The following is my response to a request in the October 2009 Ames High School Alumni Association Newletter concerning Carr’s Pool, where I worked in the 1950s. A request was made for anecdotes about our memories of that wonderful swimming pool. It is a shame that it is closing.
My mother Frances Keltner Garner, widowed in 1943 during WW II, returned to her childhood home in Ames from Wisconsin and lived at 1124 Harding Avenue while my brother Paul (Jerry) and I were growing up. My family all graduated from Ames High and then ISU as did my husband. My dad, Paul C. Garner, graduated from ISU as well. His name is to be found engraved in the Hall of Honor under the World War II deaths at the Memorial Union at ISU. Mom was of Story County lineage. She drove me out to Carr’s Pool, probably the summer of 1956, when I was in ninth grade at Central Junior High. She introduced me to Ma and Pa Carr, who hired me to work in the basket room for $.50 per hour when the weather was warm. All I’d done before was detassel corn (short season for $.65 per hour and a $.10 bonus if we stayed the whole season?). If it weren’t warm enough for folks to come swimming, I got sent home. I remember lots of wonderful things about the pool and the people and the times but thought I’d describe an event that occurred in one of the later years of the 1950s when I was working in that basket room. Perhaps someone will remember that year when so many of us were very lucky.
It was one of those stifling hot, horrible days, likely July or August of 1950s in Ames. It was so hot and muggy that the only thing to do was to go to Carr’s Pool. Most of us didn’t have air conditioning yet. The pool was crowded with hundreds of people who had dressed in the open dressing rooms or one of the open air stalls. They left their baskets with one of the basket girls like I was, and headed for the pool after they picked up a basket tag and attached it to their suits. There were suits and towels that could be rented by those who hadn’t remembered theirs. I was really fast in retrieving these baskets and with one hand returning the tag to the basket with a quick knot. It seems like it cost $.50 to get in the pool. The pool manager was then Gary Carr, a grandson of the older Carrs. Pa and Ma Carr drove down the hill once in a while and looked the pool over and said hello.
People were jumping around, as there was no room for swimming, just cooling off in such a noisy, earthy way. Kids were clamoring for attention. It was as though the whole pool jumped up and down. There was only room to bounce and then immerse oneself. Towels were strewn on the cyclone fences and on the cement. Some parents rested on the bleachers under the trees. Each bench was crowded with adults. Some people just dropped off kids for some free babysitting and hoped their kids would be intact when they retrieved them. Carr’s pool was everybody’s favorite place in the summer. The pool then was twice as large as the last time I visited it, with room for lots of people.The guards, on their towers, were vigilant, trying to keep their eyes on everybody all at once. It was necessary to remind people not to run or get too boisterous. There was always the need to keep order on the 2 metal tops in the deep end. They spun rapidly when people ran fast, and it was inevitable that someone would fall off or fall down and could get scraped up on the sandpaper like surface. (Especially if they tried to hang on to the center wheel.) There were always kids dive-bombing off the 16-foot tower. It was necessary to maintain order on the small board, the 10-foot board and the platform tower. There was a dangerous empty space under the entrance steps where kids like to submerge and pretend they were in an underwater cave. There was a giant, climbable fountain in the shallow water that kids weren’t supposed to jump or dive from. In short, it was always an accident waiting to happen. But everybody loved Carr’s Pool, and they even loved the slight dangers that would never pass muster with those interested now in safety. When the City of Ames took over ownership of the pool, I imagine, dangers that were so much fun were removed.
As the day progressed, it got increasingly hot and muggy. We were so busy that I had hardly looked up to realize that there was a weather change happening. At a time, I looked up, and the sky had suddenly darkened to a still, grayish black, menacing and frightful. There was no noise at all. Within moments, the entire pool full of wet people emptied and clamored loudly for their baskets immediately, surrounding the basket room, shoving, and trying to get under the eaves for shelter. People, frightened to death, surrounded us. Kids wanted to use the one phone to call home. They needed their baskets to retrieve their change. Was it a dime for a phone call?
The temperature dropped although it was hot in the basket room. Kids were shivering. I didn’t see the wind or the funnel that might have been there. I was working too fast trying to keep people from being any more frightened than they were already. In a moment, the lights went out, and the wind swooped and plummeted close over the basket and dressing rooms, taking out the power poles behind the pool. It was suddenly night. I can’t remember whether the poles were down or whether the lines were snapped, but something major happened to the electricity behind the pool. The pool emptied as fast as it possibly could have. No one was hurt. Parents miraculously picked up all of the children. If the power lines were down, no one was hurt by them. A very fortunate group of Iowans was safe. There was probably only a 15-foot driveway between the building and the poles with a driveway in-between. I didn’t know until I left that afternoon that the poles had been hit.
I’m double-checking my memories. Did something happen to the electric poles? I’ve remembered that they went down but am not sure. I’d like to know the date. Was there a funnel? The weather people probably know. And someone else now alive must remember this time when a lot of people could have been hurt.
I’m sure a book could be written on everybody’s memories of Carr’s pool. When I worked there, it was an era when we had just had 5 or 6 years of black and white television. I remember WOI and KASI and WHO and KRNT. There were band concerts and playground programs. There was a wonderful Carnegie library. We could play tennis at the park and games outside at night in our neighborhoods, but for summer civic entertainment, everyday, Carr’s Pool was it. We all loved it. While I was working, I learned to swim at night free (a real perquisite for a kid without much money) when the pool traffic was slowing down. I continue to enjoy swimming until this very day. It is the best life sport aside from walking, and I am thankful everyday I grew up in Ames and learned how to swim and got such a great education. There are many things I am grateful for in Ames, and my memories are rich. This year, my 1960 AHS graduation class celebrated its 50th reunion in May. I was there and you requested a copy of this memory. Here it is.
Recollection by Mary Garner Metzger
1940 Hines Lakeview Dr.
Cumberland WI 54829