Waterworld: Highlights from the History of the Barnard Pool

Gymnasium Pool, circa 1920s. Credit: Sigurd Fischer. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives, Lucy O. Lewton '22 Scrapbook Collection.

With the recent news of the impending demise of Barnard’s swimming pool in mind (Columbia Spectator, “Barnard Likely to Close Swimming Pool in 2013”), we’d like to take this opportunity to present choice episodes from the pool’s almost-century of history.The Barnard Pool opened in 1918 with the completion of Students’ Hall, now known as Barnard Hall (the building was renamed in 1926).  After the opening, students and faculty alike were in raptures: the 1919 Mortarboard contains a poem in praise of the new building, where “down in the depths the blue-green pool / next greets our wondering eyes, / so clean it is, so clear and cool, / ‘tis quite the best surprise (1919 Mortarboard, 110).  In her report to the president of Columbia University on the academic year 1917-1918, Virginia Gildersleeve observes that “the beautiful swimming pool has been perhaps the greatest source of delight for the undergraduates” (1918 Dean’s Report, 6).

Barnard Swim Team, 1922. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

The students took advantage of their new natatorium by quickly forming a swim team and competing against the team from Teachers College—whose gymnasium and pool Barnard students had used before the construction of Students’ Hall—in an annual swim meet.The pool continued to delight: a December 1932 issue of the Barnard Bulletin printed the following verses, “Pool Poem No. 2,” exhorting students to make use of the wonderful facility:

Breathes there a girl with soul so dead
She can’t recall that once she said,
“See, I can almost stand on my head!
Look, mother, see!”?

Gone is the skill of yesteryear,
But love of stunting still is here
And you may stunt again, never fear.
It still may be.

On this next Friday there will be
Stunts to be done and stunts to see,
Stunts for the clever and stunts for she
Who is a fool.

Come then at four and join the fun,
Be you beginner or be you done.
Come and be young, everyone—
In Barnard Pool. (Bulletin, 13 December 1932, 3)

In 1934, the Bulletin proclaimed, “Since you came to college to learn the Arts and ‘to broaden your abilities,’ you should feel that your education is not complete until you have accomplished the Art of swimming. The pool and the instructors are always at your disposal” (Bulletin, 20 March 1934, 4).

Synchronized swimming: rehearsal for “Snowball Bounce,” the pool, Barnard Hall, December 1951. Credit: Manny Warman, Columbia University. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

That same year, Barnard inaugurated the Water Carnival, an aquatic festival featuring, at least in its first year, “a maritime grab-bag, a tango, a spot-light chorus, a fashion parade of beach finery, and a diving exhibit”; later years featured synchronized swimming routines, water dances, skits, and novelty swim races.  In 1941, the Water Carnival presented the wedding of “Miss Hortense Hydroxyl” and “Mr. Horatio Hydrogen” (Bulletin, 11 March 1941, 1).  According to the Bulletin, “the bride wore a gown of white lastex with a white veil of cellophane,” and after the nuptials, “a toast, Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, was gurgled to the newlyweds by the guests” (here’s Johnny Cash with that old favorite) (1).  The Water Carnival continued into the 1950s.

In 1956, students created the Barnard Barnacles, a synchronized swimming club.  The Barnacles practiced in the Barnard Pool and performed at Water Carnival, eventually becoming serious enough to gain membership in the Inter-Collegiate Synchronized Swimming Association.  In the fall of 1960, three Barnacles left their home waters and journeyed to perform at that Association’s conference for Northeastern schools (Bulletin, 27 April 1961, 1).

Students practicing lifesaving skills in the Barnard Pool. c. 1990s. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

As early as 1958, the Barnard Pool provided an aquatic respite not only to students and faculty, but to members of the surrounding community as well.  A November 1958 Bulletin article on Barnard’s community outreach mentions that “the physical education department gives swimming classes for children in the college’s pool” (Bulletin, 18 November 1958, 1).  These community classes continue today: both faculty and neighborhood children use the warm, friendly Barnard Pool for swimming lessons.  Barnard and Columbia students have long taken advantage of the Barnard Pool’s welcoming atmosphere to learn to swim or lifeguard at a more advanced age, as well.

Headline from an April Fool's edition of the Barnard Bulletin, 1 April, 1952. Bulletin Digital Archives.

The pool has always been slightly out of the way, and from reading old Bulletins, it’s clear that the student body thought most about its depths around the first of April.  In 1939, the student paper joked that the Columbia Crew team would henceforth hold its practices in Barnard’s pool, remarking on the sudden popularity of canoe classes among Barnard undergraduates (Bulletin, 28 March 1939, 3). April 1952 saw an article on the drowning death of “beautiful, but unathletic” fictional socialite “Parkus Karcus,” and nine years later, in April 1963, students got into the spirit of the Sixties by with a “passive resistance movement” against a purported new “five year gym plan” (Bulletin 1 April 1952, 2; 28 March 1963, 1).  Students allegedly planned to “sit in the swimming pool until” the administration “abolishes the new requirement. ‘Sink or not swim’ is their motto,” joked the Bulletin (1).In 1980, the Bulletin outdid itself: not only did the issue reveal that the college intend to offer a new course in “aquatic invertebrate zoology” to study the different forms of life which have been known to inhabit the Barnard Pool,” but it also broke the story of the disappearance of six students into the pool’s “murky” depths (Bulletin, 31 March 1980, 4; 8).  According to the article on the disappearances, “students claimed to have sighted what they described as a ‘long brown tentacle’ or a ‘giant eel or snake’ moving across the pool bottom” (8).

Jokes aside, the Barnard Pool has provided students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community a pleasant and convenient place to play and exercise for the past 96 years.  If it does indeed close after the 2012-2013 academic year, the pool will be gone but, at least in the Archives, not forgotten. —Julia Mix Barrington, BC ’12

Read the Bulletin articles mentioned in this post.

The Spirit of the Greek Games

How many times have you walked down the brick path past Barnard Hall over the years and wondered, “Why is there a statue of a girl in a toga on campus?”

 

Greek Games statue, circa 1999. Courtesy of the Barnard College.

 

The statue itself answers; on its base is inscribed, “Barnard Greek Games / This Statue is Presented to the College / By the Class of 1905, Founder of the Games / To Commemorate the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary / Of Their establishment in 1903.” (A line of Greek text is also inscribed, but we’ll come back to that in a bit.)

For more than half a century, from 1903 to 1968, the Greek Games were a central part of campus life at Barnard College. An annual competition between the Freshman and Sophomore classes, the Greek Games were “an attempt to reproduce as nearly as modern conditions permit a classic festival… a contest in athletics, lyrics, costumes, music and dance” (O’Donnell, 1932, p. 3). For Barnard’s students, they were a place for creativity and competition, for athleticism and aestheticism, but most of all, for fun. Although attempts have been made in the years since their cancellation to re-instate the Greek Games at Barnard, the main reminder to current students of this once grand tradition is a weather-stained bronze statue, tucked away in a corner, going mostly unnoticed, except as a curiosity, by people who hurry by on their way to somewhere else. However, this statue embodies the spirit of the Greek Games, an integral part of Barnard’s history, and as such, deserves more than a passing glance.

As the statue’s inscription notes, it was given to Barnard College by the Class of 1905, the founders of the Greek Games, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their creation. According to reports in the Alumnae Bulletin, the Class of 1905 commissioned artist Chester Beach in 1924 to start work on a sculpture that would be presented to the college in 1928, on the 25th anniversary of the first Greek Games. Mr. Beach worked faster than anticipated, and the statue was presented to Barnard College on Commencement Day, 1927. Although referred to by a variety of names, notably Torch Bearer, the Runner and Barnard Greek Games Statue, the name that finally stuck was Spirit of the Greek Games. Perhaps because, as Agnes Wayman, the Head of the Department of Physical education, said:

 

Greek Games statue, spring, circa 1980s. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

 

“The spirit of the Greek Games as typified by the statue of the Torch Bearer, which stands in the entrance to Barnard Hall, is symbolic of the real meaning of the Games. The maiden in Greek tunic – a composite of the modern participants – has received from her teammate the lighted torch and is striving to pass it on – lighted. Thus the spirit of beauty, a light eternal, is passed from class to class, year to year, and it is this spirit that makes the games enduring” (O’Donnell, 1932, p. ix).

The statue was well received, even by those who were not Barnard Alumnae. In 1928, the organizer of the International Art Exhibit requested that Dean Gildersleeve allow the statue to travel to Europe to be part of a display of art on athletic subjects, in support of the Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Dean Gildersleeve agreed, on the condition that the statue be displayed as “Spirit of Greek Games,” instead “of the Greek games,” because she felt that the Greek Games had “assumed a place such as only an abstraction of a proper noun can express” (Barnard Bulletin, 1928, March 9, p. 1).

The Spirit was returned to Barnard at the end of the year, no worse for wear, and re-ensconced on her pedestal… her inscribed pedestal, which, as it turns out, has an unfortunate typo that no one seemed to notice at the time. In addition to the information about the Class of 1905, the pedestal has a line from Aeschylus’s play, Agamemnon, engraved in its base.

ΝΙΚΑΙΔΕΟΓΡΩΤΟΣΚΑΙΤΕΛΕΥΤΑΙΟΣΔΡΑΜΩΝ

 

Torch bearer and Greek Games Chairman Ruth Neimzoff '62 poses with the Greek Games statue in Barnard Hall, circa 1960. Photograph by Jack Mitchell, courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

 

Translated into English, it reads “Victor is he that runs first and last,” meaning that in a torch or relay race, victory is won by all the runners on a team, not just the swiftest participant. However, astute readers of ancient Greek will notice that the chiseler of the inscription replaced the letter Π (Pi), the first letter of the word “protos” or first, with a Γ (Gamma), turning the word into “grotos,” which has no meaning.

This apparently went unnoticed until 1961, when an astute reader sent a Letter to the Editor in the Barnard Bulletin, to call attention to the gaffe. This astute reader, according to their signatory line, was none other than Aeschylus himself.

So the next time you are walking by on your way to somewhere else, take a moment to look at the Spirit, to remember the Greek Games, and to marvel at the fact that even sculptors of monumental works sometimes need spell check.

Written by Elizabeth Parker, Archives Intern, QC GSLIS ’11