Billions of Gallons of Sewage Can’t Be Wrong
I was in graduate school for Comparative Literature at NYU in 1975 and when I came back to school in the fall, after a summer on the world marathon swimming circuit, such as the annual swim across the Bay of Naples, from Capri to Naples, Italy...
Nyad may or may not have gone to NYU, but she did swim the Capri-Naples race the summer of ’75. It would be her last time: she finished fourth of seven women, 14th overall—not the best evidence for her “greatest long-distance swimmer in the world” claim (see “Nyad’s Promotional Materials”).
It’s hard to manufacture a first when the people who out-swam you are standing two feet away. It’s much easier to do so when they they no longer swim among us and thus can’t refute your claims. Nyad’s prospects for finding fame and fortune on the pro circuit having evaporated, she needed to find another way.
...a friend asked if anyone had ever swum around Manhattan...and why didn’t I do something inspired right here in my own back yard, instead of in foreign waters? I checked with the Coast Guard as to the logistics and in planning with them, learned that in the early years of the 20th century, when the rivers of New York were much cleaner...
Wait, what? The Coast Guard said New York’s rivers were dirtier in 1975, three years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, than they were earlier in the century when they coursed with raw sewage and untreated industrial waste?
Before the 1930 race in which Anne Priller Benoit became the 5th woman to circle Manhattan, New York City Health commissioner Shirley Wynne urged swimmers not to compete (see article above right). He called the race “a salty sewage contest.” Wynne sent a police officer to warn competitors that, by entering the water, they risked contracting typhoid fever.
Here’s some content about the content of the city’s rivers early and mid-century:
1916—New York Times
At present not only New York City, but every other community fronting on the waters surrounding the city is discharging sewage, amounting to 700,000,000 of gallons daily, and it’s constantly increasing.
1946—Journal News (Nyack)
The river ought not be allowed to become the overgrown sewer that it is….
As a result of the billions of gallons of sewage that daily pour into [the Hudson’s] waters…, the river today is little better than an open sewer….
So, no, the early years of the 20th century were not ideal for dips in the Hudson, et al. No Coast Guard officer in his or her right mind would have told Nyad it was.
Be Still My Pounding Heart
According to Nyad, she had heard of only men braving those turbid waters:
...there were men who did swim around the island. Women were never mentioned to me.
The passive voice, indispensable instrument of verbal evasion. Nyad plays it masterfully: “Women were never mentioned to me.” In other words “it’s not my fault, don’t blame this gal—I was just along for the ride.” Don’t even blame her for organizing the swim because she didn’t plan it herself, or so the passive voice implies:
The day was planned. The day ensued. And it has always, always been the fondest memory of my former marathon swimming career. My heart still pounds when I fly into New York and the glorious expanse of the Hudson reminds me of that October 6, nearly 36 years ago.
What kind of person insists that their fondest memory is one that they know is steeped in deceit?
So imagine my mind-boggling surprise, all these many years later, now that I am suddenly back in the marathon swimming world, preparing to swim from Cuba to Florida this summer, after not swimming a stroke since 1979, to hear that there were in fact one or maybe two or maybe even as many as half a dozen women who did swim around Manhattan back in the early days!!!!!
Imagine my mind-boggling surprise when I read that nonsense. In her 1978 memoir, OTHER SHORES, Nyad herself wrote:
Nyad was, in fact, not surprised—mind-bogglingly or otherwise. Diana did her research. She knows the names and times of the “half a dozen women who did swim around Manhattan back in the early days!!!!!” She has lied about it for at least ten years. [Update 26 Nov. 2017: Nyad also lied about “not swimming a stroke since 1979.” See No Escape!]
The history is unclear.
The dissemination of accurate information has not followed an empirical path.
Huh? What is that supposed to mean? A guess: “Accurate information exists, but it shows that I’m a liar, so I need to say that it’s not accurate.” Or something along those lines.
I am waiting for the most reputable historians of the sport to dig further and publish their research as to their collective best versions as to who did in fact circle Manhattan, when and how.
When Nyad gets caught in a big lie, she summons amorphous authorities to substantiate her claims. For Manhattan, it’s “the most reputable historians of the sport” with their “collective best versions” spilling from their well-worn satchels. In the Cuba-Florida crossing, Nyad conjured “auspices of the sport and different record keepers” to judge the deficient accounts of her endeavor.
But you can toss your shovels back into the shed. No digging required. Six women swam around Manhattan between 1916 and 1959. You know it, I know it, Nyad knows it. Wait time: zero.
We need to learn more about one Ida Elionsky....
No, we don’t. Nyad herself already told us about her. See above.
We have some records about the success of one Amelia “Millie” Gade circling in 1921.
Was that an admission submerged beneath 500 gallons of effluent? In fact, we DO have some records about one Mille (not “Millie”) Gade who circled Manhattan in 1921 and who, in 1926, became the second woman to swim the English Channel. But Nyad already knew that.
And there are others who deserve research efforts, too.
If that weren’t so sad, it would be funny.
Please tune in shortly for the third and (hopefully) final episode of Diana’s GREAT Surprise!