Written by: Stephanie Jass, author of Days Filled with Sunshine: 100 Years of Camp Arcadia
Many people have asked me about surprising things I found while researching the 100th book. There are several answers, but the one that is both surprising AND mysterious concerns the Smash game.
My siblings and I were avid Smash players growing up, and our understanding was that it was a game invented at Camp Arcadia, likely by Camp Director Dr. John Friedrich. “Doc” Friedrich, Director in 1969 and ‘70, taught Physical Education at Duke University and was a big fan of Smash, so this made sense. I’d certainly never seen the game anywhere else, so it was completely believable that Smash was “a Camp thing.” When my brother John (RKD caretaker from 1995-2015) completely rebuilt the box – it had deteriorated over time – he didn’t have any records indicating when or how it was built, so he disassembled it piece by piece and used those pieces to create new ones. As far as anyone knew, it was the second Smash box ever made.
So, imagine my surprise when former Archives staffer Cambray Sampson came across a mention in Chief Weiherman’s 1954 Annual Report that he had spent $73.50 for a “Deluxe Smash Game” that year. We were shocked! It was listed with program/recreation expenses, but no other mention of it was made in that report or after. What else could it be but our Smash game, at that price? But that meant it was purchased, not built on site. I was intrigued, and decided I had to find out where the Smash box came from and who built it…the hunt was on!
My initial googling showed mostly results for “Super Smash Bros.” (a popular video game), but I finally found a few articles mentioning the game and its inventors. Then, using Google’s patent search engine, I found the patents for the game and saw its evolution from a ping-pong tabletop game to its full-fledged “Smash” version.
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The Tribune article revealed that the game was refined and promoted by Henry Sistrunk, an employee of the YMCA in Chicago. I was able to track down Henry Sistrunk’s daughter, Ellyn Kroupa, who kindly responded to my random email and shared her memories of Smash. She and her father spent a few summers driving around the East Coast visiting resorts and camps with the Smash box folded up in the back of their station wagon, trying to sell it. She remembers those summers fondly as wonderful time spent with her dad. (He was profoundly disappointed that Smash never really took off, so she was happy to hear that we still play it at RKD!) She also graciously sent photos of promotional materials for the game, which included pictures of her and her friends playing Smash. (One of these is in the in book on p. 100).
Chief Weiherman lived in Chicago in the off-season, and he certainly may have read this article or had connections to the YMCA. However he heard about it, that same year Chief bought a “Deluxe Smash Game” for RKD and had it shipped north (the “Deluxe” version was treated for outdoor use). What happened after that is the mysterious part of this story…
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Even though it’s clear from the records that Camp purchased Smash in 1954 (and paid for shipping, so it was delivered), there’s no record of its actual appearance until several years after Chief passed in 1963. The earliest picture in the Archives is from the late 1960s, which corresponds to when Doc Friedrich was Director.
Campers and staffers from the late 1950s do not remember seeing it or playing it at the time. Former staffer Andy Feldt recalled that Friedrich was an avid promoter of the game; he taught campers the rules and made it a tournament activity, which is probably why folks thought he had invented it.
So, just where WAS the Smash box so many years? It seems unlikely that Chief just forgot about it; he remembered to include it in his end-of-season report, and it was a significant expenditure! (Interestingly, he never mentions it by name ever again in any of his many reports or letters.)There was certainly room to set up the court in several places, but there’s no mention of that. There are specific mentions in the records of creating space for badminton, tether ball, and even handball, but Smash doesn’t appear. It was collapsible, so could they not figure out how to set it up? Ellyn Kroupa recalled that many of the resorts they sold Smash boxes to reported back to them that guests found the game too noisy, so they stopped playing it. Was that a problem at Camp? Interestingly, the same year Smash was purchased, two staffers created an ersatz golf course east of the tennis courts which was in use for many years. Perhaps Chief did not want to introduce another new sport the same year? (It’s rather amazing that wherever it was, it survived the Firnhaber years when many other Camp items were disposed of…)
I have so many questions, but so far only theories for answers. We may never know the whole story, but if there are any Arcadians who can shed light on this mystery, we’d love to hear from you…in the meantime, I’ll be playing Smash!
Dr. Stephanie Jass is a third-generation Arcadian who has attended Camp Arcadia from birth, never missing a summer! She served on summer staff in 1979, 1989–1996, and 2003, working in every department except housekeeping. She has been a Teen Week counselor since 1998 and served on the LCA Foundation Board from 2014 to 2017. She may be the only camper to have worked a summer at the Big Apple (and lived to tell about it!). Among her favorite Camp memories is marrying Doug on the patio in 2007 under an arbor built for them by John Jass.