Written by Stephanie Jass
“Over hill, over dale, we will hit the happy trail to Arcadia, we all love so well…”
Just seeing this opening line will probably initiate an earworm for most Arcadians. We know it as the “Arcadia Camp Song,” and it’s most famous for its shout of “AR-CA-DEEE-AH!” during the chorus. This song, like many of the Camp songs we still sing, was created by changing the lyrics of an existing popular song to apply to RKD. This was a common practice in American popular music – the Star Spangled Banner’s tune was originally a British drinking song – and it makes sense, as it’s certainly easier to get folks singing to a tune they already know than writing a whole new one.
The Walther League (the original owners of Camp Arcadia) already had songs of their own when they established RKD in 1922, and many of those songs were sung at Camp Arcadia. But campers wanted their own songs, so folks started adapting lyrics to create songs for RKD. Frequent dean Rev. P. E. Kretzmann wrote many of the early Camp songs, and he and Chief Weiherman together created the first RKD song book, which was sold at Camp.
Song books contained much more than Camp songs (see photo). These songs were sung throughout the week, including on hikes and at campfires. Mealtimes might end with a hymn, and lectures would begin with music of some sort. Because the Camp/Walther League songs were set to existing music, the tune would be listed under the title. (Not all of these tunes remain well-known, but you might recognize a few!)
When a song’s author was known, his or her name/initials would be included at the end. But while some songs were popular, others never really caught on, and in the meantime Arcadians continued to write new songs! Weiherman decided to update the song book, adding new songs like “Days Filled with Sunshine” (Immanuel Jass/Rudy Fiedler) in 1936 and “Come Ye Back to RKD” (Mom Weiherman) in 1938, and moving the more popular songs to the front.
When the Walther League sold RKD to the Lutheran Camp Association in 1969, the song book had to be updated, too; references to the Walther League no longer made sense. The very first song in the old book serves as an example: the title – “W.L.C. Camp Song” – became simply the “Arcadia Camp Song.” (see photo) and the opening line changed from “WLC, RKD, Walther Leaguers hit the trail” to “Over hill, over dale, we will hit the happy trail.” (Most songs simply switched “Leaguers” to “campers,” but not every change was so simple!)
Because so many of the songs were paired with popular tunes, some songs fell out of favor as their tunes did. But some songs persisted regardless of the tune’s familiarity. I would wager that Arcadians are the largest group of people in America who can easily sing “On the Road to Mandalay” (the tune for “Come Ye Back to RKD”)! And I was a full-grown adult before I realized that the tune for the Arcadia Camp Song was the Army theme song. The few songs with unique melodies are even more special; after all, the only people who know how to sing “Days Filled with Sunshine” are Arcadians – it’s our “secret handshake!”
Last year, Ryan McKenna and his team of volunteers worked tirelessly to create an updated Camp Arcadia song book for the 100th Anniversary, including both the newest RKD songs (“We Thank You God for Camp Arcadia” by Bob Unger, and “These Many Years We Have Been Blessed” by Kevin Hildebrand and Stephen Starke) and our old favorites. To honor that work, let’s all sing “Hi Hi Hee, Arcadia for me” and find a place to shout out “AR-CA-DEE-AH!!” with gusto.