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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Answer Man

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Q: What happened to the Caruthersville swimming pool?

A: Right now the answer is unknown.

You can talk to Bootheel people all over the area as they reminisce about things that used to be, but are no longer. It is always a pleasant adventure. Many could probably tell you what happened to the Green Lantern in Kennett, or Mom's Club. or Guin's right outside of Hayti, or the old Club Zanza. But it would take someone just barely above the soil to know about a certain swimming pool in Caruthersville.

There was a time when just about every town or village in the Bootheel that had one policeman, a post office, or a pool hall, had at least one movie theater, sometimes two, and sometimes even three.

These entertainment centers were supplemented by night time soft ball, a roller rink or two, more traveling carnivals than we have today, and radio broadcasts on Cardinal baseball. Missing in this social/entertainment menagerie were privately owned swimming pools.

Today you can fly in low over the suburbs of any large city and view for yourself the panorama of private pools that are sprinkled like light blue ink spots on a countryside. You could probably see the same things over Bootheel small towns. Although not entirely inexpensive, people have learned that you don't have to be wealthy to have a swimming pool.

Public pools were not abounding either during that heyday of the Bootheel movie theaters. Many people in the Bootheel learned to swim at the public pool in Blytheville, Arkansas. It was either that or the ubiquitous "blue holes" that every little town seemed to have in immediate proximity. This could be anything from a pond, a ditch, or dug out holes for levy construction called bar pits.

Caruthersville was an anomaly, however, because it did have a public pool that might have even been ahead of the movie boom. It was Olympic size with a sand island where people could sun bathe. It was built somewhere around the late twenties or very early thirties. It flourished for a while with people coming from all around to swim in it. And then around the late thirties in was abandoned!

Just for curiosity, and Bootheel history, we need someone who can tell us why it was abandoned. Was it the economic stress of the Great Depression when they couldn't afford ten or fifteen cents for a swim? Was it the fear of polio that was rampant especially in the summertime? Did someone tragically drown in that pool, casing great alarm.

Abandoned is not entirely the word, because the structure was still there.

What would have been the shallow end was still concrete clean; so much so that kids would put on roller skates and play a game they called "shinny." They would find limbs with a crooked end resembling a hockey stick. Their puck would be a crushed tin can.

The object was to score a goal either on the shallow or deep end. Smacking someone on the shin was perfectly legal, thus the name "shinny." Shallow end scoring was very aggressive because it all ended at the wall. Scoring on the deep end, however, was for both the offense and defense, cautious, even timid; the reason being the deep end fell off drastically about eight to ten feet. At the bottom were tin cans, rocks, and broken glass. To the best of knowledge no one ever fell into that abyss, probably due to the wisdom of "discretion is the better part of valor."

Surprisingly, they reopened that pool at about the end of WWII. The fire department came out there with their hoses and filled it up. For the kids in Caruthersville it was blissful, an early heaven. Some of them were in that pool all day when the water barely covered their feet, and until it was neck high. The pool was financed by the city, and managed during the summer primarily by Boy Scouts. It flourished for a few years ,and then closed again; this time for known reasons.

This may seem like trivia to a great many people. But at one time that swimming pool at Caruthersville was apparently one of the landmarks of the Bootheel, much like the Indian Mound at Cottonwood Point, the drainage ditches, the sandbars along the Mississippi, the roads that seldom curve, and cotton along the highway that was spilled from wagons.

There have been several Bootheel historians who have been published. One good project for them would be why in the thirties was that swimming pool in Caruthersville that so attracted people from all around suddenly closed.

Anything that happened one minute, or one second ago. is history. It is almost never trivial if you are interested. Someday young people may be asking what were those those "Twinkies" you remember so well, as who was this person you refer to as Elvis.

The Answer man
The Answer Man