Unlike the rivers around Manhattan this weekend, Coney Island ocean waters are still open for public use. Here’s what that looked like back in Rose’s time:
For more pictures and info about women’s bathing suits in the 1900’s, take a look at this piece from Victoriana Magazine.
Here is a quote from the above mentioned article: “During the early 1900s, people flocked to oceanside beaches for popular seaside activities as swimming, surf bathing, and diving. The only activity for women in the ocean involved jumping through the waves while holding onto a rope attached to an off-shore buoy. Their clumsy Victorian and Edwardian style bathing costumes were often quite burdensome.
Women typically dressed in black, knee-length, puffed-sleeve wool dresses, often featuring a sailor collar, and worn over bloomers or drawers trimmed with ribbons and bows. The bathing costume was typically accessorized with long black stockings, lace-up bathing slippers, and fancy caps. ”
But saltwater bathing and wading weren’t the only Coney Island water fun activities available back then…
There was the Steeplechase Swimming Pool:
Shooting the Chutes:
(There must have been much more than this going on out there at the time…bath houses, other swimming pools, vaudeville water performance venues? If anyone has more pictures/info to add, please let me know!)
The same evening that I discovered the article about Rose’s 8/13/1911 swim (back in September 2009), I learned that a guy planned to swim from Coney Island to Manhattan two days from that very evening! Here is an excerpt from my blog “The Manhattan Mermaid” about this event:
“I go to South Street Seaport to watch the guy who is swimming from Coney Island to Manhattan arrive at Pier 14. He is supposed to get there between 5 and 6. I arrive a little early, go to the end of the pier, and see him and his boat coming in from the direction of the Brooklyn Bridge. I am the sole spectator. Guys on the boat start cheering, so do I and, and so do a couple of other bystanders who have no idea what this guy is up to. He swims up to the dock directly below where I’m standing, hits the piling with his hand, stops his watch, waves up to me and heads back toward his boat.
(I find this gesture…the simple “tap” of the piling to acknowledge the completion of an amazingly difficult journey…very moving. No roaring crowds, no medals, no “you are an Ironman!”….just a simple, personal acknowledgement of a highly unusual, hard won goal achieved. )
The boat pulls in to the dock around the corner. I go over and wait outside, asking the boat guys questions. They give me the scoop: smooth sailing – about 4:20 time for about 12 mile swim – couldn’t cross over straight from Governor’s Island, had to stay along Brooklyn coast and sneak over out of lane of rush hour boat traffic.
A few minutes later, swimmer, wife and daughter come ashore. I introduce myself as “fan”, and congratulate him on his inspiring feat. He and family invite me to join them for celebratory drinks. I accept.
As we are waiting for service, friends of swimmer begin to show up. They are sorry to have missed his arrival (he was early), offer their congrats, and join us for drinks. We talk swimming (one of the folks had also been at the Hudson River 3 mile swim) and I innocently ask the group what swims they have planned next.
Man of the hour at the table says to another. “Go on. Tell her about your secret swim.” This comment is addressed to a woman who has (among other things) done three English Channel crossings (is planning on attempting a double soon) and MIMS this year in 5th Place, second female after the woman who was second overall. She says lightly that she is planning to swim clockwise around Manhattan. I say that as far as I know, no female has done that before – that the woman that tried it this June failed. She said yes, that woman tried and failed, and that the organizers that had planned the swim for that woman had called her and asked her if she wanted to give it a try. She said yes, and planned to start her swim up in Harlem at 1 AM or so a few days later.
That Friday (9/18/09)…SHE DID IT!!! The first woman EVER to swim around Manhattan, CLOCKWISE!
I followed the tweets all night long. I was fortunate enough to be able to watch her complete her swim, and congratulate her in person afterward.
(Wow…such amazing accomplishments…such modesty….I am in awe!)”
at National Head Quarters, while the writer, a 20 year veteran life guard holding the rank of Commodore, in the U.S. Life Saving Force, was engaged in turning in his weekly reports of rescues from drowning in his district, there appeared a finely developed, clean cut young lady, accompanyed by her maid, her manager, and his friend, their very pleasant visit was made to seek information about the best swimming records in long distance swimming ever made from N.Y. to Coney Island, also the tides &c.
The Secretary of the organization, M.K. Merthens, referred them to the writer as an expert on tides, long distance swims, channels, &c. also that in coaching, he has the proud record in the organization of always bringing in the winners of the long distance swims held annually by the organization, a compliment worth remembering.
Her manager & the writer entered into business & mapped out a course of 17 1/2 miles from East 23rd St. Pier, East River to Coney Island, the swim to take place on the morning of the 18th at 8:30 AM.
In less than one hour after, it was rumored through Head Quarters, a little 15 year old girl, in short dresses, came down from the New England states for the purpose of eclipsing & defeating any Battery Coney Island swimming record that was ever accomplished in N.Y. water.
They picked two of their very best swimmers with good endurance records who accomplished some previous records in & around N.Y. They waited in hiding behind the opposite pier, on that never to be forgotten September 18, 1910 which was foot of East 24th St. for the little Boston girl to start, which on their part was very unsportsmanlike, not hinting or letting no body or any body know they were up to this trick, not even the writer who gave 20 years of his life in the service of the organization.
Miss Pitonof won as recorded, the greatest marvel & long distance swimmer the world has ever known.
She, Miss Pitonof, not only beat her two ambitious rivals, but also beat & broke the World’s Championship records, in the fastest time ever recorded in this or any other part of the world, distance 17 1/2 miles, her timemade at Head Quarters, that she could outswim the world’s very best records in long distance swimming, either sex included.
Did she make good, she certainly did, and what’s more it remains unduplicated.
This brave little mermaid was hailed and pronounced by the sporting fraternity of the country the undisputed & undefeated Champion of the World, and will defend the title against all comers, either sex.
Yesterday afternoon a small group of us (myself, Dan, Jason, Emeka, and Martin) hit the water for a test swim prior to event day. (Just a month away!)
We start at Lincoln Harbor in NJ, and head south toward the swim route.
On the way, we stop by the Statue of Liberty so that Martin can take a dip.
Then to the Verrazano Bridge, where we decide that on event day, we would shoot for as far west of the Brooklyn stanchion as possible without entering the shipping channel.
(It is interesting to note that Rose’s coach claims that she covered 25 miles during her Aug. 13th swim. I think that she must have gone much closer to the Staten Island shore than we are planning to.)
From the Verrazano, we get our first glimpse of the space ship shaped top of the parachute jump, blinking in the distance.
We round Norton’s Point, head over to Steeplechase Pier, and pause to watch the jet skiiers with an obvious death wish.
Then we head back north, toward Lady Liberty (rain on the horizon…by Newark, we figure), through Buttermilk Channel, hugging the Brooklyn shoreline per our swim plan.
As we go up the East River, under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, just past the Williamsburg, the heavens open, and we are caught right in the middle of some of the worst weather that Captain Dan has seen in this area, ever.
We are forced to turn around at Corlears Hook (planned point for crossing the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn during swim), and so are unable to make it up to East 26th Street start point.
At first we take this as a bad omen…but then we turn around and see this:
From our point of view, the rainbow crosses the East River at exactly the same point that the swimmers will cross on event day.
Now we know the Gods are with us. :)
Thanks to Rose’s granddaughter Sandy, we have a reproduction of several of the pages from this book.
Excerpted here are a drawing depicting several of Rose’s achievements, and a toast:
The Rose Pitonof Centennial Swim was mentioned in last Sunday’s NYTimes as part of the open-water swimming renaissance.
“In August, six competitors will try a 17-mile swim from the shores of Kips Bay in Manhattan to Coney Island in Brooklyn, a route that 17-year-old Rose Pitonof breast-stroked 100 years ago, to the cheers of 50,000 spectators, according to news coverage at the time. Deanne Draeger, the organizer of this year’s event, swam the course solo last year.”
Read the article.