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March 26, 2005

Swimming holes...

In our last column, we were thinking back to the ponds available to those of us who were in the unique Perry Supervised Play program when it started in the early 1930s. Some of those ponds were pretty murky — muddy, actually — but they were wet, cooling and available, so they served a purpose.

The inspiration for this bit of reflection was a message received via the U.S. mail the other day from a reader, who prefers to be anonymous. The note described some of the venues he remembered as swimming holes from that period, nearly seven decades ago. That was in the depths of the Great Depression, and along about the same time came President Franklin D. Roosevelt's innovative make-work ideas, including the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), which ultimately led to the creation of Perry Lake Park (now officially known as the CCC Park), and we now know that this little city was lucky to wind up with that asset. The lake was the center-piece, and it provided a nice place for youngsters in the Supervised Play program to paddle about as they learned the basics of swimming. Some other things brought back a flood of happy memories, as you will see. The letter writer began like this:

"I was watching Channel 13 on TV the other night, and they were showing an old film of downtown Oklahoma City. Seeing the old hotels that were once downtown, and the old movie theaters that were so beautiful inside, brought back the memory of when I was young and would take part in the Supervised Play program in Perry. Coach Hump Daniels and his friend, Cecil Daniels (no relation to Hump) oversaw that program back then and they would take us young boys in the summer on a school bus, when they became available, out to what used to be our public swimming pool on the east side of the CCC lake.

"The cement foundation of the old bath house is still there. I was swimming out there one day when a young girl tragically drowned. Soon after that the pool was closed for good. When the swimming program ended one year, Hump took all of us boys in a school bus, with Cecil driving, to a theater in downtown OKC to see a movie. Seems like it was the Criterion Theater and the movie was 'The Shepherd of the Hills.' I was awed at the size of those tall buildings and the huge hotels we saw as we drove along.

"Anyone who is not familiar with the way the water looked in our little CCC lake sixty years ago will probably wonder why anyone would want to swim in it....that water was beautiful and clear. I remember swimming out to the big raft that was anchored just north of the lifeguard stand. While sitting on it I could see very clearly and feel the perch as they nipped at my toes. That little lake went dry during the drought we had in the 1950s and I think it was drained once when the dam broke. Time has made a change in the way the water looks today.”

I can only say “Amen” to his thoughts and recollections, although I don’t remember the CCC lake ever seemed very clear. I do recall the opening celebration when the park and the lake were turned over to the city, and one day I’ll have to write a piece about that event.