It was the 1950s. Where would anyone who lived in Brooklyn, the other four boroughs, and the surrounding states go for a summer vacation? The Catskills, also referred to as “The Mountains,” of course.
About a million people a year spent some time vacationing in the Catskills in the summer according to Philip Ratzer’s book, Bungalow Kid: A Catskill Mountain Summer.1 Why did so many people flock to the playgrounds of theCatskill Mountains? If you ask people who vacationed there, they will look dreamy-eyed and say, “We had the time of our lives.”
People who lived in the environs of NYC escaped north over Route 17 in cars, buses and rented taxis (hacks) to Fallsburg, Monticello, Loch Sheldrake, Kiamesha Lake, Ellenville, Liberty and other popular towns.
Vacationers clamored for rooms in hotels like Grossinger’s, the Raleigh, the Nevele, Tamarack Lodge, the Concord, Kutsher’s, Brown’s, Brickman’s, Granit, Pines and so many others. Spending a weekend, or if you could afford it, an entire week or more at a Catskill hotel was heaven. You got to escape the heat and smell of the city, breathe fresh country air, and even have need of a blanket in the cool evenings. There were three meals a day served in splendid dining halls by attentive waiters and waitresses, plus extra snacks during the day.
Organized activities, under the direction of the hotel athletic staff, were announced over loudspeakers, starting early in the morning. So, if the rooster from a nearby farm didn’t wake you, blaring announcements like, “Simon Sez will begin in ten minutes near the pool deck,” surely would get your attention. If you missed “Simon Sez,” you didn’t have to worry, there would be endless activities and games throughout the day—swimming, volleyball, baseball, handball, boating, tennis, dance lessons, trivia, card games, bingo, and so much more.
In the evening men and women, dressed in the latest 50s styles, flocked to the hotel nightclub or theater for an outstanding show featuring a comic, a dance team, and a singer.
As film critic Joel Siegel noted on ABC TV, many comedians debuted in the Catskills, including Milton Berle, Eddie Cantor, Jerry Lewis, Jackie Mason, Danny Kaye, Sid Caesar, Red Buttons, and Buddy Hackett. And entertainers like Eddie Fisher, Robert Merrill, Tito Puente, Neil Sedaka, and Billy Eckstine starred in the Catskill hotels.2
After the show, you and your partner could dance to big band music into the wee hours. Those who experienced all this still smile nostalgically, recalling the Catskill heydays, and consider their vacations there worth every penny.
There were also small bungalow colonies scattered throughout the Catskill towns that rented cottages and rooms by the week and month. That experience is another subject worthy of recall and nostalgia.
In my novel, The Last Victim, the money-hungry antagonist, Sophie Rothman, builds a bungalow colony in the Catskills, and later buys into hotels. That’s how her real estate fortune begins. The story takes readers back to summer days in the Catskills in the bygone era of the 1940s and 1950s.
- Philip Ratzer, “Bungalow Kid: A Catskill Mountain Summer,” Excelsior Editions.
- Joel Siegel, “Memories of the Catskills,” ABC TV.