Big House Treasure Hunt

by Brad Herzog

Back in 1980, when I was a Logger camper, a fellow named Tom Schweich (a member of the trip staff that summer) found buried treasure. In front of the Big House. Using a metal detector. He found a bunch of old coins, some old keys, even a tiny old pistol. Those treasures now sit behind a glass case inside the Big House. But they do not sit alone.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to spend some time living in that old Weyerhaeuser mansion. So I decided to look around. I mean, really look around. The Big House is generally so busy that visitors don’t have a chance to explore the countless quirky artifacts that populate what is essentially a hodgepodge historical museum. But I had time. I had opportunity. I had curiosity.

So I explored.

And the narrative that I found in the Big House collection tells the story of a place — historically, humorously, randomly. There are artifacts both profound and silly, familiar and mysterious, obvious and esoteric. But all harbor memories. So here’s a Big House tour that few have experienced — as told by the treasures discovered there.

What did I find? Well…

An American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol Building in honor of Camp Nebagamon — at the request of then U.S. Senate page Joel Sircus in 2008.

A novel called The Golden Star of Halich that was gifted to Camp Nebagamon by Charles Hirsch (of the Chuck Hirsch Shrine) in 1937.

A framed wool jacket that once was worn often by Muggs Lorber’s old fishing buddy, Alan “Hoss” Mayer, who was a camper in Nebagamon’s very first summer of 1929.

A framed collection of Camp Nebagamon postcards (gathered over the years by Michael Weinberg III and Nardie Stein), dating from 1910 to 2000.

A pile of hand-crafted cribbage boards, one in the shape of a whale, another featuring Lake Nebagamon, and a third treasure that features the names of counselor cribbage tourney winners dating back more than 70 years.

A trophy honoring the winners of the now-defunct counselors doubles horseshoe pitching tournament.

A couple of framed drawings of Muggs Lorber and Herb Hollinger, sketched by Nebagamon alumnus Nelson “Bud” Pollak, Jr. And another by Bud Pollak, a large painting of Muggs Lorber daydreaming about the summer camp he and Janet imagined up.

An album recording the planning, construction, and dedication of the Paul Bunyan statue in 1969, including a page of sketched designs

A wooden-covered book celebrating the Camp Nebagamon 1960 Political Convention, including speeches in support of the likes of John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Adlai Stevenson.

An album about the construction (by many Nebagamon youths) and 1957 dedication of Camp Bovey (also known as Camp Hodag) eight miles outside of Gordon, Wisconsin.

A set of diaries from the 1973 Camp Scandia trip to Scandinavia.

A guest book signed by visitors to the Big House from 1972 through 1976: John Baum – Montgomery, AL… Jeff Kaine – Franklin, MI… Ruth + Bill Caro – Evanston, IL… Bud + Mary Jane Bezark – Highland Park, IL…

Photo albums from the 25th and 60th camp anniversary celebrations, the former including a spread showing Muggs Lorber… teaching the campers how to properly shower.

Alongside some modern technology, an antique telephone from the American Electric Telephone Company, which went out of business nearly a century ago.

A metal wastebasket bearing the visages of every U.S. president up to the date it was created… meaning that it ends with Lyndon Johnson.

Bound volumes of National Geographic Magazine dating back to 1915.

A classic photo of Muggs Lorber quarterbacking the 1926 Indiana University football team.

A massive photo of Muggs and Paul, hanging above the dining room table.

A needlepoint of Paul Bunyan, created by Janet Lorber on the occasion of camp’s 50th anniversary. And another Nebaga-creation by Janet, from six years earlier.

A very old fly fishing rod purchased by Muggs Lorber in the 1930s, used by him and others for more than 50 years, and carefully restored by Joe Ruwitch from St. Louis.

A replica of a typical logging train — Locomotive #7 of the Hawthorne, Nebagamon, and Superior Railroad — built by longtime camper and counselor John Altshool in 1979. (And another, Locomotive #12, that he built seven years later).

A gathering of antique books about Paul Bunyan, fronted by a Paul-and-Babe whiskey bottle celebrating the centennial of Brainerd, Minnesota, in 1971.

A collection of old hardcover books about camping — with titles like Spark from a Thousand Campfires, Summer Magic and simply Boys’ Camp.

A collection of classic board games — from Clue to Candy Land, Sorry to Scrabble. And an even larger collection of not-so-classic board games. Evolution? Cranium Conga? The Allowance Game?

A couple of model boats, neither of which likely skimmed the waters of Lake Nebagamon.

A made-in-the-art-shop loon, created and donated by Guy Sachs.

A depiction of “Charming Lake Nebagamon: The home of the pines and the sparkling waters, and lair of the gamey bass.” At least a century old, it depicts what is now camp property as simply “lumber yards.”

A depiction of the Patrick-Duluth Club’s property in August 1917.

A large framed U.S. map showing the hometowns of campers and counselors from camp’s first season through 1961, when it was presented to Muggs and Janet by the campers of Axeman 7.

A collection of ancient arrowheads.

A deer head wondering why it’s surrounded by a couple of old helmets from the camp fire brigade, a pair of wooden snow shoes, and a single wooden ski.

A photo, autographed by the subject to Muggs Lorber, of Ralph Gates, Governor of Indiana from 1945-49.

A photo from the “Camp Nebagamon New York World’s Fair Tour” in 1939.

Framed staff photos dating from 1929 to the present day.

A collection of trophies — some big (i.e. the Northwoods Invitational Tennis Tournament) and many small (prizes from the Lake Nebagamon Dragin Tail Run).

A half-log carved with the names of Trails Forward speakers from the first decade of the program.

A short-lived (and slightly faded) trophy of sorts from the 1990s — the Associate Director’s Pre and Post Camp Eating Award.

A replica Paul Bunyan, replica totem pole, and wholly original George Washington head, the latter having been constructed to honor the 1976 American Bicentennial.

An old sermonette box, a tomahawk from the rained-out 1986 Pow Wow Day, an axe from the 1994 Paul Bunyan Day, the 1942 Camp Goat badge, a baseball signed by a pre-camp team that played a competitive game at Washburn in the early 1990s, a plate celebrating peach pie, and a box of Milk-Bone dog biscuits featuring former camp dog Sadie Stein.

Birchbark snuff boxes made and used by 19th-century lumberjacks. An antique camera that belonged to Muggs Lorber. Part of a narrow gauge railroad track from the old Lake Nebagamon lumber yards. A Chinese water pipe given to Muggs by John Horvath after WWII. Kokesi dolls from Japan. The fragment of a 4000-year-old stone axe. Tom Schweich’s buried treasures.

The quirkiest Big House artifact? How about the unwashed granola-and-yogurt bowl used by John Dunsmore (former drummer for The Doors) when he visited camp in 2005.

And finally, the beloved C/N logo near the entrance to the Big House, just to remind everyone where they are.