A Spirit of Time and Place

By Jon C. Halter

Scouts and leaders who attend next summer's national jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia will bring home a special set of memories and a lifelong attachment to "the jamboree spirit."

Every four years, an immense tent city housing thousands of Scouts, leaders, and staff appears for several days on the grounds of the U.S. Army's Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia—then vanishes.

Next summer, from July 25 to Aug. 3, that quadrennial encampment will reappear in the form of the 16th National Scout Jamboree, with the theme "On My Honor—Timeless Values."

The 2005 jamboree will be the seventh consecutive one at what is now the jamboree's permanent site, located near Fredericksburg, Va., between Richmond and Washington, D.C.

By late August, however, other than permanent plumbing and other service facilities, little evidence will be left to show that more than 40,000 Scouts, leaders, and staff had recently camped on the site for 10 days.

Although physically gone, every jamboree remains alive in the memories of those who attend. The special "jamboree spirit"—symbolized by the candles all Scouts light at every jamboree closing ceremony—lives on in the hearts and minds of everyone fortunate to have been part of the experience.

Memories are made of this

Highlight of the 1989 jamboree at Fort A. P. Hill was the personal visit and address by President George H. Bush. Photographs Courtesy of BSA Archives

After next summer, more than 660,000 Scouts and leaders will have attended the BSA's 16 national jamborees since 1937; of those, more than 245,000, or 37 percent, will have attended a jamboree held at Fort A.P. Hill.

Scouts who attended national jamborees—at sites ranging from Washington, D.C. (1937), Colorado Springs, Colo. (1960), Irvine Ranch, Calif. (1953), and Valley Forge, Pa. (1950, 1957, 1964)—tend to believe each unique setting made "their" jamboree unmatched by any other location or year.

That feeling holds true at Fort A.P. Hill. Even though the location has remained the same since 1981, almost every Scout who attends a jamboree in Caroline County, Va., recalls the occasion as a Scouting event like no other, filled with vivid memories and unforgettable one-of-a-kind experiences.

1981: 'Scouting's Reunion With History'

The 1981 jamboree establsihed the spectacular Merit Badge Midway as a Fort A.P. Hill tradition.
Memories are made of this

With a facility named after famed Confederate Gen. A. P. Hill, and surrounded with countless nearby historical attractions, including Washington, D.C., Mount Vernon, Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields, to name only a few, it was no surprise that the first A.P. Hill jamboree focused on history and patriotism.

The opening arena show featured 2,400 Scouts performing skits and songs dedicated to "America's Heritage." The evening's celebrity performers symbolized the transition from old to new, as the Oak Ridge Boys shared the spotlight with veteran folk singer Burl Ives, a performer at previous jamborees.

Earlier jamborees had a Merit Badge Midway, but 1981 saw it established as a major Fort A.P. Hill attraction. Scouts could learn from a host of experts as they worked on any of 64 badges.

The reenactment of the first Scout camp—Baden-Powell's 1907 experimental testing of his Scouting program on Brownsea Island, off the coast of England—also had been introduced at previous jamborees. At Fort A.P. Hill, however, it was given a permanent site. Boys and leaders, wearing typical clothes from 1907, showed visitors the activities the original Brownsea campers had enjoyed in the process of proving that B-P's "system" worked.

1985: 'The Spirit Lives On'

Hurricane Bob couldn't dampen camper enthusiasm in 1985.

As 1985 marked the Diamond Jubilee of the Boy Scouts of America, the theme of the 11th National Scout Jamboree celebrated the enduring nature of the spirit of Scouting.

And that spirit was put to the test early by an unexpected visitor named Bob—Hurricane Bob. Although reduced to a tropical depression by the time the storm roared into Fort A.P. Hill, Bob still flattened tents, knocked down gateways, soaked sleeping bags, and turned pathways to mud.

But Scouting perseverance paid off. By midweek the sun was out, the ground was drying, and Bob was soon forgotten. Scouts focused on the fun activities in the Challenge Trail, fishing and boating, and visiting the 92 booths at the largest Merit Badge Midway to date.

New jamboree activities included board-sailing on lower Travis Lake, snorkeling in aboveground pools, a trap shooting range, and a bicycle motocross (BMX) course.

Onstage, the Beach Boys were the celebrity entertainers, but the No. 1 guest of honor was First Lady Nancy Reagan, substituting for her husband, President Ronald Reagan, who was ill.

1989: 'The Adventure Begins...With America's Youth'

Scouting magazine's November-December 1989 cover recorded the highlight moment of the 12th National Scout Jamboree, as Chief Scout Executive Ben H. Love welcomed President George H. W. Bush to the arena speaker's podium.

The president, who had just stepped out of Marine One, the official presidential helicopter that landed next to the arena, obviously enjoyed the occasion and praised the Scouts for their tradition of conducting Good Turns and waging a campaign against the use of harmful drugs by youth.

The official jamboree patch featured an image of a space shuttle, and the 20 subcamps were each named after a NASA space mission. The huge NASA exhibit, featuring mock-ups of rockets and space vehicles, captured the attention of jamboree campers and visitors.

The popular IBM booth at the Merit Badge Midway reported 4,000 visitors, while 290 Scouts completed the Computers merit badge. And hundreds of Scouts daily visited the Boys' Life exhibit to try and decipher a new attraction, the Codemaster Challenge.

Jamboree historians noted at least two "firsts":

Propane gas stoves replaced charcoal grills, which had been used for patrol cooking since 1950.

For the first time, Explorers (predecessors of today's Venturers) were attending the jamboree as official participants. And 22 of the 42 youth members of Post 1425 from Wilmington, Del., were young women—the first females at a BSA national jamboree as registered campers.

1993: 'A Bridge to the Future'

1993 jamboree Scouts enjoyed performances by singers Lee Greenwood and Louise Mandrell.

Despite its theme focusing on tomorrow, the 13th national jamboree had plenty of activities linked to America's past, like the Buckskin Games, in which Scouts threw knives, cracked bullwhips, branded leather, and shot black-powder muzzle-loading rifles. The Order of the Arrow's Native American Village featured authentic American Indian dances and demonstrations of a variety of crafts and skills.

In addition to the past, jamboree Scouts could sample more modern challenges, like rappelling down a 36-foot-tall wooden tower, pedaling mountain bikes and shooting air rifles on a "bikeathlon" course, experiencing scuba diving in two Olympic-size swimming pools, and paddling through a whitewater canoe slalom course.

Conservation and environment, always an element at jamborees, featured its greatest activity area ever, with a deep-woods trail containing exhibits and activities from 15 government agencies that attracted 10,000 visitors in one day and 100,000 for the entire jamboree.

Singer Lee Greenwood and the Up With People chorus entertained at the opening arena show, while singer Louise Mandrell and a spectacular fireworks display highlighted the closing show.

1997: 'Character Counts—Be Prepared for the 21st Century'

Colorful hot air balloons added to arena show memories in 1997.

The last jamboree in the 20th century focused on the next 100 years while celebrating the 60th anniversary of the First National Scout Jamboree with an official patch that resembled the patch used for the 1937 gathering in Washington, D.C.

Many innovations from recent A.P. Hill jamborees were now standard fare, from the mammoth Merit Badge Midway (with up to 65 merit badges available, the American Indian Village, Brownsea Island Camp, Arts and Science Expo, and activities like scuba, motocross, rappelling, trap shooting, and a variety of boating opportunities.

But the surprise hit of the jamboree was the "Odyssey of the Law," an interactive experience created by the Order of the Arrow and billed as "part theme park, part theater, part entertainment, part education, part reality, part fantasy."

Using the principles of the Scout Law as a guide, audience members voted at the end of each performance on the ethical choices the characters in an ethically challenging dramatization should make.

Other highlights included a visit by President Bill Clinton and a return performance by singer Louise Mandrell.

The final day saw 10,000 Scouts link up and pass buckets containing 126 gallons of water along a two-and-a-half-mile human chain, easily shattering the standard for "longest fire-bucket brigade" in The Guinness Book of Records.

2001: 'Strong Values, Strong Leaders'

A bow saw musician and other Scout performers filled in when storms postponed the 2001 closing show.

Scouts attending the 15th National Scout Jamboree could boast of being at the first jamboree in the 21st century.

"Scoutopia," a live performance sponsored by the Order of the Arrow and the U.S. Marine Corps, challenged audience members to examine the meaning of duty in their daily lives. Staged seven times a day in a 600-seat indoor theater, it proved to be as much a hit as "Odyssey of the Law" had been in 1997.

It was Mother Nature who made the biggest impression on the jamboree's final days. Heavy rains and lightning forced the cancellation of the scheduled closing arena show.

A final arena show was rescheduled for the following night. Although he was unable to attend, President George W. Bush sent an inspirational message on videotape. Multitalented Scouts and Scouters then took the stage and provided the evening's entertainment.

The traditional closing fireworks and candle lighting ceremony went off on schedule. No Scout would ever forget that moment, despite whatever hardships and disappointments that had come before.

What's new in 2005?

The 2005 jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill will also have its special moments, both expected and unexpected. Three new events in particular are certain to be memorable:

In addition, exhibits will include several new venues, representing the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps. And the Merit Badge Midway will offer nearly 90 badges, with corporate America and many governmental agencies providing volunteer counselors.

Along with new attractions and traditional activities will be the ever-present jamboree spirit, to be experienced by a new generation of Scouts and symbolized by the thousands of candles they will light at the closing arena show.

And another unforgettable jamboree in Virginia will be added to history.

Jon C. Halter is the editor of Scouting magazine.

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