Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Former Local Man Tells of Swimming Days

Marietta Daily Times, August 2, 1940

John L. Harrison of Washington, D.C., alumnus of Marietta College, class of 1887, former resident of Harmar who holds his contacts with Marietta friends, has written interesting reminiscences of the old days of his boyhood. He was one of the prominent baseball players in his college days, and is remembered by many friends. Until his retirement in recent years, to make his home in Washington, he was engaged in educational work in Topeka, Kansas, and later at Kimball, West Virginia.

The first article in the series of his reminiscences sent to The Times is as follows:

There appeared recently an item in The Times stating that the bathing beaches were opened and life guards provided by the city. To the "old timers" living elsewhere but still interested in the old home town, this must awaken a nostalgic recollection of boyhood days spent so happily along the blue Muskingum and placid Ohio. One always remembers his friends in their kindlier moods, free from anger and fury; and so, with the two rivers, one's mind sees them calm and peaceful as they appeared on those warm summer days so long ago.

In our boyhood days some 50 years ago, we Harmar boys sought out our own bathing places and were our own life guards. We had a monopoly on good swimming places in the Muskingum River and we jealously guarded against any encroachments on our own territory by the "Marietta Rats." The enmity existing between the boys of Harmar and those of Marietta forbade any exchange of courtesies and so swimming by either in the other's territory was taboo.

Our swimming places were five in number. The first was from the railroad draw bridge abutment (the draw span was formerly on the Harmar side). Here the channel was kept dredged and the water was deep. The locks were on the Harmar side and this was another favorite swimming place. From the top of the lock wall down to the water when the lower gates were open was perhaps 12 or 15 feet and high diving was the game there. The apron of the dam was utilized also but only by the expert swimmers.

Strange as it may seem, every Harmar boy knew how to swim. Where he learned, I do not know, for we passed up all the shallow beaches and used only the jumping off places. The most popular place of all was "The Logs," a long, wide raft in front of the old bucket factory, now I believe a unit of the Brickwede Brothers plant.

Here, on a summer evening, 20 or 30 urchins, together with older boys, used to meet, waiting for darkness. As we always bathed a la Sally Rand or Lady Godiva, the Harmar marshal issued this stern edict: "You kids stay out'a there 'til you see three stars or I will throw you in the can." As he was sort of a Jake Dye person, we knew he meant it, so we sat about and waited until some kid would yell "there's one," and then someone else would call "over yonder's another," and then, upon discovery of a third star, a mad scramble ensued to be the first in and to avoid being the last.

The Logs was an ideal bathing place, for each log had been stripped of its bark and sawed lengthwise, so that the surface of the raft was smooth with very narrow chinks in between. Of course every one who bathed there could swim from the youngster's dog fashion efforts to the man-fashion finished performer. The water was eight or more feet deep, and it was a proud kid who could "bring bottom" and fling the gravel among the bathers. We had a spring-board also, and it was a favorite stunt after a long dive to show the various astronomoical bodies such as the stars and moon.

Marietta Daily Times, August 5, 1940:

Tells Friends Marietta Is Beautiful City

John L. Harrison, who left Marietta soon after his graduation from Marietta College in 1887, has held sentiment for his old home town throughout the years, and at intervals expresses his love and loyalty through the public prints. He has been an annual visitor to Marietta in recent years and is always greeted cordially by those who remember the Harrison family of Harmar.

His brother, Walter C. Harrison, Marietta College, class of 1891, who for many years was in an official position with the Westinghouse Electric Company in Pittsburgh, retired last year and made his first visit back to Marietta in many years. The brothers have a home in Washington, D.C., where they are living  in retirement.

In the last section of reminiscenses written to The Times, Mr. Harrison writes:

Beautiful Small City

In speaking of Marietta among my friends and acquaintances, I always refer to it as the most beautiful small city in the country. I honestly think it is. There is a something about the town - a broad peace and quietude born of the stately trees, the reposeful homes, the friendly hills, the shining rivers, that stamp it as unique and individual. One can hardly live in the presence of such attractions, without chameleon-like, absorbing the qualities of his surrounding; hence the citizens are cultured, broad-minded, highly intellectual, lovers of beauty and freed largely of narrow prejudices.

Those of us who were born and raised there can never forget loyalty and affection for the old home town. Its tendrils have woven themselves about our very being.

In my occasional visits back to Marietta, I note with pride the progressive tendency of the city, but how I miss the old personnel. Fifty-three years is a long, long time, and changes are but natural. So, I walk the streets peering hopefully at the passing faces seeking vainly for a familiar one, and when one is encountered, it is bewildering to see the white head and other signs of old age.

Memorial Comes Back

The misty memories of the past come flooding back, bearing a picture of the one before me, full of youthful energy and strength. It is startling for a moment, and then I reflect with amusement, that I must present the same counterfeit presentment to him or her, Ah, well, "thus runs the world away."

There is one unchanged thing in Marietta which I noted with pleasure and which carried me back to those good old days of long ago, and that is as youthful and lusty today as it was back there in the 1880s. That is the voice of the old river - the Muskingum dam. I stood for a full half hour last summer on the railroad bridge and listened to the deep diapason of its musical roar and realized I had at last found an old friend which remained eternally young and sparkling as a spring wild flower, although bearing the weight of millions of years of turbulent existence. Of all things in this old world, water alone is exempt from physical penalties. Time corrodes metals and disintegrates rocks, but water remains unaffected - eternally young.


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