Since 1903, Camp Tecumseh has welcomed young male campers to New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee for summers of sports and outdoor adventures to “make good boys better.”
But at least two campers who summered there had a very different experience of life at the camp. They say that at different times between 1999 and 2013 they were sexually abused by Matthew J. Scavitto, 37, a former camper and counselor who has since been convicted of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania.
Police in the small, lakeside town of Moultonborough, N.H., are now investigating the accusations, which have cast a pall over the 350-acre camp that draws many boys from the Philadelphia area and boasts of alumni including Prince Albert II of Monaco, the son of actress Grace Kelly; and the late Bert Bell, the first NFL commissioner.
One former camper who said he was molested at the camp by Scavitto during the early 2000s said life at Tecumseh required navigating a maze of demeaning and embarrassing practices.
“It was ‘Lord of the Flies,’ ” said Will Addis, 30, referring to the novel about boys who descend into chaos after being stranded on an uninhabited island. “It has a pervasive culture of toxic masculinity and abusive practices.”
Addis, of Nantucket, sued Camp Tecumseh last fall in New Hampshire, alleging that Scavitto sexually assaulted him repeatedly from 2001 and 2003.
Camp life, Addis alleged, celebrated games that sometimes took on sexual overtones and primitive accommodations like a shared shower area without curtains between campers and “The Widdow,” a bathroom with no privacy doors.
Campers who chafed at Tecumseh’s rituals were vulnerable to being hazed or bullied, Addis said, and the camp also permitted nude swimming, pranking others by twisting nipples, and having campers apply IcyHot to their testicles in a Mercy-style game.
Scavitto, of West Chester, Pa., declined to comment. He has not been charged in the Tecumseh matter, but, in a separate case, pleaded guilty in 2015 to charges of institutional sexual assault and corruption of minors and was sentenced to 11 1/2 months to 1 year and 11 months in prison, records show.
Scavitto was prosecuted after two students at The Phelps School in suburban Philadelphia, accused him of sexually abusing them while he worked there as a teacher, coach, and dorm supervisor, police said.
One of the Phelps students also attended Camp Tecumseh and told investigators that Scavitto sexually abused him at the camp in 2013, a police report said.
Scavitto was at the camp from 1994 to 2014, according to Camp Tecumseh, which cut ties with him after his Pennsylvania arrest in June 2015.
As campers returned Saturday to Camp Tecumseh, Addis said he wants to share his story publicly and highlight aspects of camp culture that he believes facilitated Scavitto’s abuse of boys.
The state of the police investigation is unclear. Moultonborough police Sergeant Jody Baker said the investigation is open and she was not “in a position to comment.”
Addis and the camp said they reached an out-of-court settlement earlier this year.
Photos and videos posted on a camp alumni website and YouTube show some of the practices and old-school, rough-edged play that concern Addis.
One photo of a game called “Buck Buck” shows a chain of kneeling campers clutching the waist of the person in front of them as an adult man straddles the back of one participant. One set of players tries to build a pile as large as possible on top of a second group of players who are linked together.
The camp said it stopped sanctioning nude swimming in the early 1990s and built a dividing wall in the bathroom in the early 2000s. The bathroom and showers were renovated this year to enclose toilets and install curtains around each shower.
The camp didn’t directly address specific games or pranks, but said it has “recognized that what once may have been considered adolescent humor or physical pranks of innocent intent have no place at Camp.”
“While bullying and hazing have never been permitted or tolerated, we have recognized that even well-intended or seemingly innocent jokes and pranks were no longer appropriate or supportive of Camp’s values and mission,” the camp wrote in response to questions from the Globe. “These changes were part of our concerted effort to create an environment where minors feel safe and are protected by clear boundaries, guidelines, and expectations and multiple levels of oversight.”
The camp said it created a new senior-level position, director of camper safety and wellness, to oversee the protection of minors, and retained outside experts to train staff. Tuition for this summer’s seven-week session is $7,700, and scholarships are available from the nonprofit camp.
A 3 1/2 page camp statement said it is “committed to an environment where minors and adults feel empowered to report incidents and have a clear understanding of what to look for and how to prevent and stop abuse.”
“Nothing that we do now can undo the harm caused to our former campers, both those who were directly impacted, as well as the many other campers, counselors, and senior leaders whose sense of safety and security were shaken by these events. We are deeply sorry to the former campers who were abused by Scavitto, and so very grateful for their courage in speaking up and standing strong.”
On Thursday, the camp issued a letter informing the Tecumseh community that the Globe was preparing a story about Addis and described its efforts to address his concerns.
Being close to Scavitto, Addis said, shielded him from hazing and bullying.
In the last year, Addis said, he learned that in 2003 a counselor came upon him and Scavitto in bed together in their cabin, and reported it to his father, also a camp employee. The counselor and his father in turn, Addis said, approached the camp director.
“Nothing happened,” Addis said. “This was incredibly public. People knew what was going on but they didn’t do anything.”
Reached by the Globe, the former counselor said he couldn’t speak and hung up. His father didn’t respond to e-mails.
Camp Tecumseh said that an internal investigation launched after Scavitto’s Pennsylvania arrest revealed that the counselor and his father approached the camp director during the early 2000s with a “concern about boundaries, rather than about abuse.” The camp said it shared the information with New Hampshire police after learning about it in 2015.
James Talbot, the camp director in 2003, said he has no recollection of being approached.
“Nor did I have any other information that any of this behavior took place while I was camp director,” Talbot wrote in an e-mail. “Had I known, I would have put an immediate stop to it and notified the authorities.”
Addis’s lawyer, Eric MacLeish, said the camp missed an opportunity to stop Scavitto years before he was accused of molesting boys in Pennsylvania.
“By the time Will was molested, the mandatory abuse reporting laws had been in effect in New Hampshire for decades,” said MacLeish, a New Hampshire attorney who has represented many child sex abuse victims. “It is impossible to understand why the Camp failed to investigate, report, or fire Scavitto when it learned that he was in bed at 10: 30 at night with a [10-]year-old child.”
After Scavitto’s 2015 arrest, the camp said it hired the law firm Cozen O’Connor to investigate, contacted the families of current and former campers, alerted police and child protective services in New Hampshire, and added staff to ensure individual campers are never alone with a counselor.
It was unclear whether state officials in New Hampshire were informed about the alleged abuse. A spokesman for the state’s child welfare division said state and federal laws require it to protect the privacy of any individuals involved in the agency.
Responding to a records request, the state’s health and human services agency produced one document from Scavitto’s tenure as a counselor, a 2014 report that noted beds were too close together in the cabin visited by the inspector. A department spokesman said other files were purged after five years, and that the agency had only been authorized in 2020 to oversee camps.
At Tecumseh in 2001, Addis was assigned to a cabin of 18 campers, where Scavitto had arranged for him to sleep next to him, Addis recalled. At night and during the daytime rest period, Addis said Scavitto sexually assaulted him.
Around camp, Addis said Scavitto held his hand, played with his hair, and put his arm around him.
“He told me he loved me,” Addis said. “He told me not tell anybody this is our little secret.”
He added: “I almost felt that I had better treatment than any other camper and some counselors. I felt like I had such privilege at that camp.”
Last March, Addis said, the closing of the economy due to the coronavirus pandemic set off a change in him. He said childhood memories of Camp Tecumseh and Scavitto filled his mind and he took action.
Up until then, Addis said, he feared what happened to him at camp.
“I thought I would take this to the grave,” he said.