Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Swimming Pools

Using Google Maps aerial view, 141 swimming pools were counted in Maynard, a mix of above-ground (round) and in-ground (not round) pools. Assuming a few were missed, let’s call it 150 swimming pools. Equals 3% of Maynard's 5,000 housing units (includes homes, condos and apartments).

Swimming pool on the Titanic. Filled, would have been seven feet deep. Note
electric light bulbs. Men, women and children had separate hours. The ship
 also had a gymnasium that included rowing machines and stationarybicycles.
The very idea of a privately owned swimming pool is a relatively recent concept. For that matter, recreational swimming is a relatively recent concept. Wealthy people did not own pools, first, because rich people didn’t do that (swim), and second, because there was no pool water filtration technology. The lower classes did start taking trains or buses to beaches. Summers, the Maynard-based Lovell Bus Line (1923-1953) had a route to Revere Beach that was $1.25 round trip.

Municipal pools were built by cities to provide a safe place for people to swim. One account has it that the first public pool in the United States was in Brookline, in 1887. [England had already had pools for decades, and swimming competitions.] By the turn of the century, many U.S. cities had large outdoor and indoor pools. Hotels began to construct pools. The Titanic had a heated, saltwater, swimming pool, 30 x 14 feet, for use by first class passengers only. [It also had a gymnasium with rowing machines and exercise bicycles - separate hours for men and women.]

Not until after World War II did pool technology improve to the point that the middle class could aspire to having a home pool. One interesting catalyst for increased interest in having a pool is that starting for WWII, the U.S. Army and Navy incorporating swimming into basic training. Men were coming home from the war wanting homes, and in many instances, home with pools. A recent article in the New York Times estimated that in 1949, approximately 10,000 American homes had pools, a number that ten years later has grown to 250,000, and by today, more than 10 million. The majority of Maynard’s pools are in post-WWII developments that have larger lot sizes than the old factory-era properties. There are only three (above-ground) pools in the Presidential Village district.     

Bathing attire changed with the times. In England, until around 1900, there were separate beaches for men and women. Against vigorous protests, the practice of men swimming in the nude was banned in 1860. First, it was a requirement for wool shorts, a style that lengthened over time to knee-length. Next, wool shirts became required wear – initially long-sleeved, in time shortening to short-sleeved and then sleeveless. Coloring was mostly black or else horizontally striped. In both England and in the United States, it was illegal for men to expose their chests. Only in the 1930s did men start to go topless!    

Annette Kellermann, famous early
20th century swimmer, in swimsuit
of her own design, novel for the time.
Women’s bathing attire was designed to cover the entire body. During the 1800s, women wore long dresses or bathing gowns made of fabric that did not become transparent when wet, meaning wool or flannel. Design was basically a dress to the knees, over loose-fitting trousers, over leggings. Women would sew weights into the hem of the gowns to prevent their dress from floating up. A radical change took place on the turn of the century. Annette Kellermann, a young Australian woman, had taken up swimming as a child as physical therapy. She became a professional swimmer, doing swimming and high-dive exhibitions, swim races, and appearing in silent films of the era. In The Mermaid (1911), she was the first actress to wear a swimmable mermaid costume – of her own design.

More germane to women’s swimwear in general, Kellermann designed and wore a form-fitting, one-piece swimsuit. In 1907, preparing for a promotional coast swim, Annette Kellerman was arrested at Revere Beach for indecent attire. She argued before the judge that her swimsuit was practical, not provocative. She said that “…swimming in a Victorian swimsuit with its ‘shoes, stockings, bloomers, skirts, corsets and a dinky little cap,’ made as much sense as ‘swimming in lead chains.’” The case was dismissed, and her swimsuit became popular as "the Annette Kellerman". When female swimming was introduced as the 1912 Summer Olympics, all the women were wearing suits similar to Kellermann’s design.

Maynard, MA swimming program, Hansen's Beach, Stow, MA. Photo by
Samuel Micciche, 1954 (courtesy of Maynard Historical Society)
Competitive swimming went through a singular “not invented here” moment in 1844. British swimmers were competing using the breaststroke combined with a frog-like kicking motion. Two Ojibwe Native Americans were brought to London by the Swimming Society. Their swimming style, described as flailing at the water with arms in a windmill-like fashion and violently kicking feet, was much faster than anything the English managed. They were thanked, sent home, and the British continued with the non-splashing breaststroke. Not until decades later did Englishman J. Arthur Trudgen and Australian Frederick Cavill separately observe native swimmers elsewhere in the Americas and in the Pacific islands, and then copied and taught the much faster overhand stroke and flutter kick that came be known as the “Australian crawl.”

Aside from private pools, there was a time when Maynard provided children’s swimming lessons at Hansen's Beach, Lake Boon. Samuel Rosario Micciche (1915-2003), owner of Samuel’s Studio (photography), took several photos at Hansen’s Beach the summer of 1954. These are in the collection of the Maynard Historical society.

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