Early Manhattan Women Swimmers on Film

As part of the festivities surrounding the 5th anniversary of Diana Nyad’s Cuba-Florida crossing, this open letter to the most reputable historians revisits one of Nyad’s biggest lies.

15 September 2018

Dear Reputable Historians,

You’ll recall that, back in 2011, CNN caught Diana Nyad lying about being the first woman to swim around Manhattan Island. In response, Ms. Nyad posted (then deleted) a disingenuous non-mea-culpa. You can still find it here.

An excerpt:

The history is unclear. The dissemination of accurate information has not followed an empirical path. 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.

Still from “Swim around Manhattan–outtakes” (via MIRC) showing Anne Priller Benoit joking with an unidentified competitor before the start of the 1930 race around Manhattan. Benoit finished 5th overall and 1st among the women.

I write to you, most reputable historians, in the hope that you’ll grab your shovels and resume digging.

Thinking that it would be undignified for reputable historians to work up too much of a sweat, I gathered evidence for you—after Nyad posted the above-mentioned response—and filed it here: Newspaper Clippings of Nyad’s Manhattan Predecessors.

But you were too slow. Maybe you just wanted to be thorough and academically rigorous. Whatever it was, Diana got antsy and didn’t wait for your “collective best versions.” Within a year, she was back to #1. (See Nyad’s Manhattan 1st timeline.)

So, reputable-but-dilatory historians, I offer the following. For the first time in the annals of sport, a single depository contains all the publicly available film of Nyad’s Manhattan predecessors (see below). If I’ve missed some, please let me know.

One note before we enter the Annex’s climate-controlled, fire-proof (some of the old film is on celluloid) vault. I located footage of five of the six women, including film of three of them swimming—or preparing to swim—around Manhattan, and film of one of them completing the swim.

For what it’s worth, I found no film of Nyad completing the swim either.

Detail from “Woman Swimmer Circles Manhattan On Her 2d Attempt,” New York Times, 7 Oct 1075.

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Diane Struble (1959)

Not only do we have footage of the beginning, middle, and end of Struble’s swim, but we also have film of her appearance on the television game show “I’ve Got a Secret” (from November 1959). What’s Struble hiding? Here’s a hint: her secret may cause Diana Nyad to summon you historians again.

Other Struble video:

Lillian Garrick (1929) &  Anne Priller Benoit (1930)

Three women entered the 1930 race around Manhattan. They are, from left to right in the photo below, Anne Priller Benoit, Emmi Busse, and Lillian Garrick. Of the three, only Benoit finished. Garrick had completed the swim the year before (see “Girl, 17, Sets Swim Record“). I haven’t found anything else about Busse other than that she came from Germany and, at the time of the race, lived in New Jersey (see “22 in Swim Today Around Manhattan,” NY Times, 27 July 1930).

The above clips come from three sources:

  1. Swim Around Manhattan Island — Outtakes — via MIRC.
  2. Swim Around Manhattan Island — Outtakes (different than above) — via MIRC.
  3. Swimmers take part in marathon swim.. — via Critical Past. This footage is a lower resolution version of that available here: newsreel highlights of 1930.
Lottie Schoemmell (1926)

Film of Schoemmell swimming parts of her 156-mile, 57-hour Hudson River swim in 1926:

Mille Gade Corson (1921)

Footage of Corson becoming  the second woman to swim the English Channel:

More Gade footage, all but #5 via British Pathé.

  1. “Well Done, Mother!” (1926)
  2. Outtakes from “Channel Conquered Again” and “Well Done Mother” (1926)
  3. “Channel Swim Season is with Us Again” (1927)
  4. “Beaten Only By the Cold” (1927)
  5. “Immigration Test 2018 *** Fun Facts about Denmark *** Mille Gade” — via indfødsretsprøve.dk (in Danish).

 

Ida Elionsky

Ida Elionsky (1916) & Diana Nyad (1975)

I found no footage of Elionsky, the first woman to swim around Manhattan. Nor could I unearth any footage of Diana Nyad’s swim, the finish or otherwise.

It was easy, though, to find Nyad talking (and lying) about the endeavor:

Thank you for your attention, most reputable historians. Now get back to work!

Aquatically yours,

-Daniel Slosberg, former marathon swimmer
Los Angeles, CA, USA

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P.S. For more on Nyad’s Manhattan 1st, see:

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