Summer Fun on Days Long Gone

6 August 2016

Have you ever felt that dread when, on their return from some far flung place, your friend threatens to show you their summer holiday photos? You may have to sit through that particular agony.  In the meantime, here is a collection of photographs spanning the first seven decades of the twentieth century which show summer in all its glory.  Times and social mores may have changed, but these may still be the type of pictures you wish your friend had taken.

Image Credit Florida Memory
A group of young women make fun of a sign demanding that they wear full bathing costumes while on Florida’s Miami beach.  Come on, this is 1934, after all!  Sure enough, there were a number of women arrested that year for wearing two piece bathing suits.

You can be fairly certain the young women above didn't stay here.

Just as the women of Miami were in open rebellion, on the other side of the world the men were taking risks too.  The man in the center of the picture is Alf Gould, surrounded and being teased by his surfing buddies on Bondi Beach, Australia, in 1932.  Alf had decided to go backless.  His bathing suit, which revealed his back contravened the law that said men could not expose their upper torso on the beach.  By seeing how far he could stretch the law, Alf helped to start a process which has ended up with the tiny speedo trunks we see on our beaches today. He has a lot to answer for.

The little madam above has more to worry about than her swimsuit, however. This 1905 postcard harkens back to the days when many beaches were segregated.  The men would go one way and the women another.  Perhaps we might not express too much surprise, after all, when other cultures still do this.

Even in 1932 some people were simply too cool for the beach.

Image Credit Library of Congress
This photograph was taken around 1912-13 on Brighton Beach in New York City.  It is not known whether the tango dancers here were accompanied by musicians or by one of those new-fangled gramophone records which, by 1910 had won an early format war over cylinders.

Image Credit Library of Congress
The need to keep cool was as pressing then as it is now. This picture was taken some time between 1910 and 1915 but it is quite likely to be 1911. Why? The summer of that year saw an 11 day heatwave on the east coast of America which killed hundreds of people. These young New Yorkers are taking advantage of the kindness offered by a storekeeper. Slabs of ice have been left outside and they are licking it voraciously. You have to wonder whether any tongues got stuck.

Image Credit University of Washington
Crowds of people in the water and on the shore at Greenlake beach, Seattle, Washington, between 1929 and 1932.  The world was a mess – the Great Depression was in full swing – but people still knew how to enjoy themselves, despite the financial doom and gloom of the time.

Image Credit Missouri State Archives
Fast forward to 1955 and if swimming wasn't out of fashion, taking the family out for a jaunt in an amphibious car was definitely in.

Image Credit Nationaal Archief
Jude Law’s granddad, in bathing suit and a lady friend share their sandwiches. This was taken somewhere in the Netherlands, circa 1930.

Image Credit US National Archives
This group of youths, photographed in their home town of New Ulm, Minnesota, have the difficult task of deciding what to do on a hot 1975 summer's day.  They have the bikes, they have just about the right gender ratio.  Spielberg movie, anyone?

Image Credit Jewish Historical Society
Some youngsters were luckier and had their entertainment provided. These Minnesotan boys, pictured in 1940, were enrolled in a "Stay At Home Camp" that allowed them to engage in camp activities in their own neighborhood. Is that a young Marty Crane in the cap?

Image Credit Library of Congress
There were plenty of people willing to provide the entertainment, too. Taken in the early 1910s at Coney Island, this photograph was captioned The Whole Drand Family. While it is possible that the people here are, indeed, the Drands, this was most likely a play of words to avoid the word darned. The inclusion of monkeys in the photograph makes it all the more likely.

Image Credit Library of Congress
About the same time, swimming races were all the rage at Coney Island.

Image Credit Library of Congress
Yong ladies of the wealthier classes were, however, expected to pursue rather more sedate summertime activities.  Here, blindfolded girls had to cut a rope to get a prize on Bastille Day celebrations in the New York of 1914.  It looks like the little girl in the center is getting a little help from her older sister, however.

Image Credit Library of Congress
You didn’t have to be rich to afford scraped ice. The ice man would scrape the ice on to a piece of card and offer a choice of flavors from the large glass jars he carried with his portable store. The small child to the right of the flavor jars doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, such is his anticipation. 

Image Credit George Eastman House
A 1932 group shot from the Ladies Home Journal of Summer 1932.  These are somewhat more modest than a number of the outfits we will be seeing.

Image Credit US National Archives
Fast forward forty years and the models featured in the swimwear feature hold a reunion.  In fact these are residents of the Century Village Retirement Community in Florida, gathered around the pool for their daily exercise session.  Taken in 1973, these game old timers would perhaps have worn something like their 1930s counterparts in their youth.

Image Credit Nationaal Archief
Although the location and date of this photograph is not known it is probable that it is over a century old. Guess what girls just wanted to have, even back then?

Image Credit US National Archives
Sometimes, though, the date really doesn't matter when the subject matter is so timeless. There should always be some time for a little summer loving. In the background of this 1973 photograph you can see planes taking off from Boston’s Logan airport.  If the couple pictured were twenty at the time, and just married, they would now be celebrating their Ruby Wedding Anniversary.

Image Credit Nationaal Archief
Summer in Amsterdam. People enjoying themselves on a beach in the city in1923.  They may not have been rich but they knew how to have a good time.

Image Credit Nationaal Archief
Others preferred their beach breaks a little better prepared, even if Junior does looked bored senseless.

Image Credit Library of Congress
New York, probably at the time of the great heat wave which started on July 4 1911.  The two boys with shaven heads may have had a mother who was a little too keen in her attempts to keep her boys cool.  It is more likely, however, that they both had had a case of head lice or ringworm.  Never mind the boys, though. What about the poor man in the background, his suitcases and the world weighing him down in equal measure.

Image Credit Missouri State Archives
In 1955 escape was to be found on the water. Yet water bikes proved to be a short-lived fad.

Image Credit UW Digital Collections
Other fads have an even shorter shelf life. Some people retain their senses in the summer sun.  Others defy logic and do some crazy things.  This young woman, pictured in around 1929, takes refuge from the heat in a wooden crate full of rabbit fur.

Image Credit Nationaal Archief
Sometimes a fad can border not just on the silly but on the dangerous. This group of sun worshippers from 1961 have decided to top up their tan with a foldable reflector.  It is unlikely this would do anything more than burn the skin and possibly damage the eyes.  However, the search for the perfect tan was as much trial and error as anything else.

Image Credit Library of Congress
Back to the long, hot summer of 1911 and these New York street kids are lined up for a race. It looks as if they have already been enjoying playing in a fountain. Where to, next?

Image Credit Flickr User Library of Congress
Unfortunately the proprieties of the day meant that although the young boys can divest themselves of their clothing in public spaces, grown men cannot. The best they can do is to flop down, exhausted by the heat and take a rest in New York’s Battery Park.

Image Credit Nantucket Historical Society
In 1937 the residents of Nantucket awoke one morning to find a giant sea serpent had washed up on their beach.  Unperturbed they nevertheless went to inspect the gargantuan beast.  The old lady on the center right of the picture is saying to her friend: we’re going through a severe worldwide economic depression and they spend their money on this?

Image Credit The Library of Congress
A group of young ladies from the Washington Irving High Schools in New York City, have a picnic at the Midsummer Day Festival which was held at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx on June 23, 1911.   This was before the great heat wave of that year, so perhaps that’s why the girls don’t look too overheated with the possible exception of the one with the banana.

Image Credit OSU Special Collections
Sometimes, though, a girl just wants to be on her own with just her dog and her thoughts...

Image Credit Library of Congress
...and her parasol.  In the summer of 1913 two women were appointed policewomen at Newport Beach, California.  The photograph above shows either Jeannette Buchanan or Minnie Smith.  The New York Times reported in the June of that year that they wore military blouses of blue, but brass buttons, blue skirts to match, and straw hats. One promenaded the beach with a parasol. Women would get the vote in the United States seven years later.

Image Credit George Eastman House
These two very dapper young women, taking advantage of the swings on Atlantic Beach in 1905 prove three things.  First of all, one should never look anything but one’s best, even when the occasion is of an informal nature. Secondly, that bow ties always were – and always will be – cool.  Finally, they prove that when it comes to the summer, sometimes it's best just to sit back and relax.


First Image Credit National Maritime Muesum


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