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Learning to swim in 1950s Minneapolis

Updated on December 20, 2014
Picture of Lake Calhoun from east shore
Picture of Lake Calhoun from east shore | Source

One would think anyone growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota would know how to swim. It should come naturally, but it doesn't. Minnesota is full of lakes. In fact, it is called the “City of Lakes. “There are lakes and swimming beaches in the city. Lake Calhoun had a popular beach that anyone could get to by bus or streetcar in those days. Speaking of Lake Calhoun I remember reading a news story about a man trying to swim across Lake Calhoun. I guess it was illegal to get outside the boundaries of the beach., so the police intercepted him and made him swim back..

What is really interesting is I met that swimmer many years later. We worked together at Rock Island, IL. He had been a student at a vocational school in Minneapolis at the time of the swimming incident. His home was Davenport, Iowa and he had been in Minneapolis on a scholarship. I learned about his swimming incident when it came up in a conversation . He told me about trying to swim across the lake. He said he was really tired after swimming about two thirds of the way across and back. I was impressed by his adventure since I never really learned to swim.

When I was a kid I wanted to learn to swim because there was not a lot to do back then if you didn't swim. A lot of recreation in Minnesota evolves around water, such as swimming, boating, and fishing. There was a swimming pool within walking distance of home and one that was a streetcar ride away. Lake Calhoun had beaches and was available by bus or streetcar. We also lived close to the Mississippi River. In high school I knew kids who grew up on farms near the Mississippi. It should come naturally, but it doesn't. Minnesota is full of lakes. In fact, Minneapolis is called the “City of Lakes. “ Speaking of Lake Calhoun I remember reading a news story about a man trying to swim across Lake Calhoun. I guess it was illegal to get outside the boundaries of the beach., so the police intercepted him and made him swim back..


Living in the City of Lakes you should be able to swim though. Right? I think that the schools there might have swimming pools now, but the ones I went to did not. I don't think Dad could swim very well. I think he might have tried to teach me when were were out to the lake. A Minnesota phrase: “go to the lake.” It basically means going on a vacation, usually to a lake, but not any lake in particular. One could get the impression that half the state goes to one lake and seeing all the cars pulling boats that impression would be reinforced. Anyhow, Dad didn't seem to do anything more than dog paddle. He tried once to teach me but it didn't work.

The neighborhood kids that I chummed around with during grade school days would sometimes go the the swimming pool. I think they were trying to help me learn, but I've never been sure. Anyhow two or three kids would grab me and throw me into the pool. Somehow I struggled out again. It was a theory back then that if one were thrown in the water swimming would come natural. Never worked for me. I am not sure how much the others actually swan or if they mostly just played in the water.

It might have been an early sign of diabetes but I always got chilly faster than other people. This was true in cold weather or cold water. So I had very little chance to feel comfortable in the water.

Lake Calhoun


When I got in college I was considering the possibility of getting a degree in education and would need some PhyEd credits, so I signed up for a swimming course. The rule to pass the course was to go across the pool and back any way you could. I learned to dog paddle a bit, the dead mans float and to float on my back. I sort of learned the breast stroke. No matter what I always came out of the water shivering and my teeth chattering. The instructor told the class that I reminded him of Don Knots. Anyhow, I made the two laps of the pool, got credit for the course and never tried swimming since.

I don't know if there is any genetic connection but my brother in California would only swim in a heated pool after he got out of the Navy. He said it was due to having gotten Scarlet fever while in the service. I am not sure of my offspring in regard to swimming except that one of my granddaughters was working as a lifeguard this last year.

The conclusion is that nobody really taught me how to swim, including a PhyEd instructor. Maybe with a heated pool and a good instructor I would have learned. With my age and current health I don't think I would care to try. I figure I accomplished enough to say I gave it a fair try.

Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis,MN:
Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis, MN, USA

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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi moonlake, thanks for commenting. It is amazing that in a state like Minnesota with its tourist attraction o many lakes did not teach its children to swim. There are so many things to do on the lakes and rivers.

    • moonlake profile image


      5 years ago from America

      I can't swim. My boys can but my daughter missed out on the swimming lessons. Something I'm so sorry that she missed. The kids grew up around water and we felt they needed to be able to swim. Enjoyed reading your hub. Voted uP!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thanks for commenting. I do not understand why swimming was not part of the school curriculum in Minnesota. I believe it is in Wisconsin now. Pat's son is fortunate to have people who care about it and have some knowledge.

    • 2patricias profile image


      6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Both of us can swim; in fact, we can swim and talk to each other at the same time. It was something of a surprise that Pat's son did not learn to swim quickly. We live in a seaside town, where kids play on the beach, so it is pretty important to learn to swim here.

      Pat took her son to swimming lessons - at the municipal pool, at a private pool, at a specialist swimming school pool. Each time he learned a lot about the other kids, but still didn't learn how to swim.

      Then when he was about 9 or 10, Tricia was his school teacher. The school had an outdoor pool, which Tricia considered a bit of a waste of space because all the kids already knew how to swim. So she considered my son something of a challenge.

      And she succeeded: he's still not a brilliant swimmer, but at least he can move through the water.

      Thanks for an interesting hub.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting prasetio.Minneapolis calls itself the City of Lakes to attract tourists.It does, in fact, have several lakes in the city. Take care.


    • prasetio30 profile image


      6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Brother, you have wonderful story to be shared with us. i didn't know that Minneapolis has another name as the "City of Lakes". Thank you very much. Rated up! Keep your health .


    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks Eddy. Have a good day.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      Great hub and I vote up.

      Thanks for sharing and here's to so many more.

      Take care;


    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Imw,thanks for commenting. Actually diving looked kind off fun and I did do that off the side of the pool.

    • lmw5 profile image


      6 years ago

      I can still remember the first time I was able to swim. I just did it one day and I couldn't believe it. Same with diving too. I used to be quite the fish.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Vellur. Thanks for commenting. It is hard to understand why swimming isn't taught in places where lakes and such are part of the environment. I suspect it has something to do with the priorities of the PhyEd departments in schools which in my day pushed team sports. The kind of thing that brought spectators to see and pay for.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      6 years ago from Dubai

      Hi thankyou for your wonderful hub in response to my question. Swimming comes naturally to some, some with lot of hard work, to some never ever. I still am so scared of the water, I get queasy and never step into a pool.Never will get over it I guess. Love the idea of pool, sea beaches anything to do with water, but just can't swim, tried a lot though.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Peggy,I hope I found the same errors that you did, but I did make changes. Your question started me thinking about those years when I really wanted to learn.It does not seem so important now.Thanks for commenting and the votes.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Don,

      Thanks for answering my question with a hub. Funny Don Knotts video at the end. Sounds like you could at least save yourself if by chance you ever were tossed into water for some reason between your floating and dog paddling. You did miss out on some great fun, however by not knowing how to swim. My husband who grew up in Iowa also did not really learn how to swim. have a couple of repeated sentences you might wish to edit out of the 3rd paragraph. Voted up and interesting.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Marsei, thanks for being the first to comment.It is odd that a lot of people from the area known for its lakes are not swimmers.I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • Marsei profile image

      Sue Pratt 

      6 years ago from New Orleans

      This is a wonderful article. I still dog-paddle also, and can certainly relate. I got thrown in the pool a time or two also. Ah, the good old days. This was very well-writen and a bit nostalgic, which I liked.

      Thanks for writing it.



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