Modesty Never Hurts
Planning camp meetings has never been easy for those in charge. And certainly, the large crowds that were expected to attend the camp meeting in 1876 in Groveland, Massachusetts, would be no exception. But making large plans never bothered Elder Stephen N. Haskell (1833-1922).
A grove of oak and pine trees was selected as the campsite. Train tracks of the Boston and Maine railroad ran along one side of the grove. The location was also near a river so that ferry boats could bring people out for the day to the meetings.
As the time approached, Elder Haskell made out a list of special favors that he hoped to get the railroad company to do for their camp meeting. With another young minister, Asa T. Robinson (1850-1949), accompanying him, the two men went to see Mr. Ferber, president of the railroad company.
The list of things that Elder Haskell wanted filled two large sheets of legal-sized paper. Among other things, he asked that two carloads of freight be transferred free of charge from the storage room at South Lancaster, Massachusetts, about forty miles to the campground. And, of course, he then wanted everything taken back for free when the meetings were over. He also wanted free passes for the conference and committee men and half-fare permits for campers coming from a distance. Elder Haskell told the president that they would need trains run on Sundays as well as weekdays, with extra trains run during the week. He also indicated that a platform needed to be built beside the track, and water piped to the grounds.
Mr. Ferber glanced over the list and frowned a bit, but a few minutes talking with the two ministers put him in a better mood. He tapped a bell to call an office boy. "Take these men to the manager's office," he ordered.
The manager read over the list and then looked up, "Gentleman, why don't you ask for the world?"
"Oh, we thought we would be a little modest," responded Elder Haskell. However, in the end the two men got everything they asked for - except that the platform did not end up being built quite as long as they originally requested (E. A. Robinson, S. N. Haskell, pp. 339-341).
And what about the camp meeting itself? It was at this Groveland camp meeting on Sunday morning that Ellen White spoke on the subject of Christian temperance to 20,000 people, the largest crowd she ever talked to at one time. River steamers ran twice a day from Haverhill, four miles away, and every hour on Sunday. Eighteen trains ran each day, all stopping at the campground. The 2:30 train on Sunday afternoon had fifteen cars, literally packed with people. The platform and steps were so full that the conductor had to climb on the roof in order to signal the engineer. He reported that it would have taken twenty-five railroad cars to carry all the people who were waiting for a ride at the depot out to the campground. (Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White A Biography : The Lonely Years 1876-1891, pp. 45-46).
In the end, Elder Haskell's "modest" proposal turned out to be a real success for all concerned.