Lake Celeste

Lake Celeste: A small lake community founded in 1948 near Peekskill, NY, where I spent many happy summers.

A great deal of mythology grew up around the swimming area... the most important thing everyone needed to know was that you Didn't Go In The Muck. The muck contained all manner of unspeakables; dragons, ten-headed turtles, and the Lake Celeste Monster (an apparition which, as you got older, you tended to stop believing in -- until you saw it yourself. It's really a very old, very large turtle with a weird bump on its shell) to name a few. Real dangers lurked in the muck, too, notably leeches. The snake side didn't really have a name; you just didn't go there. It didn't have a mythology like the Muck's.



There were several "tests", administered by the adults:

  • swimming test: not really official, but it was presumed that if you were in the lake beyond the babies area, you'd passed this.

  • rope test: To be allowed to swim out of the 'everyone' area (but NOT into the adults area), you have to show that you can swim without stopping from the everyone area boundary all the way around the raft and back.

  • raft test: to be allowed to go on the raft unsupervised (i.e., without someone else there with you -- an observer on land doesn't count), you have to do the rope test twice without stopping.

  • lake test: this is the holy grail of childhood; most kids finally passed it around age 12 or so. The lake test entails swimming from everyone all the way out to the other side of the lake (before the reeds, though). Passing the lake test entitles you to (1) swim into the adults area, but more importantly (2) gives you the right to take the boat test.

  • boat test: allows you to go out alone in a rowboat. You are escorted to the far side of the lake, and your oars are taken away from you. You must bring yourself and the boat safely back to shore.

  • canoe test: I never passed this one, but I went out in canoes all the time anyway... theoretically, this is the same as the boat test, but you get your canoe flipped. You have to bring it in full of water -- not a trivial task.

The community was dying as I grew up; it was pretty much gone by the time I stopped going every summer, and the time when my grandma sold our house. I was one of the last to learn the culture, traditions, etc. that had been created from 1950-1980 by my mom's generation (my mom's family was one of the first to move into the community in the 1950s). I was very active in the Lake community as a kid, before age 12 or so.