“Who is the only person to have played for the Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox?” Arthur Geller asked this difficult question in between great stories and anecdotes about his time at the West End House Camp and Club. Abraham Arthur Geller prefers to be called Arthur, although some of his friends used to call him “Abey Baby.” Arthur grew up on the corner of Myrtle and South Russell Street on the Beacon Hill part of the old West End of Boston. What made the West End House different from other boys’ clubs of the time was that almost everyone joined a club within the club. So Arthur and his lifetime friend, Larry Gilligan, formed the Olympic Club. They competed against the other clubs that were within the club such as the Storrows, the Normans, Hawks and Armstrongs. While they got the use of the gym for an hour each week, Arthur most remembers the meetings each week where they learned about the Rules of Order as all clubs would vote for their President, other officers, and all club matters. “Everything was done by vote. The toughest guy never became President.”
In 1946, most of the Olympic Club members decided to go to West End House Camp. They stayed in the Gottlieb cabin. There were three counselors at camp, Dave Skvirsky, Dave Rowe, and Sonny Kaplan. With their counselor Sonny Kaplan at the helm, there was not enough space for the entire Olympic Club. So, Arthur and his club friends moved his other friends in from the tents by pushing every bed together, far over capacity. “We participated in what we wanted to participate in.”
Camp had 3 cabins back then (Mendelsohn, Bancroft, and Gottlieb) and tents. Arthur played Basketball on the outdoor court and Handball in the 3-walled court. Arthur was only a 1 year camper and came back to camp as a counselor in 1951 with his Olympic Club friends Jack Resnick and Larry Gilligan. The H-Dock was anchored with concrete blocks. Since the lake froze, the blocks moved, and they had to be lined up again each year, which was a difficult task.
Arthur enjoyed a veteran Mess Hall move that is still used today. “We used to try to sit at the end of the table so we didn’t have to pass down any of the food.” Arthur was an admittedly poor eater. He said he ate a lot of bread. The legend, Ralph Halliburton was the head chef and the other cook was Alphonse Marsden. Ralph was “the best cook I’ve ever seen.” He cooked at an MIT fraternity during the offseason. However, he did explain to me why we call the juice, “Bug Juice.” Turns out it was a prank in which you would ask some kids to get as many bugs as they could and give them to Alphonse. When the “Bug Juice” (actually just Kool Aid) came out some campers thought it was a concoction made with those same bugs (it was not). Arthur spent one Old Timers Week working in the kitchen. He remembers hearing the Old Timers tell stories of how they used to put people’s beds on rowboats in the middle of the night and set them out on the lake.
The boys hiked to the farmers field to play ball, which was about ¼ mile from the Camp, not far from the “Bear Caves” (Take the road left after Kennards). Softball HAD to be played because nobody had a glove. There were no fences on the field so the ball would roll down a hill forever on a deep lined drive. Back then the policy was, if you got a package of candy, you had to share it with your bunkmates. There was a strong suspicion that one of Arthur’s bunkmates got a package and hid it from everyone. So, one day at the ballfield near the Bear Caves, they put that camper in right field, the deepest part of the field, on purpose. “We hit a deep fly ball to right field and while he chased it, we all ran back to the cabin and took his candy and told him we had been raided by other campers.” He couldn’t complain because then he’d have to admit he didn’t share.
Arthur also explained to me the legendary “short sheeting” prank, which I had to watch on YouTube to understand. Arthur is very disappointed that this bedding prank is no longer executed. Arthur’s other favorite gag was the “Snipe Hunts,” where the older campers told the younger campers to go catch mythical creatures called “Snipes.” Then a few veteran campers would come back, with bags of rocks, claiming they captured some. The new campers were perplexed and went back out into the woods looking for Snipes.
Larry Gilligan was Arthur’s best friend since 1st grade. “He introduced me to the WEH and brought me up to camp. He’s my best friend.” Larry’s father was a West Ender as well. Larry joined the club as a 10 year old. As a worker, Larry got the unfortunate job of taking care of the Country Club, the ironic name of the outhouses. “Jack (Resnick) and Gilly were in charge of it. It wasn’t too healthy because it was so close to the water.” Arthur clarified a common misconception, “There were THREE, 6 holers.” So, 18 holes, maybe that was another reason it was called the Country Club. As a counselor Larry would sometimes get annoyed at a misbehaving camper and tell them to go outside, in the middle of the night, to Hug a Tree. I’m not sure if this is where modern environmentalists get their nickname. “Larry would sometimes forget the camper was out there for long stretches of time. Larry went on to work for the FBI and sadly passed away in 2011.
Arthur’s favorite place to go is Kennards. “I like Kennards. It’s like walking into a cathedral.” But Kennards had an added benefit in those days. “We used to sneak to Kennards and buy candy.” I retold the story that Steve Brown told me about how Arthur took him for some candy when he was homesick. Arthur is a loyal guy, so he didn’t want to embarrass Steve until I brought it up.” Arthur knew that Steve Brown was the legend Manny Brown’s son. So he was not going to let Steve go home. The next day Steve Brown forgot about being homesick. Manny Brown sold the Olympic Club a blank book for $5, which seemed expensive, so they could take minutes for their meetings. But, in reality, they just wanted to help Manny make a sale as he was starting a new business. Arthur is regretful that he lost that book through the years as it was a living history of the Olympic Club.
Arthur was not a big Color War guy. But, he did credit Charlie LaMontagne for starting it in 1951. Charlie was the waterfront director and camp director and became superintendent of schools in Woburn. Another man Arthur gives credit to is Dr. Skvirsky. “In 1954, the Doctor was visiting us and we heard someone come running down into camp saying that someone got hit with a bat. The Doctor walked slowly to the field and took care of it.” Arthur was puzzled as to why the Doctor didn’t show more urgency. “Doc, how come you didn’t move faster?” The Doctor said, “If I ran, I would’ve been out of breath and unable to think properly.” This was Arthur’s personal lesson of the tortoise vs. the hare. Slow and steady wins the race.
In those days Jack Burnes “WAS the West End, everything had to be cleared by Jack.” Jack helped link the alumni to the kids. “My brother got money for Harvard from Jack.” Arthur mentioned that Jack Burnes got scholarship money for future Star Trek (Mr. Spock) actor, Leonard Nimoy, to attend a summer theatre program at BC. This was incredible news I had not heard, but it is true. Nimoy had a ½ scholarship for $75 tuition. Jack Burnes covered the other $37.50. (See picture from a club newsletter from 2016).
At camp it was the same. Jack was so worried about camper safety that he refused to allow boating. Arthur is old school. He feels that motor boats and loud speakers and lights ruin the camp experience. (“The night sky in Maine is precious.”) If a camper did get injured, “We gave him a funny book and an aspirin. We used the town doctor for the bad stuff.” While Jack Burnes’ brother Abe helped out the camp, Jack’s wife Anne would live in a hotel in Cornish during the summer. What a trooper.
Arthur was glad that Bill Margolin eventually took over. Arthur proudly stated that “Bill is my friend.” Arthur and Bill visit each other from time to time. “Billy was the right man, for the right job, for the 20th century.” Arthur appreciates how Bill still keeps the camp and the club working together. Jack Burnes and Bill Margolin are like George Washington and Abe Lincoln of West End House Camp. But, Arthur wanted to point out an unsung hero, the camp custodian. “George Mouridian was HUGE. He was the go-between for the town and the camp. He knew when there were real estate deals so the camp could buy more land.”
Arthur attended Boston English High school. He was not a motivated student. At one point he had 3 Cs, a D and an F. English High had a north side and a south side, which were connected. If you had the south side during lunch block you had 1st lunch and if you were on the north side, you had 2nd lunch. One time Arthur looked at his schedule and saw he had Mr. Murphy during lunch block. “They gave me the wrong Murphy and I went to the 1st lunch with my friends and was late coming back. So, I didn’t find out what homework was for the next day.” Mr. Murphy was not happy and made Arthur hold on to the coat hook for the entire year. “I had to do swimming so that I could get back enough credit to do basketball.”
Jack Burnes was always at the club in the evenings. Suffolk University practiced and played at the club as well. The custodians of the club asked the coaches if Arthur could go to Suffolk, as he was a terrific Basketball player. So, Arthur got a ½ scholarship to attend Suffolk University where he played Basketball and studied Sociology. Arthur noticed that several of his full scholarship teammates were quitting the team, so he asked the coach if he could have their full scholarship. His request was granted.
After college, Arthur worked for the Charlestown Boys club and was drafted into the army (after the Korean War) from 1955-1957. He lived in Japan for 1½ years as a supply sergeant. “It was heaven.” When he came home he worked for the government for the Neighborhood Youth Corp, which was a program for 16-21 year olds from impoverished areas to get work training. After that, Arthur worked at Northeastern University in the bookstore warehouse before he retired. He has 3 daughters, 8 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. One of his grandson’s, Carl Weber, attended camp for a couple of years. Arthur now resides in Newton, with his wife, Margaret.
I waited to the very end of our time together to bring up my story about Arthur that was told in the Steve Brown piece. My account was that “an unfamiliar, tall, older, long haired man walked into the Rec Hall while I, Ryan, was alone shooting the basketball during Rec Hall duty. He spent 30 minutes teaching me how to properly shoot the basketball. In what seemed like a religious experience, he then walked out without me knowing who he was. I had no idea who he was at the time. It turned out to be Arthur Geller.” Arthur remembered clearly, he said he thought he was working in Freedom, New Hampshire at the time and came to visit for a few hours. Since I was the “Rec hall guy,” I never got the opportunity to thank him for his time. My brother Brett had a similar story, (about Arthur) telling me that he once went into the Rec Hall and saw “this older man hit 25 of 34 3-pointers. I was counting.” It’s clear Arthur was a gym rat from his days at the West End House Club. This led to a long exchange between 2 Basketball nerds, Arthur and me. He asked, “Who is the greatest Basketball player of all time?” I knew I was falling into the trap of making an old school hoops enthusiast annoyed by not saying Bill Russell, but I couldn’t help it. “Michael Jordan,” I said with conviction. Arthur admitted Jordan might be the best talent, but not the best player. “Bill Russell won a college championship, Olympic gold medal and an NBA championship in the same year and won 11 NBA championships in 13 years.” This is an argument I know too well and one that cannot be defeated.
I got one more basketball lesson from Arthur. He described his favorite play as I was quickly drawing up a court with Xs and Os. “I’ve used this one a hundred times. It’s a baseline out of bounds play. The ball is dead, you are the inbounder. I walk up to you and yell RYAN, ARE YOU STUPID, I TAKE THE BALL OUT! DON’T YOU KNOW THAT? Then you just hand the ball off to me and I score. Works every time.” I stopped drawing the play on my paper. I asked Arthur if he’s ever seen the famous Barking Dog deception inbound play. Of course he had.
“Camp is a great thing. The more West End kids at camp, the better.” Arthur never forgets his roots. He is very happy there is now a Girls Camp as well. From his time at the club, camp and working with disadvantaged kids, Arthur Geller has always stood up for inclusion and for the less fortunate. Thank you, Arthur Geller for “Remembering” West End House Camp with me. So, who was the only person to play for the Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox? It was John Kiley, the man who played the organ.