessing in Maine, Mr. Gordon recalls. "There was
snow most of the way through Maine, and the older boys had a harder
time because they were breaking trail. I just followed on their
It took two weeks for the boys to reach New Hampshire, and, after
changing clothes and some gear, they started out again. They were a
day late meeting their support truck in Adams, Mass., "but the men
didn't seem to mind."
The next section, south through New York, "was very enjoyable because
we were in our own backyard." he says. The boys had often day-hiked
in Harriman State Park. Pop O'Grady and the veterans met the boys at
Bear Mountain Bridge and kept them there a day, to celebrate, rest
and provide a photo opportunity.
"I think Pop hoped to use our hike as some sort of promotion," Mr.
The hike continued, but the memories are scant. Mr. Gordon remembers
the scenery in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park "being the most
impressive since Maine," but, other than that, the mid-Atlantic A.T.
is a blur.
All but three miles of the 2,054-mile Trail had been cleared and
blazed as of 1936: a one-mile stretch between Davenport Gap and the
Big Pigeon River in Tennessee and a two-mile link between Spaulding
and Sugarloaf mountains in Maine. The Maine section was the last to
be completed, and the Trail was opened as an unbroken footpath on
August 14, 1937.
"There were times we didn't know if we were on the Trail, and we had
to feel our way," Mr. Gordon recalls.
"It is difficult to remember many details so many years ago," he
says. He barely remembers the southern end of the hike. He fingers a
Scottish military pin, given to him by a man he met while hiking in
the Carolinas - "His name was Mr. James McQueen and his daughter,
Flora, was with him. Do you think I could ever find him?" The pin
remains his only keepsake of the hike.
Mr. Gordon recalls the easy climb without a backpack up Mt.
Oglethorpe, Ga. (the southern terminus until 1955). The truck was
waiting for the boys to complete the Trail and take them to Atlanta
before heading home.
Two of the boys "had been ready to quit at the start because of the
snow and drifts." but they stuck it our. Over all, it had been a
pleasant summer, and, except for minor arguments that occasionally
erupted among the boys, the most disagreeable time was "hiking in
really hot weather." Mr. Gordon recalls.
"At the time, we really didn't know what a feat this had been." Mr.
Gordon says. But, back in school and Scouting, he says the boys found
they had to live up to newly acquired reputations. His older brother,
Mandel, recently recalled that his sibling had lacked the
self-confidence needed to be a leader. But, "after the hike, that
fear seemed to have vanished," Max Gordon remembers. "Other boys and
girls turned to me for leadership. The hike had given me 'status',
and it was respected by the teachers. It was a very good feeling."
Slowly and one by one, as the boys graduated, they drifted apart.
Many, like Mr. Gordon, were active in different branches of the
service during World War II. Mr. Gordon recalls that one boy in the
group, Louis Zisk, was a Marine who was killed during the was.
Another in the group, Seymour Dorfman, who died only a couple of
years ago, "was my best friend for 42 years," he adds. Mr. Dorfman
served in the Army in North Africa and Italy during World War II.
Mr. Gordon can recall only a nickname or two about the other three
boys, and he suspects that he many be the only one left.
If Pop O'Grady planned to turn the hike into a publicity campaign in
behalf of Scouting, it never materialized, Mr. Gordon says. He had
heard, long ago, that Mr. O'Grady left Scouting during the was and
had become head of a Catholic youth organization of the West Coast.
As for Mr. Gordon, now 73 and in good health, he has so far served 60
years with the Boy Scouts and has received some of the organization's
highest honors, including the Wood Badge (Jan. 18, 1958) and the
Silver Beaver (June 5, 1961). He was personally cited by Presidents
Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. In May 1960, he was the
first Scout in the nation to receive the Shofar Award from the Jewish
Committee on Scouting.
He worked at the Bronx Botanical Gardens and the Brooklyn Navy Yard
before joining the Navy and serving with the Seabees in the Pacific
during the war. Afterward, he settled back into life in the Bronx
neighborhood of his bride, Lilian. He recalls being home only two
weekends the first year he was a Scout leader. Most of the time, the
Scouts were out on day and weekend hikes.
Often he was back on the A.T. Later, when he was in his 30s, his
Explorer Troop challenged him to a 72-mile A.T. hike southward from
Kent, Conn. Fourteen started the marathon hike, and, 18 hours later,
Mr. Gordon and three Scouts completed the trek. He says he'll never
forget how much his muscles tightened up after sitting briefly in a
car following that hike.
When he first started dating his wife-to-be, he recalls "wanting to
make sure she could walk. So we took a five-mile hike on the A.T.,
and she did pretty well, considering she was wearing high heels."
A seasonal Christmas-time job with the post office turned into a
career. Mr. Gordon was a clerk for 18 years in New York City and the
vicinity, after which time he began earning bonuses for suggestions
that worked. As a result, he was promoted so much that, by the time
he retired at age 57, he was a postal operations analyst responsible
for all offices from Maine to northern New Jersey and including the
Mr. Gordon had built a chalet in Dingmans Ferry, Pa., and the couple
retired there briefly before moving to northcentral Florida. In the
15 years they've been in Beverly Hills, Fla., Mr. Gordon has been
involved with the volunteer fire department and several fraternal
organizations and spent nine year putting records together for the
local (Citrus County) historical society. And, he says, he has never
One of the most vivid memories he has taken with him for the past 58
years is the day the Scouts were at Franconia Notch in New Hampshire.
"We about froze to death. It was nine degrees that morning," Mr.
Gordon recalls. "In the city, you don't get the mist you get in the
woods. But, that morning, the woods felt like another world. Then,
the overpowering sensation of reaching up on those tall mountains,
reaching up as if a man could put his hand out and touch -- I don't
know, it's a real sense of religion you never forget as long as you
The following American (Sioux) Indian prayer is a tribute to that
experience, Mr. Gordon feels. He learned it in Scouting, and for
years it's been part of his life. He handily pronounces the Lakota
words: "Wakonda They Thu Wapathin A To-Hey."
Drawing back on his A.T. experience as a 15-year-old boy who was
"just having a good time," he offers a literal translation --"Great
Spirit, a needy one stands before thee; I who speak am he." The
message, for Mr. Gordon, is not in the English interpretation, but
from the feeling of the Lakota words. --Judy Jenner
In Appalachian Trailway News, November/December 1994, pages 9-10.
Arthur D. Gaudet "Is walking down called hiking, too?"
(RockDancer) -heard at the top of Mt Washington, NH