It is COLD out there! Today’s post will make you feel even colder… Where to begin!
The story, like many of our Throwback Thursday tales, begins with the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. According to the Manchester City Library, Amoskeag opened a quarry, in what is now Derryfield Park in the late 1800s 1 . “Granite was brought from the “Ledge” to be used as foundations for the mill buildings which are still evident in the Millyard today.” 1 A natural spring beneath the ledge eventually led it to fill with water. That’s when the fun began….
See, here in New Hampshire, we have no choice but to embrace the cold as we have to live with it for a good part of the year. Back in the 1920s it was no different! That’s how the Amoskeag Brownies began. John Clayton’s 2005 book, “You Know You’re in New Hampshire when…” explains it perfectly2 :
…By 1923 the New Year’s swim was coupled with a…Winter Carnival that carried over into January, and the Ledge–also known as the “City of Rocks”–shared top billing with the Brownies. Not only would the Brownies swim in sub-Artic conditions, but their daredevil divers pledged to plunge from the cliffs through carefully carved holes in the ice. Naturally the crowds converged–10,000 by some estimates–and the line between spectator and participant quickly blurred.2
By 1929, the event went all the way into March. In The Telegraph on March 12, 1929, they printed an article announcing the event.3 It wrote:
The Manchester Brownie Club will hold its annual winter carnival at the Amoskeag ledge on Sunday, March 17, at 2 o’clock. These famous swimmers and divers will feature an exhibition including introduction of the super-Brownies, a frolic, general swimming, fancy diving, 60 foot high diving and the 108 foot tree dive.3
This quirky tradition continued into the early 1930s until the City closed the area to public swimming. Crazy, huh!? I can’t imagine witnessing this, let alone doing it!
Special thanks to:
(1): The Manchester Public Library. See article here.
(2): You Know You’re in New Hampshire When…: 101 Quintessential Places, People, Events, Customs, Lingo, and Eats of the Granite State by John Clayton, 2005. See book here.
(3): The Telegraph, March 12, 1929. “Brownies Club Winter Carnival.” See article here.
(4): Yankee Magazine. See original photo here.
(5): Manchester Historic Association. See their website here.