Pool Being Gobbled Up

Missourian Photographer Fred Lynch had to cover a ball game at Capaha Park Saturday afternoon. He was kind enough to shoot these updated photos of the heavy equipment continuing to demolish the Capaha Park Pool.

This was taken at the northwest corner of the pool, in the deep water end. The equipment has already broken through the chemical room under the diving area described by Jacqie / Bill Jackson in the first story.

Close-up of demolished diving area

Here is a close-up of the diving area. The door from the outside leading into the chemical treatment room is visible.

Oval is original pool

It looks like our generation won’t even have a trace of the our pool left to remember it by, unlike the oval left of the original pool.

Close-up showing old pool

The arc is the edge of the pool that was used until the “new” pool was built in 1957.

Fred climbed train for this shot

Photographers love climbing on things; crawling under them or swinging from them. There aren’t many jobs where people pay you to act like a kid. Most of us who swam in that pool also climbed all over this switch engine from the cement plant.

Links to previous stories





Cape Pool’s Final Days

Like Terry Hopkins pointed out in his moving commentary yesterday, this is the time of year when the Capaha Park Pool should be opening for another swimming season. Instead, heavy equipment moved in to bury bricks, mortar and memories.

If you ever dipped a toe in the Capaha pool, I’d encourage you to go back and the read stories written by three life guards from the Class of 1966. All of them said the pool changed their lives. The comments that have been left here, Facebook and The Missourian are equally touching.

I wonder how many years it will take before the memory of our pool is as distant as the one that preceded it. Probably most of us never turned away from the diving area to look at a tiny concrete oval below us. That was the original pool.

A rite of passage

Going through those double doors by yourself was a real rite of passage. Not quite equal to getting your driver’s license, but pretty close. You’d go through the doors, pay your entrance fee, then get issued a wire basket with a safety pin-like number on it that you used to claim it when you left.

You’d go into the communal dressing room where a young boy couldn’t help but feel woefully insignificant and insufficient when he confronted teenage boys and men wandering around in their all together. Fortunately, the dressing rooms didn’t have a ceiling or roof, so you could spend your time looking up at the sky like there was something of interest to see up there.

You’d better look showered

Somewhere, there was a sign that said something to the effect that showers were required before swimming. Woe be the person who didn’t look at least superficially wet when they exited the dressing room.

One the way out, you’d splash through some kind of dark liquid that I suppose was intended to kill whatever creeping crud you might have on your feet. The final step was to turn in your metal basket and clip the safety pin thingy to your suit before stepping through the second set of double doors leading to nirvana.

On the east end of the building was the concession stand. The thing I remember most was some kind of thin, taffy-like, multi-colored candy that was sold between sheets of waxed paper. A chain link fence bisected the stand so people outside in the park who hadn’t paid for admission to the pool could still buy things.

Shallow water and toddler pool

The shallow end and toddler pool were to the east.

Toddler pool was always warm

If you were REALLY young or had smaller siblings in tow, you’d turn left toward the kiddy pool. The water in there was always warm. I never liked to contemplate whether it was because it was shallow and would heat up quickly or if it was a byproduct of all the toddlers dunked in there.

Water got deeper to the west

When you got taller or learned how to swim, you’d migrate from the shallow eastern end of the pool to the rope at the west end of the L that marked the deep end. If the life guards doubted your ability, they’d whistle you over and make you demonstrate your swimming prowess.

Diving area was the best and worst of worlds

After you had spent some time getting up enough courage to jump off the edge of the pool doing cannonballs and splashing around, it was time to graduate to the diving boards.

I don’t know how far above the water the low dive was, but it was by no means LOW the first time I got up enough nerve to climb up on it. It felt like it was at least 10 stories high. Still, it didn’t take long for me to transition from holding my nose and jumping to doing some actual bounce-the-board dives.

High dive required oxygen, Sherpa guide

If the LOW dive felt high, then the actual HIGH dive was somewhere akin to Mount Everest. I expected that you’d be assigned a Sherpa guide and supplementary oxygen to scale those heights.

I don’t know if it was an official rule, an unofficial understanding or just a sadistic whim of the life guard who saw me climbing the steps to the high dive for the first time.

“That’s a one-way trip”

“That’s a one-way trip,” he growled. Well, to be accurate, if it was Terry Hopkins, it really might have been a squeak, but it sounded like a growl to me at the time. “If you go up that ladder, there’s only one way to get off the diving board and that’s off the end. There’s no turning back.”

Fearing the guard more than the certain death that was facing me, I opted to keep climbing. Not only was that sucker HIGH, but the board jiggled and quivered like it was just waiting to launch me off into outer space of its own volition.

My toes were clawing air

I think I was about 12 when I made the journey UP the ladder, but I’m pretty sure I was old enough to need to shave by the time I got up enough nerve jump off the board feet-first, holding my nose. My eyes were clinched tightly closed so I couldn’t see, but I bet my toes were clawing air like a cartoon character all the way down.

They say the water was only 12 feet deep under the boards, but they just have been using some kind of foreign tape measure that computed in light years, not feet.

I was hooked

Once I got back into air and light, I did a quick visible body part check, divided by two and came out with an even number. Then, I made a beeline for the high dive. For the rest of the summer, I wore a rut in the concrete going from water to diving board. I never got good, but I got where I didn’t embarrass myself.

Circle marked home of Millie the Duck

The south side of the pool had a large concrete pad that was perfect for lounging around. This circle marked where a huge tree stood. One day someone called the newsroom to report that one of the lagoon’s ducks was sitting on a nest of eggs in the gravel under the tree.

Summer in the newspaper business was called “the silly season,” because everything slowed down and the most superficial of stories could find themselves on the front page. Consequently, Denny O’Neil and I were dispatched to interview Millie the Duck.

Denny was a heck of a writer. He did the words when I got the wild idea of using infrared film to shooting the audience watching Help, the Beatles movie at the Esquire. I also talked him into covering a Flying Saucer Convention.

Anyway, Denny did too good a job. Everybody in town loved the story. Editor jBlue let us know we were on permanent Millie duty until the eggs hatched. I was getting paid by the photo, so I didn’t care; Denny became less and less enchanted with the assignment as the ducklingless days passed. I’ll save the full Millie saga for later when I find all the photos.

Pool a metaphor for life

The pool was a metaphor for life for most Boomer Cape Girardeau kids. We started in the warm waters of the toddler pool under the watchful eye of our parents; then we were given the freedom to explore the shallow waters under the guidance of life guards not a whole lot older than we were. We got brave enough to venture into the figurative and literal deep waters and finally graduated with that amazing first flight off the high board.

Scatter my ashes above the pool

Terry Hopkins wrote yesterday, “At one time, I wanted my ashes scattered on the hill above the pool just so I could be close and watch people having fun at a place I loved.”

Looked a little seedy at end

The facility was looking a little ragged toward the end. The main building could have used some pressure cleaning. The tank itself looked pretty good, but some of the deck needed concrete patching.

Jacqie / Bill Jackson wrote yesterday that the method for keeping the water treated and in balance was dangerous and “seat-of-the-pants” even in the 70s, so the city probably was justified in ending an era.

When I shot these photos in April, I knew the pool wasn’t going to open this year.

Still, there’s a big difference between knowing the patient is terminal and getting a call in the middle of the night that the life journey is over. Wife Lila said she kept going back and rereading the story all day. It’s like she lost a friend.

Overview of the park

Here’s an overview of Capaha Park taken April 17, 2011. The ball field is on the left; the lagoon is on the right and the L-shaped swimming pool is above the lagoon. Broadway is to the right and Cherry Hill is in the lower left corner. The-red roofed building at the bottom is the band shell.

If you have a story to share about Capaha Pool, please leave a comment. I’ve been amazed at how much the facility meant to over a half-century of children and their parents.

Technical nit: for some reason, the blog will sometimes not show new content if you’ve been to the page before. If you press Ctrl-F5, it will refresh your browser and show you the new material.


Capaha Pool Reduced to Memories

When I was in Cape last month, I took a bunch of photos of the Capaha Park Pool, including an aerial, because I knew something was going to happen to it. When I opened up Facebook this morning. Mary Bolen had posted this photo of heavy equipment knocking down the pool house. She was kind enough to let me reproduce it.

We’re going to run photos of the pool for the next two days. Today we’ll showcase photos taken during the 1960s, along with memories of three lifeguards who worked there. I’m going to pretty much stand back and let them do all the talking. The next day, I’ll publish photos of what the pool looked like more recently.

Lila Perry Steinhoff’s story

Lila Perry Steinhoff’s love affair with the water:

I have to admit that I felt a quiet tear or two when I saw the picture of the heavy equipment tearing down Capaha Pool. Capaha Pool was where I first realized that I loved the water… a love that has never left me. I walked into Capaha Pool for swimming lessons when I was 10 years old and didn’t leave until I was 20. I learned to swim there, and later, taught swimming, coached a water ballet team and met a life-long friend there.

Last swim was last summer

I last swam in Capaha pool on June 28 and 29, 2010. I did a mile both days. I still loved the place. It never occurred to me that it would be my last time.

The time I spent at Capaha Pool is time I have never forgotten. I can’t remember working anywhere else in the past 45 years that I have loved and remembered more than my time there.  Concrete may not last forever, but good memories do.

Lila’s one serious rescue

Other than having to shove tired swimmers toward the side on occasion, I can remember having to actually rescue only one little girl in the 10 years I was there. She was in one of my swimming classes.

One skill required of each student was to swim across the pool. She was half way across when her long, loose, wet hair covered her face and she couldn’t breathe. I went in and took her to the side. She was shaken and so was her mother. I asked her mother to please braid her hair or get her a cap. The next day, that child had the tightest braids I had ever seen. Plastic surgeons couldn’t have pulled her face any tighter.

Those of us who worked at Capaha were close, and we knew what was going on with everyone else.

“You’re getting married in two hours”

The day I got married, I taught swimming lessons until 1 PM, then went home to await the 7 PM start time. When I got home, my mother was having multiple meltdowns. I knew if I stayed there, I’d be a basket case, too, so I went back to the place where I felt most at home… the guard chair at Capaha.

Periodically, during the afternoon, fellow guards would walk by and suggest that maybe it was time to go home. I just didn’t want to, and I stayed. Finally, around 4:30, someone… I don’t remember who… got up in my face and, emphatically, said, “Go home. You’re getting married in 2 hours.” I left and was dressed and at the church door by 7… with a red nose. Forgot to use the zinc that day.

Terry Hopkins’ story

Strange, the Capaha pool would be opening this next weekend, Memorial Day weekend, and right now all of us would be working like dogs trying to open the pool. Track season would be over and Bill Jackson, Dave and Dan Ranson and I would be up to our necks in cleaning the pool with muriatic acid and shoveling all the leaves that had collected in the deep end diving well out. After that was done, we painted the bottom and touched up the lines on the bottom of the pool.

Ranson Twins laid out the lines

The first year we added the lines on the bottom of the pool, Dan and Dave Ranson designed it, and with sticks and string, laid it out and painted between the lines to make the eight lanes we used for swim meets…this was a great advance at the time. This took us forever, and I remember we were not paid. We were sweating and hoping the paint had enough time to dry before we had to start to fill the pool with water. We waited until the last minute for the paint to dry and then filled it…the paint held!

There is probably STILL some of that paint we laid on the pool after all these years.

It is funny, I knew every kid in town during those years from 1958 until I left town in 1970.

EVERYBODY went swimming

In those days EVERYBODY went swimming: the kids in afternoon and lessons or swim team in the mornings, the adults had Wednesday morning for “Ladies Day”. The Jaycees’ of several towns rented the pool at night and college groups at times too…

This was about the center of the kid universe in Cape at the time. Kids would play minor league or Babe Ruth baseball in the park and then come swimming to cool off. When you had to mow the  lawn, you went swimming to cool off. During the really hot days of summer you just went for a swim to cool off. If you were a kid you were at the Capaha Park Pool sometime during the summer.

I loved the place. I can remember all the lifeguards when I was growing up and they were GODS to me.   Even Norval Jones, the school record holder in the half mile, was a guard. I remember the guys said he had legs like trees.

Original pool rat

I was one of the original pool rats and swam every day. The pool opened when I was 10 or so, and I was old enough by then to ride my bike from 1414 Mississippi Street to the pool and swim until dinner time. I rode my bike home, ate and then waited until it was time to go the next day when it opened at 1:30 PM. That was my life and at the time it was great!

THEY can swim across the pool!

At the pool, my friends were Bill Jackson and Bob Young, and we all had season passes. We swam every day; at the time we were the only ones who were swimmers among the kids of that age or older. I can remember the lifeguards telling people, “look, these guys are only 10 years old and they can swim across the pool!”

Bill, Bob and I would swim in swimming lessons. When the swim team started, we were among the first to sign up and be there! Mr. (Dick) Flentge and Mr. Schneider were the first of the swim coaches. All of us took and passed the senior lifesaving course and became full-fledged, card-carrying life guards. Later, all of us became WSI or Water Safety Instructors and taught others the skills we learned and taught others to be life guards!

God of The Pool

Now back to becoming and attaining the HOLY GRAIL of really being a paid life guard and sitting on the chair at the Capaha Pool. You could take and pass your life guard test at 15-1/2 years, so in the summer of 1964, before I could drive, I climbed the chair for the first time as a GOD of the pool.

So this is how it happened. In August, the life guards were all shot and wanting time off, and the pool managers couldn’t get anyone to work. Ray Schurbusch was on the chair and wanted to see his  girlfriend before going back to school, but he had to work at the pool. Presto, I was a PAID life guard ( Mr. Cracraft approved me to work) and there I was a GOD of the pool at 15-1/2. I went home and my mom sewed the Lifeguard patch on my swimming suit that night so I could be a real LIFEGUARD.

Worked 60 hours a week for six summers

I worked at the pool 60 or so hours a week for next six summers as a pool guard, head guard and pool manager and swim team coach. Bill and I were the swim coaches at the pool and had a great working relationship. Bill worked with the big kids and produced several great swimmers and helped many kids to have better lives. I worked with the little kids and developed kids so they could become better and swim with the big kids and Bill.

Mrs. Jack Rickard (or MAW Rickard as we called her) ran the swimming lessons. I think back to that time as one the best times of my life, I did not know it then, but it was. We all had a great impact on kids’ lives and hopefully gave them some good values, a safe place to be and hang out and maybe had a little healthy fun too!

Scatter my ashes above the pool

At one time, I wanted my ashes scattered on the hill above the pool just so I could be close and watch people having fun at a place I loved.

Not a single time that I have returned to Cape have I missed seeing the Capaha Park Pool, and I will visit her again next week.  I will miss the Capaha Park Pool and all the life that ran thru it and all the memories it created over its life time.

Farewell my 12-foot deep, 8-lane, L-shaped fun factory and memory maker, farewell.

[Editor’s note: When I sent Terry an email thanking him for the good job he had done, he replied, “I had tears in my eyes at the end.”]

Jacqie (Bill) Jackson

Jacqie (Bill) Jackson, Class of 1966:  We started going to the pool as soon as our parents would let us go down here. I remember the pool being built in the late 50s. When we were little, we would go down and splash in the little pool. When we got to be about 10 or so, our parents turned us loose and would let us walk down there. The lifeguards essentially became our babysitters for the day.

I got involved with all the swimming lessons and activities with Helen Shamboo. We went through the whole program with Richard Flentge.

I was faster than the guards

I was on the swim team from 10 years old on. By the time I was 15, I could swim faster than all the lifeguards at the pool. When I got old enough, I did lifesaving and got lifeguard training. When I was 16, I got hired. That was the summer of ’65.  I was the only 16-year-old; everybody else was in college.

There was a great big guy named Martin and Irvin Beard and Allen Nenninger and Gary Kinder and David Langston: a whole bunch of basically fraternity guys and me.

Brothers were guards, too

I coached swimming, taught lessons and did life guarding. My brothers – both Bob and Tom -were lifeguards and coaches there after I was. There were the Ranson twins – Dave and Dan – and Terry Hopkins was coaching.   Bob Young, Emmett Jones’ son, was involved heavily through the years.

It set my life for 30  years. I continued to coach in different places, teach lessons, do lifeguard training. I kept my finger in aquatics right up until 2000. Lila and all of us were involved with the whole program for several years, then we were down at the Natatorium with Dan Beatty.

My last swim was sometime in the early to mid-80s after we came back from Alaska. We’d take the kids down to splash around. I probably got in to do a few laps or try to swim the length of the pool underwater like we used to do. It was a big deal to swim 50 yards underwater. Then we got good enough to push off the wall and make it back to the end of the deep water.

We were always in the water pushing some poor little kid to the side or dragging somebody four feet. Almost everybody who needed help was generally within about five feet from the edge, so  you’d get in behind them, go underwater, gave ’em a push on the butt, boost them to the side and let ’em grab hold.

Serious injuries came from diving boards

The serious injuries were on the diving boards.  There was always someone cutting the top of their  head open on those old aluminum boards. One kid was clowning around on the high dive one day. He walked out to the end, then decided he was going to walk back. He slipped, fell off the board half-way back, caught the rail, the concrete, the upper concrete level, and the lower concrete level and rolled in the water. I’ve never seen anyone bounce off so much concrete in my life.

Head off to the hospital

I had an old ’57 Plymouth. It was the designated car about half the time. We’d get a kid, slap a dirty towel on the top of his head and drive him up the hill to the emergency room at Southeast Hospital, drop him off and then call his parents, who would thank us for taking the kid to the hospital. To think about doing anything like that these days would be horrifying.

The pool began to show its age, even back in the 70s. We used straight-up chlorine in a tiny little concrete room down there. We also used caustic soda, 50 per cent sodium hydroxide in 55 gallon barrels. We adjusted chlorine and pH levels basically straight out of  tanks. We’d always get a dose of chlorine if we didn’t get the washers hooked up right. It was a seat-of-the-pants, old-time, dangerous operation.

It guided my life

As far as the demise, it’s been so long, you know. I drive by there and the front of it looks sad and sort of like no color to it, stains down the brickwork… it wasn’t like it was in the old days. All I can have is memories. It was my life. It guided my life for a good long time.

[Editor’s note: After we hung up, he sent a text message: “Toward the end of the interview, it hit me and I started remembering a lot of stuff.”]

Other pool photos

Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for more recent photos.

Gallery of Capaha Pool Photos

Because there are so many kids pictured, I’m putting up the whole section. You just might see yourself or a sibling there. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.



43 Years of Cairo Photographs

I watched the Bird’s Point levee being blown last night via the magic of the Internet. We’ll start seeing soon if the water levels drop in Cairo and other cities at the expense of some valuable farmland.

Just in case Cairo DOES flood, I’ve pulled together a collection of photos taken from 1968 through recently. I apologize for focusing so much on the seamy side of Cairo – there are some truly nice buildings in the town – but I’m a seamy side of town kind of photographer.

Commercial Avenue in 1968

Cairo’s downtown was still a busy place in the late 60s. There were car dealers, appliance stores, banks, eating establishments, a $2-a-night hotel – even a corset “shoppe.”

Commercial Avenue in 2008

The buildings on this side of the street are still mostly intact, but they are empty. By 2010, most of the buildings on the west side of the street were knocked down.

Other Cairo stories

I’ll probably do one more Cairo story, touching on the racial violence in 1967.

Cairo Photo gallery

This is a huge gallery – nearly 100 pictures. Some of the photos may look like dupes, but look closely. They were taken in different years. The black and white photos were shot in 1968. The color shots cover from about 2008 on.

Take your time. All of us who learned to drive in the 60s had it drilled into us that you DON’T speed through Cairo.

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.