senior living

Rescuing the Borscht Belt

Allen Frishman and his museum

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 5/19/21

MOUNTAINDALE, NY — “Last two years of college, I brought my guitar,” said Allen Frishman.

That led to an introduction to a guy who had a jug band, which led to Chicken …

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senior living

Rescuing the Borscht Belt

Allen Frishman and his museum

Posted

MOUNTAINDALE, NY — “Last two years of college, I brought my guitar,” said Allen Frishman.

That led to an introduction to a guy who had a jug band, which led to Chicken Lips.

But before we get into the band, or the museum, let’s just introduce you to Allen Frishman.

Allen’s story

Allen Frishman is a retired plumber. His father was a plumber. His grandparents on both sides owned bungalow colonies (Hemlock Grove and Sadownick’s). He and his wife, Lorrie, live in a ranch house that is definitely bigger on the inside than the outside. The backyard stretches into woodsy infinity, a winding path (that Frishman built) leading you through a blueberry bog to a campsite (where you can stretch an electrical cord, because who wants to sleep on the bare earth at 70?)

He’s a musician who played in a series of bands, rock and otherwise, played the accordion, played the guitar and sang.

Frishman is also a retired building inspector for the Town of Fallsburg. He saw the piles of trash as hotels and bungalow colonies were taken down. Sometimes that trash contained history, and he brought it home.

And with his homegrown museum and his stories, he can share the magic.

The jug band story

Frishman spins his tales with the skill of practice and of genuine love for these lost times.

So, about Chicken Lips?

A jug band has a guy playing a jug, and everyone else plays either homemade instruments or, you know, conventional instruments. (I almost typed “normal,” and then deleted it. Who am I to say what’s normal?)

Chicken Lips had a plungerphone, a washtub bass, a washboard and Frishman on guitar and lead vocals. Once it had ladies gargling as part of the music. Sometimes (maybe most of the time) there were jokes on each other, games and other fun. They cleaned it up a bit if there were kids present.

“We played ‘Flushed from the Bathroom of your Heart,’” he said.

They played all around the area, five years in the 1970s. “Then we put the act in a box” until “25 years later, we revived it... we played all over.”

But life happens. The band went dormant again.

The museum story

First thing you see as you walk into the house—well, maybe the shelf of old soda bottles is the first thing; there are old Yoo-Hoo bottles, old 7-Up bottles, Mission Beverage bottles. “That’s local to here,” Frishman said.

OK, the second thing you see is right next to the door: the barber chair. “I got my hair cut in that chair.” When the shop closed, his dad got the chair and had it reupholstered.

There’s the television, hidden in a recess behind a painting. Sometimes, people who aren’t supposed to have televisions ask for a setup like that, Frishman says with a grin.

There’s a seat from the Lyceum theatre in Woodridge.

And that’s just the living room.

Intermission

You might ask why a list of objects, no matter how historical, constitutes a person’s profile.

Sometimes, we are our stuff. Sometimes the stuff holds our memories; you pick a thing up and, just like that, the mind pulls the story out of storage and offers it up like a gift.

King Herman

It’s a small thing, innocuous. In the hallway, there’s a sign for King Herman’s bungalow colony.

Lewinter was a photographer at the Concord and owned a bungalow colony that he operated in the summer, according to “Against All Odds,” a book by William Helmreich. But before that, Lewinter took photos while a prisoner in the Janowska concentration camp during World War II. Those photographs were used as evidence at Nuremberg, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Photographs, and collages of photos that he made, were donated to the museum.

He had been operating his first colony, Lewinters, for a number of years, Frishman said. Eventually, his neighbors sold him the colony across the street. “That’s when he named it King Herman as a symbol of his survival in the camps.”

When the colony was sold, Frishman found the abandoned sign. He rescued it and brought it home. King Herman deserved better.

There is more, of course

There’s the outside kitchen, with the old stove and old refrigerator—with a compressor on top! In the backyard, the signs from a drugstore in South Fallsburg, long gone. Just dumped outside for the trash to pick up and rescued by Frishman. A phone booth from the Aladdin Hotel that you’d expect Superman to leap from, or cinema reporters to charge into and knock over. Lights and a switchboard from the Regal Hotel in South Fallsburg. More signs, more bits of buildings, stuff left for the trash.

Small hotels all closed, turned into other things or razed and new buildings grown on their sites.

Book commercial

Frishman’s a retired plumber, and his first book, “Tales of a Catskill Mountain Plumber,” is full of plumbing stories and the odd useful hint. (For instance: not everything is flushable. Some things will go down, but they will not deteriorate in your tank. And that may prove a source of embarrassment.) The book is available on Amazon.

Alive in memory

There’s a second book in the works. Good thing. Frishman tells his stories and drops one-sentence descriptions (“You knew it was spring when he showed up in his Cadillac with the bums”) too fast to keep up. You need a book to hold it all.

This Catskills is full of characters, mostly gone now.

But the ranch house holds pieces of the past, carefully tended and displayed. The people are still here. Allen Frishman, in retirement, looks after them and the Borscht Belt history they were a part of.

And meanwhile, the band is reviving Chicken Lips in honor of his 70th birthday. “That was the most fun I ever had in my life, doing Chicken Lips,” Frishman says.

That must have been some fun.

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