The Ghost of Snail Lake, Part 4

Part 4

To read the first three parts, go to

Mac was pleased to see the long line of kids and asked if I had everything in order. I assured him I did. When you’re 21, you feel invincible. He placed more confidence in me than I deserved.

Following brief checkups by a nurse, the Mission bus hauled the kids to camp where they settled into the dormitory then roamed the camp. I whistled them together and formed four squads, each with a counselor. I told squad members to look after one another. Wishful thinking!

Supper turned into near chaos; dish washing, total chaos. The evening chapel signaled trouble: no counselors. Bill took over the meeting and I found them at the waterfront smoking. They declared they would not be attending chapels. Tense negotiations got nowhere; they were sure I wouldn’t send them home. Bill drove them home first thing the next morning.

At bedtime, more trouble. Influenced by the unhappy counselors, several older campers showed signs of rebellion, which spread at morning lineup. To head off mutiny, I invited any camper unhappy with the camp to step forward. A bunch did. I sent them to pick up their stuff and Bill bused them to town, leaving me with 58 younger campers. Among them was a small, curly-headed kid new to the boys club. His name was George Verely. It was his first time at camp.

With the kitchen completely consuming Bill’s time and energy, I became counselor, teacher, lifeguard, nurse, craft instructor and everything else. My painful ear infection and fever didn’t help. No wonder I saw a ghost.

Since the Lord looks after fools and innocent kids, we survived the week with no major mishap. I returned home totally wiped out, convinced through the years it had been a wasted week.

Fast forward. Twenty-plus years have passed.  I’m in my Chicago office. My job: director of camping and boys work for our denomination. A staff colleague just back from a Minnesota trip stopped by. He said, “Your name came up in a meeting, Lloyd. The new St. Paul Mission Superintendent told us he came to the Lord at Snail Lake Camp when he was nine, the year Bill Jensen and Lloyd Mattson were there. His name is George Verely.”

Old Grandpa Lloyd


Ghost of Snail Lake, Part 3

Before we get to the life-changing lesson promised in Part 2, I’ll explain how that precarious camp week came about.

During college and seminary years, I worked off and on for the St. Paul Union Gospel Mission. During the school year, I directed the downtown boys club, filling various roles through the summer.

For years the Mission had conducted three six-day summer camps: one for the downtown boys club; one for the Ober Boys Club, which was located in a black community; and one for the girls club. Camp cost fifty cents—if you could afford it.

In 1944, as the integration movement gathered steam, Mission superintendent Peter MacFarlane (Mac) decided to merge boys weeks. Attendance dropped dramatically. Assuming the cause to be racial, Mac called me to his office. I felt the problem was not primarily racial but reflected community tension. The downtown club served a broad ethnic mix–kids who attended school together. Ober Club kids (mostly black) attended a rival school.

In a reckless moment, I bet Mac $50 I could fill the camp if our club had its own week. He would not hear of a bet but gave me a green light, promising a generous bonus if I filled the camp.

Hustling campers was no problem, but with World War 2 creating good jobs and sweeping young men into the military, finding staff volunteers proved impossible. I turned to our club basketball team—teens long on athletic skill but short on spiritual interest. Four agreed to help. On camp day, 83 kids lined up at the Mission for a quick physical and bus ride to Snail Lake. The staff: Bill Jensen the cook, four inexperienced teens, and me. And I had never directed a camp.

Red flags flew all over the place, but my youthful zeal and ignorance did not see them.

More to come.

Old Grandpa Lloyd


The Ghost of Snail Lake, Part Two

Reader alert: Read Part One on

The entry to the dining hall was totally dark. I felt my way to the double screen doors  then froze. I heard the shuffle of heavy boots. My impulse was to run for Bill a city block away, but that would leave the campers unprotected. I eased into the dining area.

Unfortunately, the light switches were at the other end. A clutter of benches, tables, brooms and mop buckets rendered a dash through the dark too risky. I called out, “Who’s there?” The shuffling stopped. My back against the wall, I moved toward the switches. As I moved, the shuffling resumed. Again I called, “Who’s there?” Silence.

I studied the faint skylight through the upper part of the windows that lined the opposite wall, hoping to catch a profile. Nothing. It seemed the boot steps were moving toward the open screen doors that led to the outside patio. Something brushed the screens.

Risking the clutter, I broke for the light switches, flooding the room with light, blinding me. When my vision cleared, I found the hall empty. Fighting panic, I forced myself to the screen doors and peered out. Three Black Angus calves, escapees from the camp pasture, looked up at me, their profiles too low to show against the skylight. Hooves shuffling on damp flagstones echoed through the open doors.

I made my way to the kitchen where Bill had laid out pineapple coffee cake and canned peaches. Had I panicked and fled, I would be writing about a very real ghost I encountered on a dark night at Snail Lake Camp.

But there’s more to the story. Twenty years later in Chicago, conversation with a colleague taught me a vital life lesson.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

The Ghost of Snail Lake

Last week an email from Hole News friend Nancy Verely warmed my heart, stirring me to put the Story Tree in shape ( I’ll begin the process with memoir book three, By the Campfire’s Ruddy Glow, a collection of camping stories that begins with “The Ghost of Snail Lake.”

Here’s Nancy’s email:  “Dear Lloyd; Re Ghost of Snail Lake. George (husband of many years) became a Christian at the age of nine at camp (Snail Lake) during a week you & Bill Jansen were there. George often told stories of camp woes and wonders. Thanks for being concerned about an inner city kid & introducing him to Christ. He was with Union Gospel Mission most of his life in one capacity or other. He is now in heaven enjoying his rewards and getting acquainted with his Savior. My friend & I were the first “dining room hostesses” in 1960. Your description of the dining hall was right on. Your articles bring smiles and a few raised brows! Thanks for continuing on.”

Here’s the beginning of the story:

I don’t believe in ghost, but for a few minutes one dark night in 1944, I wasn’t sure.  The setting:  Snail Lake Camp (now Gospel Hill Camp), an outreach of the St. Paul Union Gospel Mission, where I worked during college and seminary years. The camp’s 17 acres included playfields, expansive lawns, a large garden plot, wooded pastureland, and a handsome, three-level brick lodge overlooking the lake.

The lodge’s ground floor housed the kitchen and dining hall, with the chapel on level two. The third level was a large dormitory. On the night of the ghost, 58 boys grades four through seven slept in the dorm. The annals of Christian camping have never recorded a more precarious scene: two staff people looking after 58 kids. Bill Jansen was the cook; I was everything else.  At age 21, I had never directed a camp week. I had a painful ear infection and fever.

My only time alone from dawn to dusk came when the campers slept, allowing me to slip down to the kitchen for a snack Bill prepared for me. Inducing sleep called for a spooky story. I fabricated the Ghost of Skull Island, sparing no gore. The dormitory was dark save for red-glowing exit lights. Outdoors, faint skylight showed through the mist

The story droned on until boy sounds finally ceased. Then I groped my way down the dark wooden stairs that led to the dining hall.

To be continued.

Old Grandpa Lloyd





Family Matters

Yesterday Mary Boyle Anderson hauled me to the Swamp Sisters for breakfast. It was a fun but sad meal. After 15 years in business, the sisters are hanging it up. I’ll miss Bonnie’s Swamp Skillet (with buffalo), Toot’s fresh–baked caramel-pecan rolls, Nan’s homemade granola (with yogurt), and Sig’s salsa salad.

For years, the Armstrong sisters dreamt of doing something together in retirement. To fulfill that dream, they built a gambrel-roofed gift shop on their abandoned family farmstead, later adding a lean-to café. Their goal obviously was not money. They opened only Fridays and Saturdays (8:00 AM to 2:00 PM)  during summer months. The gift shop sold bison meat, back-home knickknacks, books, cards, and crafts made by neighbors. Word-of-mouth was their only advertising. Family spirit still lives in America..Swamp sisters

Friday afternoon found me at St. Ann’s seniors’ residence filling in for son Kevin. My first gig in many a year. I played old tunes and told stories for an hour, including Officer Mattson tales. Many St. Ann’s residents knew my father.

From 1935 to 1960 he directed Duluth’s student patrol system, visiting all Duluth elementary schools each year to talk about citizenship and safety. Kids and adults loved Officer Mattson.

The gig taught me I’m not the man I used to be. Huffing harmonicas and telling stories for an hour took its toll, but the St. Ann’s family treated me kindly.

Can you can help a Hole News family friend? Sandra Bronoff wrote, “I have become the only caretaker of my husband John, who is slowly dying of NASH (non-alcoholic sclerosis). Would you consider putting together a short list of encouraging books in addition to the Bible? (I’ve read all of your books, by the way.) There are so many caregivers who really need spiritual support.”

If you know a helpful book in that area, please email the title to mattson.lloyd1 at

Sandra will appreciate your prayers.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

Pillsbury Dough Girl

We said goodbye to Donna Rae Sandstrom this morning; the gifted, patient wife of Harvey, my go-to artist for 40 years. Watching old friends mingle refocused my thoughts on life values. The only object of intrinsic worth in human experience is a person, a friend. All else we discard at death; friends last through eternity.

I visited with people I hadn’t seen since I was their interim pastor at Fredenberg Chapel 25 years ago. Interesting to note what they recalled. No one commented on my profound preaching. Several remembered stories I told, like The Kid with Purple Hair. Someone said Jesus was God telling stories; a lesson for preachers.

I sat with Oden and Joanne Alreck, beloved friends from North Shore Church days. I recruited contractor Oden to salvage Fredenberg’s building project. Harvey was an artist with brush and pen; Oden was a hammer and saw artist.  At tribute time I told the story that endeared Donna Rae to me.

She and I were vacuuming sheet rock dust and fiberglass from a rough cement floor when the Shop Vac clogged. Disconnecting the hose, I cleared a wad of insulation and blew mightily into it. Unfortunately, my co-worker was peering into the other end. I heard a startled gasp and turned to see what looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Donna Rae’s face, hair, and shoulders were white with sheetrock dust.

I waited fearfully—Donna Rae was a tidy woman. But she began to laugh uncontrollably. We went for coffee to recover. The years that followed brought many coffee times and meals in the Sandstrom home.

Harvey died 18 months ago. I suspect he is painting a tree by the Crystal Stream while Donna Rae plucks old tunes on her new harp.

I like my folk religion. Heaven will be heaven because friends are there, guests of the One who said, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15).

Old Grandpa Lloyd

I’m Worried

Swamp Sisters Café was hopping Friday, outdoors and in. They put Clyde, Norma, and me at a table in the gift shop then seated Dan and Sue with us, world-travelled first-timers.  We had delightful conversation. I picked Alaska: A Man from Kanatak off the book display and gave it to them along with a Tooth book Clyde had in his car.

Dan and Sue noted the sign that drew the crowd:  This Property for Sale. One more weekend and the sisters will hang it up for good. I’ll miss them! We’ll be back next Friday with Mary Boyle Anderson. For a brief history of this unique eatery, go to I’ll tell my part in the story after next Friday’s visit.

Now to the main subject: I’m worried about Emmanuel Church. Are we losing our Baptist moorings? Morning worship went well. Pastor Dave preached a zinger on congregational unity, preparing us for the annual business meeting to follow after the obligatory potluck. Check out Pastor’s sermon at It’s a good one.

My fears for the church began a while back; I sensed a lassitude. Pastor Dave has been with us close to 11 years and we haven’t had one fight. Completely unbaptistic. But the business meeting really troubled me: it took only 54 minutes. That’s not right. Real Baptists can spend that much time discussing the color of broom handles.

The nominating committee’s slate won unanimous approval; not one nomination from the floor. I almost nominated someone just on principle.  But it was the mission’s budget that clinched my fears. It added new people and grew to $61,000 (about 27% of the total budget). With all the needs at home, can we really afford that much? You never know when the economy will nosedive.  That’s proper Baptist thinking, yet nary a nay, not through the whole meeting.

Am I too hard on Baptists?  I’ve been one all my 91 years, but I’m getting over it.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

Pity Parties

Some years ago at a denominational conference I came upon three antique preachers like me engaged in a pity party. As defenders of the true faith, they considered themselves misunderstood. Other church issues troubled them, but the red line was drums in the sanctuary. I joined the circle with a boisterous “What a great day to be alive!” Their pity party ruined, they went their petrified ways, which is how they died.

I prefer traditional worship and old-time songs, but a lot of worshippers like drums. Who am I to say them nay?  Change is the norm for all of life, including the church. Check out the first church: Acts 2:42-47. Not a drum to be found. There was a time  the clergy challenged Sunday schools. How could untrained lay people teach the Bible? Organists raised on the Psalter decried the gospel songs we old timers hold dear.

Our personal perceptions of truth evolve. We begin with tribal teaching  (denomination/church) but questions stir. We don’t own truth until we test it. The antique preachers spent their lives with secondhand truth.

Evolving personal faith came up when we visited with  Gene and Laurene Glader in their Grand Marais home last Wednesday. Daughter Sally and husband Dale drove me 100 miles up the Shore past rugged rock cuts and beaches washed smooth by millennia of waves. The North shore boasts some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth. Those rocky shores stirred youthful questions that eventually led to the faith I own today.

Visiting Gladers brought multiple blessings. Always active, Gene was Dale’s track coach at Bethel College over 50 years ago. A few years back, in retirement, a rare form of paralysis confined Gene to a power wheelchair. My recent health adventures brought a marked loss of mobility and balance, leading to a personal pity party. Greeting Gene in his wheelchair brought to mind that old saying, “I cried for want of shoes until I saw a man with no feet.”  End of pity party.

Thanks Gene and Laurene for good food and delightful conversation.

Old Grandpa Lloyd


The Sleepless Quiet

Monday’s hole in the night began about 11:30. I fixed toast and hot chocolate and retired to the lounge chair. Sure quiet at midnight.

I traced the décor on my living room walls and shelves—every object told a story. A life-size pine-cone grouse carried me back to age 12 and Boy Scout Troop 18. The arty tin quail came from last winter in Tucson. Harvey Sandstrom painted the Boundary Waters watercolor from memory and Oden Alreck inscribed the trowel in a Canadian Indian village. The story knife was a gift from A Native lad in Alaska. Mike Rucinski carved the diamond willow walking stick. In his youth we fished Upper Michigan trout streams.

The prized petrified wood came from the Box Y Ranch in Wyoming and the parchment horse painting was given to me in Japan. I bought the wood-trimmed wall clock for Elsie’s lonely hospice room. Waves of memory rocked me to sleep. How blest were my 92 years.

I could have placed a bad memory alongside each object—things didn’t always go well. I could have hung shrouds of failure. But I’m done with that.  I hope you are.

What hangs on your walls in the sleepless quiet?

Old Grandpa Lloyd

Anniversary Celebration at the Swamp Sisters

Last Friday I joined six Woodland Garden ladies for breakfast at the Swamp Sisters, a small café like no other in the world. For starters, they are only open 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM Fridays and Saturdays during summer months. Looking for bacon, steaks, or BBQ ribs? Go somewhere else. The Swamp Sisters serve only buffalo meat. They will substitute ham for bison sausage if you’re picky.

I stumbled on the 40-seat café ten years ago. Stumbled is the right word. They run no ads and post no road signs. A friend asked Elsie and me if we knew about it the café.  Our first visit hooked us.

The Swamp Sisters was a natural for the Woman Today magazine I was writing for. I got the assignment, and it turned out to be one of the most fun pieces I ever wrote. A start-up business on a low-traffic rural road 25 miles from a population center would seem to spell certain failure, but the sisters picked their home farmstead for the site and put up a building. When you visit today, be prepared to wait. You may be invited to share a table with strangers.

Our group visit last Friday was filled with great cooked-from-scratch food, laughter, and friendship-building, recognizing my third anniversary at Woodland Garden. I value neighbor friends more and more as time passes. We are 7 men and 55 women. We love our den-mother-manager Sandy.  Maintaining harmony among 62 mostly-old people from different backgrounds would send Solomon to his shrink.

When I moved in three years ago, I chose not to come on as a retired clergyman, but my pastor heart often finds ways to be helpful, always honoring the religious neutrality of the facility.

Residents form into circles of common interest. I join in the monthly worship led by a warm-hearted Lutheran pastor. But my primary interest is the library (and librarian) and our book group. Mostly, I work at being a good neighbor, and occasionally I think up fun stuff to do, like visiting the Swamp Sisters.

Old Grandpa Lloyd