Jambo ’85: Hurricane, Beach Boys and legendary Apple bags

1985-jamboree-logoA hurricane that overturned tents and latrines, a free Apple Computer bag that required a daylong wait in line and a performance by the Beach Boys.

The 1985 National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., produced stories that have been told and retold for more than 30 years. The jamboree’s nickname has proved all too prescient: “The Spirit Lives On.”

Last week I told you how former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who died this month, brought her anti-drug message to the 1985 Jamboree. But her memorable appearance was one of several indelible moments from that event.

The Diamond Jubilee, which celebrated the BSA’s 75th birthday, will be most remembered for Hurricane Bob, which was downgraded to a tropical depression by the time it hit A.P. Hill. Still, the storm unleashed heavy rains and high winds on the 32,615 Scouts and Scouters camping there.

Hurricane-Bob-jamboree“Our whole campsite was flattened,” a Scout named Mark Demkee told The Morning Call newspaper. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. They had to send all our sleeping bags out to the dry cleaners.”

Their sleeping bags soaked and tents displaced, the Scouts had every right to complain. But they remained cheerful throughout.

“The storms are great. That’s basically all we’ve had,” a Scout named Jeff Elliott told the Los Angeles Times.

Jeff pointed toward some Scouts frantically digging a moat around their tents for flood drainage (a no-no today).

“Look at them,” he told the newspaper reporter. “They’re digging trenches. We’ve already done ours! Not that it will hold up.”

“The storms are very fun,” another Scout, Joey Berson, told the LA Times. “All of a sudden, it just happens!”

William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt, who later recapped the 1985 Jamboree for Scouting magazine, used a Baden-Powell quote to describe the storm’s legacy.

“Anybody can be a Scout when the sun is shining,” B-P once said. “A person proves he is a real Scout by being cheerful under trying circumstances.”

A big release from Apple


These days, lines form outside Apple Stores for the release of phones, tablets and watches.

But at the 1985 Jamboree, a year and a half after Apple’s infamous “1984” Super Bowl ad, it was a simple messenger bag that had Apple fans going crazy.

The bags, perfect for carrying around patches, had a small, multicolor Apple logo in the top left corner. And the best part: Apple was giving them away for free.

As one Scout memorabilia collector remembers: “There was just something about them. They seemed the perfect way to tote around your stuff.”

Rumor had it waiting in line to get one of these bags took all day.

My BSA colleague John Churchill attended the 1985 Jamboree and brought in his bag for me to photograph. He’s kept it in pristine condition for all these years.

Music from the Beach Boys


With some members wearing official blue Jamboree neckerchiefs, the Beach Boys rocked the opening arena show at the 1985 Jamboree.

“We’ve never played anything this unique,” singer Mike Love told the crowd, as reported by the Associated Press.

Members of the band caught patches thrown on the stage by Scouts in the crowd.

You were there?

Did you attend (or serve on staff at) the 1985 National Scout Jamboree? Share your favorite memories below.

Photo: Heart of America Council 1985 National Jamboree Troop 218

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.