Published stories from George Miller, a journalist, photographer, educator, carpenter, world traveler, dog-lover and home owner. You can reach him at

Monday, November 28, 2005

Going Natural

Here's an old story from a few years ago, published in the Daily News on 8.8.03:

AS A JOURNALIST, I've met movie stars and musicians, conversed with athletes, shaken hands with presidents and interviewed Shaquille O'Neal's mother. I've trampled through burned-out buildings, walked through drug-infested neighborhoods, ridden in the back of police cars, and I've been yelled at by the mayor.

Nothing in my career, however, has ever been more difficult than talking with Jerry Cosimo.

Jerry Cosimo is an unassuming 43-year-old auto parts consultant from Warminster. He is thin with silver hair and a slightly suspicious smile. We chatted poolside for a while and then had lunch, which was fine. Then we did the photo shoot and things went downhill.

Cosimo wouldn't put his clothes back on.

After the shoot, we continued talking and Jerry stood there as naked as the day he was born. He was comfortable and relaxed, chatting openly and freely.

By contrast, I was a bit tense. I just kept thinking to myself, "Maintain eye contact. Don't look down."

Cosimo is a regular at the Sunny Rest Lodge Nudist Resort in Palmerton, Pa., about 80 miles north of Center City Philadelphia. During the summer months, he is there every weekend with hundreds of other naked people - lounging by the pool, playing basketball or tennis, hiking the trails or riding all-terrain vehicles across the 190 acres of wooded land.

"You forget about all your worries when you come here," Cosimo remarked.

Sunny Rest Lodge is one of five nudist resorts in Pennsylvania, among the 240 resorts in the country devoted to vacationing in the buff. They serve a constantly growing number of people looking for the ultimate natural experience. According to the American Association for Nude Recreation, 40 million Americans have skinny-dipped in mixed company. The AANR consists of more than 50,000 dues-paying, card-carrying nudists.

"I told my girlfriend I was a nudist within 10 minutes of meeting her," Cosimo said. "And she said she couldn't wait to go."

The grounds at the resort have the look of a typical Poconos campground except that nearly everyone is naked. Gravel roads wind around tall trees, leading you to campsites, recreational areas and RV lots. The RV sites are rented but many of the mobile homes are fortified with elaborate decks, hot tubs, verandas and gardens. The same people have rented some of the lots for more than 25 years.

"Some people fall in love with this place," said Irv Mesher, a former New York City Fire Department battalion chief and co-owner of the resort.

Mesher, 78, who fought on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II, bought the resort in 1978 after serving 24 years in the fire department. A nudist since 1958, he had previously rented a cabin at the resort. The resort opened in 1945.

"People think that a nudist camp is sexual," said Myra Mesher, Irv's former daughter-in-law and current partner in the business. "But it's really about freedom."

Gwen Schuster, a 45-year-old communications specialist, rents a cabin that she has renovated over the 12 years she has been visiting Sunny Rest Lodge. She showed me pictures from when she did the work: Schuster, modestly dressed in hard hat, tool belt and thong bikini, hammering drywall. Schuster and other guests lowering a water tank into the ground - while naked. Schuster and a friend peering over the new deck - naked.

"Everyone asks, 'Don't you get sunburn?' " Schuster said. "We're naked, not stupid."

She applies suntan lotion just like anybody would. She just covers a little more ground.

"There is the myth that nudists are hippie-type people," said Myra Mesher. "Most nudists are conservatives. It's not Woodstock around here."

Guests of the resort have included judges, teachers, firefighters and doctors. People from throughout the United States, Canada, Belgium and China have gotten naked here. And while the resort primarily draws couples, their guests range in age from newborns to senior citizens.

"People think that everyone at a nudist camp is going to look great, like an Adonis," said Schuster. "It's not like that."

Most of the guests during my visit were middle-aged or older, not necessarily the kind of people you want to see naked. Everyone carries a towel with them to sit on, for hygienic reasons. Apparently, the towels have other uses as well.

"Occasionally, you see a guy, you know, being obvious," said Myra Mesher. "I just tell them to sit down, it will go away."

As we talked, naked people lounged by the pool, swam laps and ordered food at the restaurant. I saw a speed walker wearing nothing but sneakers, headphones, sunglasses and a cap. Jerry had his towel draped over his shoulder and nothing else.

I began to feel a little uncomfortable being fully clothed. I felt like an outsider, unable to enjoy the breeze where I don't ordinarily feel the breeze, trapped within the confines of my clothes.

But for the sake of professionalism, I kept my pants on.