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Jim Kershner’s this day in history

Sun., March 24, 2013

From our archives, 100 years ago

A crowd estimated at 10,000 lined the banks of Spokane River to watch a group of young athletes – slathered with goose grease against the cold – swim across the frigid river.

It was billed as an exhibition by the Spokane Amateur Athletic Union – and it had its frightening moments.

“A.G. Stall was seen to go under,” the newspaper said. “A cry of warning went up from the watchers on the bank to the life-saving crew.”

Stall grabbed hold of the rescue boat, rested for a while, and was able to continue on.

In fact, authorities had at first threatened to cancel the entire exhibition because the swimmers would be so near the treacherous falls, but the organizers convinced them to let it continue. Organizers did, however, scrap plans to start the event with a “dive from a rocky point.”

The entire spectacle was seen by a huge throng of Easter spectators. A steady snow and a cold north wind added to the drama.

“The steep river banks were packed for a distance of almost 400 yards below the bridge,” the paper said. “Street cars were unable to cross the Division Street bridge, so great was the press. Spectators stood on top of neighboring buildings and the boxcars in the railroad yards were packed.”

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