With the demise of the Newton Recreation Department's swimming pool being in the headlines recently, I felt that this story was worth retelling:
In the Summer of 1948, I attended National Aquatic School in Brevard, N.C., sponsored by the Red Cross, and designed to teach Life Saving and Water Safety to the mostly college students, who in turn, would teach the same in their hometowns throughout the South.
One of the most memorable events at Aquatic School was a final night water pageant, starring the members of the school faculty, and featuring one of my favorite poems from childhood, “Hiawatha.”
Some years later, as Recreation Director in Newton, N.C., I decided to stage the same pageant at the recreation pool, and starring the youngsters who frequented it every day of the summer.
Securing a large truck inner tube and anchoring it in the center of the pool, I placed a large piece of plywood on top, for the stage, covered it with pine boughs, and ran a water hose through the pool and through the bottom of the stage and out on top to make a fountain. Borrowing a spot light from the local school system, I set it up to throw different colored lights on the stage. With the crowd of mostly parents seated along the fence, and darkness falling, the show was on. As the spotlight came on, Minnehaha, the Indian maiden, was sitting by the fountain in the center of the pool, a beautiful scene. Proudly, I stepped to the microphone and began the narration, “By the shores of Gitchigumme, by the shining, big sea waters...”
At this time, a second, smaller light was directed to the rear, left corner of the pool, where a local youth, as Hiawatha, slipped into his canoe, and started paddling toward the stage and his true love, Minnehaha. He had won this dramatic plum because he assured me he had been to Boy Scout camp and knew something about canoes, and also owned the only Indian head dress in town, a holdover from last Halloween. As I gazed in horror, I realized that he was overacting, arriving on the scene much too fast and lacking the skills to stop the speeding canoe. My rendition of the beautiful poem was lost somewhere in the screams and yells of the audience, as the canoe quickly slid up onto the side of my stage, turned it up on it’s side and threw my Indian maiden into the pool, along with the pine boughs and of course, the fountain. The last look that the audience got of the beautiful Minnehaha was a classic “mooning," as she slowly slid under the water.
Hiawatha, of course, lost his head dress, paddle, and a chance to star in my next production, as his incompetent little butt disappeared from my view. Trying to figure out some way to salvage the show, I now looked to my fierce Chippawa braves on the far side of the pool, originally scheduled to do a spine-chilling dance through the two-teepee village, but now rolling in the grass, in side-splitting laughter and through for the night. Drowning Hiawatha came to mind, but the audience was having too much fun with the way the show was progressing for something so dire.
Gathering my wits and taking stock of the situation, while trying to save something from the long hours of rehearsals, I turned on all the lights, announced free swimming for everyone, and closed the show.
As far as I know, this was the first and last water pageant ever performed at the local pool. At least, it surely was for me. It's hard to fly with eagles when you're surrounded by turkeys.
This experience reminds me of an Indian story, I credit to my wife Gray. Please suffer my attempts to embellish it somewhat.
Somewhere in one of the colder regions of our great country, an Indian brave, a fierce and handsome warrior, stood on the banks of a beautiful lake and called across to an Indian maiden on the other side. Every day, he would come down to the shore and call out to the beautiful love of his life, then listen as she called back to him. Being canoe-less (you may want to look that up), he had no way to ever be with this beautiful creature. One day, his heart almost bursting with love, he gathered all the beads he could find, a few of his best beaver pelts, and all his wampum (money) in large denominations and charged into the icy water. After about ten strokes, hypothermia set in and he sunk beneath the surface, drowning immediately. A century later, the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a local historical society met to hear the story and then named the lake in his honor, Lake Stupid.