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Barry Lewis

Memorial Day in the Catskills

Barry Lewis
Posted 5/24/24

I’m often asked why I keep writing about the Catskills.

Why I share stories about those days when tens of thousands of folks would be drawn out of the city and up to the mountains on the …

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Barry Lewis

Memorial Day in the Catskills


I’m often asked why I keep writing about the Catskills.

Why I share stories about those days when tens of thousands of folks would be drawn out of the city and up to the mountains on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend - what we used to call Decoration Day Weekend - for the unofficial start of the summer season.

When herring filled stomachs during the day and Henny filled the casino at night. When people went to the casino to see shows and not play the slots. And when you were more likely to see a hackie than a hiker.

People say I’m just living in the past. After all, no one wants to hear or talk about the Borscht Belt.

Well, for a subject no one wants to talk about, a lot of folks sure keep bringing it up.

I was just in the Capital Region and folks ask, “Where you from?” and I say “The Catskills.” Eyes light up. Big smiles. They start reeling off hotels they worked at. Where they stayed with their parents. Where they honeymooned. Sharing stories they haven’t told in years.

From the Aladdin to Zuker’s Glen Wild, our hotels were full. Guests were greeted with a warm smile, a welcoming hug and the kind of banter you’d expect from family at the Thanksgiving table — not in a hotel lobby and certainly not from the person who owned the place.

Helen Kutsher, Elaine Grossinger-Etess, Lillian Brown and Harriet Ehrlich were just a few of the hotel matriarchs who knew the first names of guests as they welcomed them back, asking them, “How was your winter?” “Are the grandkids coming up?” “Do you need a fourth for mahjong?”

It’s not the only reason, but it sure was a key reason why generation after generation knew summer meant going to the Catskills.

Of course I’m impressed with that 18-story hotel, the jewel of Resorts World Catskills’ as it rises above the trees as I make my way westbound on Route 17 near Rock Hill. But I’ll still never get used to the low-lying white clouds on the horizon of Kiamesha Lake absent the white towers that stood above the green pine trees that gave the Concord its unique and commanding Catskills look.

Call me a sentimentalist, but I’m still saddened every time I head westbound on Route 17 towards Liberty and I’m not welcomed by the sight of the fabled “Jenny G” tower that stood out among the Tudor-style buildings that was Grossinger’s, the grand dame of the of the Catskills resorts. 

Nor can I imagine looking down from the Gunks and not seeing the iconic circular tower of rooms that kept folks humming, that familiar commercial tune, “You can have it all and it’s up to you at the Nevele.”

Look, a vacation-destination casino, the family-friendly Kartrite resort and indoor waterpark and those soulful properties in Kenoza Lake, Livingston Manor and Neversink that Sims and Kirsten Foster have developed have done wonders to ease the pain of the blight and bolster the financial needs of the region. They provide hope to future generations.

I just want to remind these same future generations a lesson in what was.

When on the Sunday night of this holiday weekend the Catskills woke up from a long winter’s nap with hotels full of the biggest stars in show business.

And when the Borscht Belt was the envied tourism mecca that we’re just not ready to forget. I still have a few more stories to share. And I’m not alone.

Marisa Scheinfeld, a photojournalist raised in the Catskills whose book The Borscht Belt documented the remains of the resorts, continues her work with Sullivan County Historian John Conway on the Borscht Belt Historical Marker Project to designate places of importance and impact on the legacy of the Catskills. The next marker dedications is Saturday, May 25 at Brian Inger Park in South Fallsburg, and will be followed by the Catskills premiere of “THE CATSKILLS” documentary at the Rivoli Theater.

For more information on future marker dedications visit www.maytheborschtbewithyou.org

Barry Lewis is a longtime journalist and author who lives with his wife Bonnie in the Town of Neversink. He can be reached at      barrylewisscdemocrat@gmail.com.


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