Museum of Family Camping and Hall of Fame
Allenstown, New Hampshire
Families who spent prime vacation years camping often find they carry a legacy beyond the well-thumbed photo albums and recountings ad nauseum of beautiful sunsets. Like that faint mildew smell in the garage -- perhaps an old canvas tent still squirreled away? Or a basement shelf weighted down with cracked cooking utensils, a clogged gas stove, and a 50-lb. sleeping bag?
They'll never use that stuff again. But it can be hard to decide whether to toss, palm off on neighbors, or leave be.
Not so for a fellow like Roy B. Heise (1910-1991), who conceived of the visionary Museum of Family Camping Hall of Fame for his own outdoor adventure detritus. Since it opened in 1993, the MFCHF has paid tribute to the greats of America's camping heritage, told the exhilarating story of a nation on the move... and displayed a fascinating bunch of old camping gear.
A rustic 1930s log bunkhouse, with green-edged screen windows, is where you'll find the Museum of Family Camping, in a shady stand of pine trees at Bear Brook State Park. Vintage Apache and Airstream trailers are parked out front; if you didn't know this was a museum, you'd think that someone was really camping here. In fact, people ARE inhabiting a few trailers in nooks behind the museum, which can lead to embarrassing encounters ("Quit staring at me! I'm not a diorama."). The HoF trailers are open for inspection and outfitted as they might have been in their heyday, complete with paper towels in the above-sink holders and sheets on the beds.
In the museum, ice chests and gas lanterns crowd the exhibit areas. "Space was at a premium," a sign proclaims over a selection of wire toasters and all-in-one cooking pot kits. The museum shows off several hand-painted planks, a common sight on trailers, broadcasting sporty nom de plumes for families (one of us vaguely recalls traveling with the title "The 7 Kamping Kirbys").
A replica campsite is accessorized with a "traditional dingle stick" (don't ask) and a stump cut by beavers, garnished with wood chips.
In another section we see the Handyhot, a portable electric washing machine, and the Svea No. 100, "the king of stoves." A label notes: "Admiral Perry used this type of stove on his journey to the North Pole."
A tabletop model of an idyllic campground -- crafted by George and Noreen Smith of Ontario, Canada -- shows children on swingsets and carefully tended fires set among neatly parked trailers and RVs.
Roy B. Heise, not surprisingly, is enshrined in the Family Camping Hall of Fame, a little room of plaques in this little museum.
The Hall of Fame celebrates a few recognizable figures, such as Teddy Roosevelt, L.L. Bean, and Sheldon Coleman, and a lot of people obscure to anyone other than students of family camping. And perhaps not even to them:
Horace Kephart, "Dean of American Campers."
Ervil Kenwett, Jr., who wrote the "Code of Ethics" for the Maine Campground Owners' Association.
Peg Hatch, creator of the innovative "Queer Bird" poster series that taught campground manners. Peg "symbolized the extra-mile dedication of so many camping group officers" and "shared in the monumental task of organizing the Spring Safaris and Fall Frolics."
"The bountiful occurrences of today's family camping are the result of their vision and devotion. We owe them much."
Ralph Allen, senior citizen and our volunteer guide, is a little light on knowledge about specific exhibits, but tries out quips on us ripe enough for a Campfire Pun-a-thon. "Sterno? I thought you said sternum! I need a new one, you know; I just had bypass surgery!"