It’s July, time to sit back and relax. It’s time for some (very) light reflections on Schuylkill County’s past. Maybe you can read this old story published years ago in the Pottsville Free Press on your Kindle while you are on your lounge chair in backyard or at the beach.
JFK POOL MEMORIES (a fictional summer read)
I want to share my memories of JFK pool with you. For those who are unfamiliar with Pottsville’s JFK Pool, it is named after the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and not the former presidential candidate and Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry. This fabled swimming pool is located at Railway Park in the northwest section of Pottsville. When it opened in 1965, it was the premier swimming pool in eastern Pennsylvania.
Pottsville’s new pool was so big that it was rumored to have its own zip code. That means it had a very large volume of recirculating water. How much, I can’t tell you for sure. However, when in the center of the pool you could not see land in any direction.
Prior to the pool opening, the west side of Pottsville had to be content with an inflatable plastic pool located at the high school. However, a careless lifeguard accidentally punctured the pool and the west-siders had to now cross Route 61 to swim at the ice-cold East Side Pool. Brrr. The long walk up East Norwegian Street carrying inner tubes and rafts was intolerable for the west-side citizenry. Mayor Michael Close, during his weekly WPAM radio fireside chat, challenged the citizenry. Soon a round-the-clock mammoth public works project began in earnest …no, it actually began in Railway Park. Before you know it, the JFK Pool opened its doors to thousands of pasty Pottsvillians all bedecked in Speedos and makeshift thongs on Memorial Day 1965. The diminutive Mayor Close stepped upon a Marsden Potato Chip can and turned towards the impatient horde, hoisting his rod high above his head, he thunderously proclaimed, “Let my people swim!”
What a sight to behold. It was the biggest water event in the area since the last Mount Carbon Arch flood. Yes; there were a few glitches. For instance, the signs for the restrooms pointed to the pool but were quickly moved to show the right directions.
The facility was ready for action. Every admitted guest carrying his or her flotation device quickly walked through the water sprays before claiming a spot of grass to place a towel. Then it was a mad rush over to the concession stand for fries, hot dogs, burgers and frozen Snicker bars. This was followed by a twenty minute break to avoid the possibility of stomach cramps. When the twenty minutes were up, the enormous crowd then headed to the pool for an afternoon of summer delight. The pool was officially open for business! History was being made in the City.
JFK pool was the deepest and biggest in the county. On a sweltering hot week-end the crowd made the pool resemble the Ganges in India. But, when the sun set, the crowds would stampede home to coat themselves with Noxema lotion, and the empty pool area would be cleaned by the staff in preparation for the next day of activity.
Besides recreational swimming JFK Pool featured Pottsville’s own Aquacade. It was truly a spectacle, which occurred mid-summer with many local youngsters performing choreographed swims to the backdrop of Broadway melodies. It was the perfect expression of Pottsville’s excessive style back then – opulent, extravagant, lavish and magnificent. I wonder if anyone else remembers Aquacade, with all the synchronized swimmers, floats and divers? If you participated, then let me know.
For the tots the facility has a baby pool (No it was not called the JFK, Jr. pool nor “the john john”). However, the focal point of the facility was “La Torre,” or “the tower” – a massive vertical concrete edifice that appeared to be a half mile high through the eyes of a child. How high was the Tower? Well, the oxygen got mighty thin as you scaled the steps. Once on the platform, you got a peaceful, woozy feeling of accomplishment. You were on top of the world! It was as if you were an Acapulco cliff diver. Spectators were mesmerized by the fearless and the reckless who hurled themselves off the platform doing an array of jumps, cannonballs, belly flops and can openers from the nearby concrete bleachers or from the Catholic War Veterans’ balcony which overlooked the pool.
I still swim at the pool (but only during the summer months). Without a doubt JFK Pool is Pottsville’s greatest attraction, even greater than the PADCO piano placed at the corner of Market and Second Street. Although the Tower is gone, the Pool now has “The Whitewater Slide” as its replacement. This fiberglass chute recalls the exhilaration and highs and lows of the Clinton Administration. Yes, the weekday crowds are sparse but remember that people are now much larger in size than before and, therefore, the pool still gives an appearance of hosting a large crowd.
The idea of a community pool is no longer fashionable. Apparently, most people want to swim alone in a private backyard pool or do virtual swimming on an X-Box. I don’t know why. Do you? JFK Pool is definitely worth the price of admission. Trust me. Squeeze into your Speedo, thong or illusion suit and head over this summer. I think you will enjoy yourself.