The nude swimming item in last week’s Boomer U urban legends story generated several emails and phone calls from older men who confirmed that, indeed, boys throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were often required to swim sans bathing suits.
The reason for the practice, started in YMCAs throughout the country in the 1890s? Wooly fibers from old-style swimming trunks clogged pool filters. Wool suits were obsolete by the middle of the 20th century, but the practice continued anyway.
Keith LaMotte of Spokane wrote: “I grew up in Pasadena. It was probably the late ’40s, and I distinctly remember being ‘unsettled’ by having to swim nude at the YMCA. But since everyone else was ‘au natural’ and I wanted to swim, I joined in.”
Joe Kramer of Spokane wrote: “As a kid in the early ’50s we all swam naked at the Y in Grand Rapids, (Mich.) Later, I was employed as a swimming instructor at the YMCA in Lansing while attending Michigan State. This would have been 1963 and 1964. In the after-school program kids would be bused in for swim lessons.
“Yes, they all swam nude. (One) reason was dirt and soap could be released into the pool from the fibers of swimwear. Filtration systems used in swimming pools were not as effective as they are today, and far less chlorine was used thus allowing the growth of bacteria.”
What intrigues me about this fairly common practice back then is not the nude part. It’s the fact that no adults were saying you know this is a crazy practice and doesn’t make much sense (adult men swam in suits and so did women at municipal pools) and it embarrasses my child. Knock it off.
As Kramer said: “Can you imagine (this) being replicated today?”
HONORING DECEASED CLASSMATES: It’s high school reunion season in the Inland Northwest. One of the reasons I always try to attend my reunions is to find out how people’s life stories unfolded.
Recently, John Tuft of Spokane sent me a packet of information on North Central’s class of 1952. (Not a reunion year for them). Included in the material was the name of every deceased member of the class and what they died of, if known.
As morbid as it sounds, it’s a fascinating read because people’s lives are summarized in sound bites.
A man named Charles, for instance, “had myotonic muscular dystrophy, known in high school as ‘crazy legs.’ Bellman for the Ridpath Hotel, manager for Sambo’s Restaurant.”
Another man named Paul survived two plane crashes, worked as an engineer for NASA and spoke Japanese, German, Russian and Greek.
A woman named Doris ushered at the Fox Theater, tracked airplanes for the civil patrol and worked at Washington Water Power Co.
Another woman named Dawn had the “highest grade point average for any woman at (then) Washington State College” and had a career as a pharmacist.
Had they lived, most of these classmates would be 79.
As you gather for your reunions this summer, invoke a moment of silence for those no longer with you.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS: The Spokane group hoping to make the dream of universal health care for all a reality is holding a meeting Aug. 12. In February, I profiled three of the women behind the effort – Mary Huntington, Kelly Hunt and Jill Williams. The group’s numbers are growing and at their next meeting, representatives from Health Care for All – Washington will be in Spokane to talk about statewide efforts.