Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Aurelia and Her Man Friend at Camp Maqua

Camp Maqua in season welcomed girls and women age 16 to 35 to its rustic lakeside cabins in Poland, Maine. The above brochure said $15.50 per week included a bunk and meals plus camp activities: swimming, boating, guest lectures, fireside storytelling and singing. In 1927, college student Aurelia Schober left her home in Boston for a summer office job at Camp Maqua. She was 21. She returned to Maqua in summer 1928. One of those summers was heavenly and the other was hellish, and not because of the weather.


On Sunday, July 24, 1927, Aurelia welcomed to the camp a very special visitor: her boyfriend, an Austrian engineer guest-teaching at MIT. Dr. Karl Terzaghi in 1926 had needed a German-speaking secretary, and college sophomore Aurelia Schober, 19, daughter of two Austrians, got the job. When they met, Karl was 43, divorced, and dashing. In a few months he and Aurelia were dating. It was not a fling or a dirty-old-man thing. He admired her intelligence and sensitivity. Aurelia brought Karl home to meet her parents. Karl took her to her junior prom. They both loved the great outdoors. In July, Karl was delighted to leave stuffy Boston and spend a week at Camp Maqua near his girl.


In the camp’s guest quarters, Karl wrote in his diary, “Felt today five years younger. Strain gradually disappearing, the wrinkled skin gets smooth under the gentle touch of L.’s caressing hand.” Karl called Aurelia “Lilly,” a nickname German speakers use for a dream girl. Karl’s diaries, now in archives, describe the pair’s two-year relationship and refer to Aurelia first as “Miss Schober,” then “A.,” and then “L.” All that idyllic week, after Aurelia finished her workday, the pair spent late afternoons and evenings rowing for miles, swimming in springs and coves, hiking at sunset, dining at farmhouses. Of course they shared quiet moments. Curfew was midnight.


A geologist by training, Karl observed nature with an artist’s eye:


. . . One more hour at the lake shore. Separated from the world. No sound but the voices of sleepy birds and now and then the breeze gently passing through the foliage. Fragrant smell of the woods, and the passionate kisses of the girl, curled up on the blanket and pressing her body against mine, trembling with overflowing tenderness. Rowing home at midnight, 6 miles to the camp. No moon. The sky fairly clear, the stars shining through transparent mist. To the left an unbroken wall of dark forest, the smell of the woods saturating the atmosphere. To the north the silvery lake stretching as far as the eye can see, smooth like a mirror, bordered by a pale blue rim of low hills, covered by forest, with horizontal crests. Vast distances, pale colors, horizontal lines, here and there a little light shining at the lake shore as a link between now and the endless past and the future . . . . [1]


On July 30 Karl boarded the train to Boston and “the memory of a week in fairyland went with me.” “What shall I do with my love for this child?” he asked his diary. Karl Terzaghi (1883-1963) was famously plainspoken, but never wrote a critical or salacious word about Aurelia except to say he scolded her: “You will never make a man friend unless you get rid of your self-sufficiency!” [2]


The following summer Aurelia pined for Karl while again working at Camp Maqua. Karl was with clients in Central and South America. She worried he no longer needed her. The couple met again in autumn, only to break up. Aurelia was inconsolable. Karl moved on. His colleagues had become her friends and she probably heard he was dating a Radcliffe graduate student.


In summer 1929 Aurelia waited tables at a New Hampshire vacation hotel, saving up to go to graduate school herself. In summer 1930 she worked for camps in Pine Bush, New York, possibly at the YWCA’s Echo Lodge. [3] The Great Depression closed Maine’s Camp Maqua. [4] It was sold and became a boys’ camp in 1936.

[1] Terzaghi Diary 27.1, pp. 57-72.

[2] Ibid., p. 37.

[3] Letters Home, p. 8.

[4] Another YWCA Camp Maqua operated in Michigan until the 1970s.

The pier at Camp Maqua, Maine, 1924

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