Merry Christmas to My Catskill Buddies

Everyone loves a good fish story!
Talk techniques, experiences , gear, etc
Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 1221
Joined: Fri Apr 24, 2009 8:53 am
Location: Austin, TX and Island Park, ID

Merry Christmas to My Catskill Buddies

Post by ewpeper »

Some of you guys may know this story, but to me it was Brand New. In any case, if you haven't read or known this, it's my Christmas Gift to you, and I hope you have a "White Christmas."


It was Christmas, 1938, just a few weeks after Kate Smith had debuted his "God Bless America" on her radio show, that songwriter Irving Berlin presented his wife with a house and fifty-two acres in Lew Beach.

The property would become his country home for the last fifty years of his life, and it was there, according to longtime friend and collaborator Howard L. Gorr, that Berlin conceived and wrote "White Christmas," which would become one of the biggest selling Christmas songs of all time.
Berlin, of course, was Jewish. He was born– the son of a cantor– Israel Isadore Baline in what is today Belarus, and came to America with his family at the age of five. His wife, the former Ellin Mackay, however, was a devout Irish Catholic, and their marriage had been quite controversial. She was in mourning as the holidays approached in 1938, following the death of her father a few months before, and Berlin hoped the lavish surprise would lift her spirits.

Their eldest daughter, Mary Ellin Barrett, recalls the present in her touching 1994 book, "Irving Berlin: A Daughter’s Memoir."
"It was in a town with a funny name for the mountains, Lew Beach (‘Not a beach,’ he kept saying, ‘Lew Beach, the man who founded the town’) and a funny split personality. A half hour north of Grossinger’s, still in the heart of the borscht circuit, with its own Jewish hotel, the Edgewood Inn, and an orthodox camp run by a rabbi, Lew Beach was also an outpost for non-Jewish ‘old New Yorkers’ who liked to fish or live the rustic life," Barrett wrote. "A few days later, we went to have a look. My father was nervous - what had he done indeed? - my mother loud in her expressions of delight as we drove through the tumbledown town of Lew Beach, past a white-steepled church, a green-shuttered farmhouse, then to the right onto a wooden bridge over a partly frozen stream. And there, across a snowy field, it stood, ‘our very own country house’: no pillars, no broad terrace and tall French windows, just an old, low-slung dwelling with peeling white paint and a dingy roof."

The Berlins, of course, almost immediately began fixing the place up, often staying at the Edgewood Inn while the work was in progress. Once they finally moved in the following June, they’d never leave.

"Now in the summer weather, it was even more apparent that my father had fallen in love with this piece of land," Barrett remembers. "‘For the first time in my life I am interested in something besides my work,’ he said. ‘I hope it lasts.’"

Irving Berlin often said that buying the Lew Beach property was the best thing he’d ever done. He told interviewers that he loved the mountains of Sullivan County because of the fresh air they provided, and because they reminded him of pictures he had seen of his birthplace in Russia. Besides, he loved to fish, and his property included a long stretch of Shin Creek, which emptied into the world famous Beaverkill trout stream.
"In those early days he didn’t yet stock the stream with golden trout my mother became too fond of to eat," Barrett wrote. "We fished for what there was, and spent hours upstream, by a deep, narrow pool we called ‘the coffin,’ watching for an enormous old trout that refused to be caught. We swam in the icy pool under the big fall; we had picnics on the flat gray rocks, a procession from the house bringing food and drink, a uniformed butler with the silver cocktail shaker, maids in pink bringing the salads, the homemade potato chips, the herring from Grossinger’s, the steaks from Dinty Moore’s, that my father grilled on an open fire."

This lavish lifestyle during the depths of the depression notwithstanding, Berlin’s greatest accomplishments were still ahead. During the 1940s, while America busied itself with the business of war, he worked on a number of top-notch movies, including “This is the Army,” in which he also appeared, singing "How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning," “Blue Skies,” with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, for which Berlin’s "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song" was nominated for an Academy Award, “Easter Parade,” with Astaire and Judy Garland, and “Holiday Inn,” in which Bing Crosby introduced the world to the unforgettable "White Christmas."

The song, inspired by and written right here in Sullivan County, won an Oscar, and would become the best-selling song ever for a time, eventually being featured in at least four different movies.

Berlin cherished the privacy of his mountain retreat, and did not socialize a lot while in Lew Beach. He traveled about the county only rarely, usually in a chauffeur-driven limousine. The few locals who did get to know him invariably remember him as being generous and gracious. When the county held its first ever Hall of Fame awards presentation dinner at Grossinger’s in 1962, Berlin was one of seven prominent locals presented with a silver statuette of General John Sullivan, for whom the county was named.

Berlin composed over 1,500 songs in his lifetime, including some of our best-known titles. "And it is there we find our history, our holidays, our homes and our hearts," Walter Cronkite was moved to remark on the songwriter’s 100th birthday.

Irving Berlin died in 1989 at the age of 101.
John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. E-mail him at
A mountain is a fact -- a trout is a moment of beauty known only to men who seek them.
Al McClane in his Introduction to The Practical Fly Fisherman . . . often erroneously attributed to Arnold Gingrich

User avatar
Posts: 343
Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2013 10:38 am
Location: Wyckoff, NJ

Re: Merry Christmas to My Catskill Buddies

Post by Barleywine »

What a wonderful story Eric. Now when I hear "White Christmas" I'll know that Irving Berlin was enchanted by the same beauty of the Catskills as are so many of us.

Thank you for sharing that, and Merry Christmas to you.

"The secret to life is honesty and fair dealing. When you can fake that, you've got it made." ---Groucho Marx

ted patlen
Posts: 2011
Joined: Thu Apr 30, 2009 10:03 am

Re: Merry Christmas to My Catskill Buddies

Post by ted patlen »

i guess i'll be humming his song as i drive up beaverkill valley this stuff
merry christmas to all...

User avatar
Posts: 5145
Joined: Thu Jan 07, 2010 3:20 pm
Location: Catskills

Re: Merry Christmas to My Catskill Buddies

Post by Eperous »

Great story... and Merry Christmas to one and all....


User avatar
Posts: 496
Joined: Tue Apr 13, 2010 7:25 pm
Location: Milford, PA

Re: Merry Christmas to My Catskill Buddies

Post by quadfish »

That was fun to read! Thanks, Eric!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!!!
"A man who would fool a fish with a feather would probably go to a brothel without carryng any money." Charles Dannen

Posts: 93
Joined: Fri Oct 31, 2014 10:56 am
Location: North Yorkshire

Re: Merry Christmas to My Catskill Buddies

Post by Bishthefish1 »

Nice potted history Eric.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all from North Yorkshire.

'Most anglers spend their lives making rules for trout,
and trout spend theirs breaking them'
- George Aston

Posts: 159
Joined: Thu Jan 10, 2013 9:08 am

Re: Merry Christmas to My Catskill Buddies

Post by Vance »

Hi, Great story. Never knew he lived in Lew Beach. My cousin has a place above Lew Beach so I must go pass I.Berlin's place a lot. Every one have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. May see some of you people on the Bkill in May or June, Bill the mailman

Posts: 620
Joined: Mon Dec 23, 2013 4:39 pm
Location: Harford County, Maryland

Re: Merry Christmas to My Catskill Buddies

Post by tie2fish »

As someone who visits the area a couple of times a year,this resonates with a non-Catskill resident as well, Eric. For that I thank you. Let there be a Merry Christmas to all as well, and may 2016 be a year of strong flows and heavy hatches.

User avatar
Niklas Dahlin
Posts: 495
Joined: Sun May 03, 2009 11:49 am

Re: Merry Christmas to My Catskill Buddies

Post by Niklas Dahlin »

Dito... from a Sweden Catskill buddy :-)
Flyfishing is more than just catching fish.

User avatar
Posts: 146
Joined: Wed Oct 22, 2014 11:18 pm
Location: Upstate New York

Re: Merry Christmas to My Catskill Buddies

Post by Night_Browns »

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. :-)
I'm an experienced practitioner of the mystical art of night fishing for large browns. I don't normally catch many small fish.

I fish where you fish, you're just not there when I am. ;-)

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 8 guests