Jamboree Memories

For Scouts participating in the 2001 National Scout Jamboree next summer, the simple things that happen in basic areas like travel, food, and program activities can become the moments they’ll never forget.

The sight of hot-air balloons hovering near the arena area is one that Scouts will always recall from the 1997 jamboree.

Sardine sandwiches for lunch on the day of arrival … pesky nocturnal beetles that crawled inside the inner ear of slumbering campers … 50,000 Scouts seated in an outdoor amphitheater … F-100C Super Sabre jets of the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds precision flying team … sardine sandwiches for lunch on the day of departure ….

Those are some things I recall from the 1957 National Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge, Pa. They are also typical of the kind of special memories that 30,000 Scouts will take home next summer from the 2001 National Scout Jamboree at Virginia’s Fort A.P. Hill, scheduled for July 23 to Aug. 1.

The first national Scout jamboree of the 21st century will be the highlight Scouting experience for most participants, just as the previous 14 jamborees were for the 600,000 Scouts who have attended them. A unique atmosphere sets each of these quadrennial national gatherings apart from other Scouting experiences. Every Scout feels special to be a part of such an extraordinary encampment, the importance of which traditionally includes a welcoming address from the President of the United States.

Time, place, and (wet) weather

The distinctive location and sightseeing done on the way to, and home from, the site add to the special memories of participants. For many Scouts from western states, traveling to Washington, D.C. (1937), Valley Forge (1950, 1957, 1964), western Pennsylvania (1973, 1977), and (since 1981) Fort A.P. Hill was a first chance to see some of the nation’s best-known landmarks. Jamborees in California (1953), Colorado (1960), and Idaho (1969, 1973) provided many Scouts from the East with their first trip beyond the Mississippi River.

In addition to location, jamboree memories are often closely related to the event’s moment in time.

For example, Scouting magazine Executive Editor Scott Daniels and contributing writer Will Woodard attended the 1969 National Scout Jamboree at Idaho’s Farragut State Park. Both recall listening to the live greeting the crew of the Apollo 11 lunar mission sent to the jamboree and then, several days later, watching on a small black-and-white TV as astronaut (and Eagle Scout) Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface.

Weather conditions can also create special, if not always pleasant, memories.

The site of the 1977 jamboree, Moraine State Park in western Pennsylvania, is not-so-fondly remembered by participants as “More Rain” State Park. Some 3.89 inches of rain fell when the ninth national jamboree was held there between Aug. 3 and 9.

Distinguished visitors

Celebrity visitors, from entertainment or politics, hold favored spots in many personal jamboree memory banks. Ken Humphreys, a veteran Scouter from Memphis, Tenn., attended the first national Scout jamboree in 1937 and vividly remembered “seeing many of the national and world Scout leaders and also national leaders such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

In 1997, Scouts got to meet pilot Scott O’Grady, a hero of peacekeeping in Bosnia.

Scouts at the national jamboree at Valley Forge in 1950 received a double treat: speeches from both President Harry S. Truman andretired general Dwight D. Eisenhower (at the time famous only as a World War II hero).

Denver Scouter Frank A. Lawrence III, a leader of a Louisiana troop at the 1950 jamboree, recalled how the audience of 50,000 Scouts turned quiet when President Truman complained that their flashbulb picture-taking interfered with his ability to read his speech. “The next evening, General Eisenhower quickly advised the Scouts they could take all the pictures they wanted,” Lawrence remembered. “The hills of Valley Forge erupted with loud, no, thunderous applause.”

My 1957 memories include the moment when Vice President Richard M. Nixon was introduced as President Nixon; this prompted nervous murmuring throughout the audience until the Vice President good-naturedly acknowledged that he was only substituting for, not replacing, President Eisenhower, who was ill.

Show business stars of every magnitude have dotted jamboree marquees. Executive Editor Scott Daniels recalls that jamboree entertainment in 1969 featured Up With People, a clean-cut group of young singers known for feel-good tunes and lyrics. The dual locations in 1973 featured comedians Bob Hope (west) and Danny Thomas (east). And Scouts attending one of the five jamborees at Fort A.P. Hill beginning with the one in 1981 got to see music superstars like Lee Greenwood, Louise Mandrell, and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Scouting celebrities are also abundant at jamborees. Frank A. Lawrence III never forgot the surprise ceremony at the 1937 jamboree when he received his Eagle Scout Award from 87-year-old Daniel Carter (Uncle Dan) Beard, one of the BSA’s founders. In 1964, the Scouts at Valley Forge met Lady Baden-Powell, widow of the founder of worldwide Scouting. And since the 1950s, Scouts have been able to personally meet Pedro, the Boys’ Life “mailburro.”

Trains, planes, high-tech fun

Transportation provides many remembered incidents. Scouts from the 1937 jamboree tell of long cross-country train rides, with hot cinders hitting their faces as they sat next to open passenger car windows. In the 1950s, many contingents arrived by bus—although most didn’t have to stop en route to replenish an overheating radiator with water from a roadside stream, as our troop from the then-Jefferson-Lewis Council in northern New York State did.

Today, while troops still arrive by bus, many from farther away fly to a city like New York, Philadelphia, or Boston and continue their journey in rented vehicles or a chartered bus.

Jamboree activities provide a limitless source of memorable experiences. Scoutcraft and other camping skills have always been a part of the program, but each jamboree adds special events that incorporate the latest technological innovations.

The Merit Badge Midway alone provides opportunities to get expert help in passing all or most requirements for more than 60 merit badges.

The enduring impact of food

Jamboree menus can inspire lots of personal memories, both good and bad. And the rate of food consumption always provides great publicity quotes, like the “17 miles of frankfurters” we gobbled down in 1957.

Next summer, unlike Valley Forge, there will be no sardine sandwiches for lunch on departure day. In fact, there may be no lunch at all, but rather a “big brunch” served for council contingents to consume as they break camp and prepare to head home.

“Sardines from Maine,” by the way, remained a menu item for at least four more jamborees after 1957. Today, the containers are a much-sought-after piece of Scout memorabilia. Recent price guides indicate that collectors have paid as much as $25 for an unopened can from 1957 and 1960, and more than $10 for empty cans from 1969 and 1973.

What items from the 2001 jamboree will be on the most-wanted lists of memorabilia collectors? Whatever the answer, none can ever be more valuable to their owners than the treasured personal memories of each jamboree participant.

Jon C. Halter is the editor of Scouting magazine.

Fort A.P. Hill is the ideal site for BSA jamborees

In the Spring 2000 issue of Now & Then, the BSA publication for retired professional Scouters, National Jamboree Director Donald R. Wilson recounted how Fort A.P. Hill became the permanent site of BSA jamborees:

“At the National Executive Board meeting held Oct. 13, 1977, BSA President Downing B. Jenks appointed Mr. Vitz-James Ramsdell as chairman of a committee responsible for reviewing the 1977 jamboree and making recommendations for future jamborees. The study included consideration of the purpose and objectives of jamborees, optimal size, potential locations, problems related to escalating costs, and the desirability and feasibility of a permanent jamboree site.

“Several states, including California, Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia responded to a BSA inquiry about hosting a jamboree on a continuing basis. John N. Dalton, then Governor of Virginia, indicated a strong interest in hosting the jamboree in the area known as the ‘historical triangle,’ with Caroline County, Virginia, being at the center.

“State Representative J. Kenneth Robinson suggested the United States Army garrison known as Fort A.P. Hill as the most desirable location, not only because of the historical aspect of the setting but also because of population center, multiple transportation modes, and the U.S. Army’s longtime association with the support of national jamborees.

“In 1981 and again in 1985, 1989, 1993, and 1997, jamboree participants have trekked to Fort A.P. Hill—nearly one-third of the 600,000 all-time jamboree participants. Outstanding cooperation between the Boy Scouts of America and the U.S. Army has verified that the decision to choose a permanent site was logical, feasible, and cost-effective.”


  1. I attended the 1957 Jamboree. However, I caught the “asiatic flu”, as it was then called, in DC and got put in the hospital. Nevada Senator Alan Bible pulled a string or two and I flew from DC to Valley Forge in a 4-seater Beechcraft. The other three passengers were two Secret Service guys and the Vice President, Mr. Nixon!

    • I was at the ’57 Jamboree at Valley Forge, too. I don’t recall V P Nixon’s presence at one of our assemblies in the amphitheater. But I do remember the surprise we got when Elvis Presley was brought out to do a few songs. He was, of course, in the early days of his career, and was the newest and biggest celebrity in the music world. I’ve searched the internet to find specifics on his appearance, but have found nothing. , please share. His appearance was a brief, not a full concert by any means. I don’t recall his song selection; I’m guessing he did “Teddy Bear”, “Hound Dog”, and “All Shook Up”. If anyone else recalls his song list, please share it here and elsewhere.

  2. I’m trying to relocate my old troop, and I’d like to get some skill awards and merit badges back.
    I had lost them over the years. I was at Moraine Park in 1977…How can I reconnect with my troop? We met at 2424 Cropsey Ave. Brooklyn, NY, in 1977….
    Does anyone remember any of what I’m trying to receive!

  3. I attended the 1957 Jamboree at Valley Forge. I remember that our train when it pulled into the station in Pensilvania was quaranteend by the red cross because of the Asian flu that we brought from California , Los Angeles area. I got to go to valley forge, while about 50 boys had stay on the train in the movie car because they were sick. I spent my first two days at valley forge, the on the third cay I came down with the flu and was sent to the valley forge military hospital. myself and about four other boys from my troop NO.30. I got out of the hospital two days before the jamboree ended. I, aleast got to finish the trip on the train back home. We were told that about 400 of the 500 boys from the Los Angeles Council got the flu. I was a member of the Eagle Tree Troop from the midland district and town of Lynwood CA.

  4. The 1957 National Boy Scout Jamboree held at Valley Forge, Pa., was a most exciting experience for me. I was a member of BSA Jamboree Troop 19 representing the Tidewater Chapter, Norfolk,Va., which had a membership of All African-American Scouts. Boy Scout troop 115 of Elizabeth, City, N.C., which was sponsored by The American Legion Post, was my troop, and I had been selected by the post members to attend the 1957 event. I was truly excited when my father, Mr. Roosevelt R. Wright, Sr., an early scoutmaster of BSA troop 124 and 89 of our city, plus my mother, Mrs. Lillie Mae Wright had given me news. At the time, I would enjoy my 14th birthday, on 24th of July 1957, right after attending the Jamboree, so this was a “birthday present.” During the months of May and June organizational
    meetings were held in a wonderful church in Portsmouth, Va. with all selected troop members from Tidewater, Va., and North Eastern, North Carolina. Around the 14th of July, I boarded a bus, in Elizabeth City, with other Boy Scouts from area BSA troops for Norfolk, Va. Once in Norfolk, Va., I joined my Jamboree Troop 19, and we then boarded our bus, and headed to the Little Creek Ferry, for a cruise across the Chesapeake Bay to Cape Charles, and Highway 13, on the DelMarVa Peninsula. Our bus ride took us north, and we stopped for an overnight visit at the U.S. Air force Base at New Castle, Delaware for food, sleep, and a tour of the base. In the morning, we had an “Air Force Breakfast,” and then continued our travels to Valley Forge, and BSA Jamboree 1957. Once on site. and the official check in, we set up our camp site, and raised our Troop 19 Flag. This beautiful and most historic site, Valley Forge, Pa., where General George Washington, and his troops, were based many years ago, had a most “historic feeling.” As we established our camp site, and prepared for the “kick Off” ceremonies, meeting other scouts from all over the USA was a tremendous experience.
    But the greatest moment, was the “Kickoff Ceremony,” as we marched to the large spacious amphitheater, our troop was stopped in route, where a “Beautiful Convertible Lincoln Automobile,” appeared with Vice-President Richard Nixon, waving his hands, and saluting Troop 19. President Nixon, presented the “keynote speech,” to the more then 58,000 Jamboree Scouts in attendance, and this moment in BSA Jamboree History was “simply spectacular!” Also I will never forget the fantastic Air Show, performed by The Air Force Thunderbirds over the entire 1957 BSA Jamboree site, and the live nationwide television broadcast of the “Philadelphia Fraternal Brothers Parade, and Circus,” at the amphitheater. Plus, a “New Rock and Roll Singer named Elvis Presley,” was also performing at the Jamboree. But, as I close this short message on my participation at the 1957 BSA Jamboree, the “trading of troop patches,” was one of the greatest experiences, as it allowed Boy Scouts from all over the country, “to learn, enjoy, meet, and truly understand the importance of the “Oath Of The Boy Scouts of America.” I can never forget, my wonderful exaltation, and most exemplary growth, that I truly enjoyed during summer, July 1957 – BSA Jamboree, Valley Forge, Pa.

  5. I too attended the 57 Jamboree as Troop 29 of Downey California. We crossed the country by train and began sickness from the Asian Flu and all I remember is getting off at Valley Forge with my Troop, setting up camp and then waking up in the VFArmy Hospital doing wheel chair races and using the ramps between floors to evade the nurses. I must have been quit ill and thank Goodness that hospital specialized in respiratory illness’.

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