It is a hot July – those living in a city
find both day and night unbearable -
but this year – it became more than heat
beyond ninety degrees chasing people
from New York, Baltimore, and Philly,
away from stale air, office buildings,
meetings, and city parks -
It was normal to pack up for the summer
at the shore – as children waited anxiously
to ride the rail toward the coast and evening
brought temperatures down by some fifteen
This was 1916, and cities were filled with
people unable to move, breath, or think in
sweltering heat. The year when children
slipped away in the middle of the night –
something called infantile paralysis –
thought to be the most devastating of all
diseases – thought to breed in cities – and only
strike the children. They had much to learn.
Even the richest had no choice of where they
would hang their hat – swim, sleep, or choose
which boardwalk was the best – they exited
cities to save their families – anywhere on one
hundred and twenty seven miles of shoreline.
Those without children thought they were safe
and continued to their usual place.
Back in 1916 people believed the only victims –
were children – so the older would survive.
Thousands – rode the rail, exiting at
any station, while those without children
continued to a normal summer hide away.
At each station, Mayors of the town were
forced to place guards who filtered children
from those in the crowd, and they would
line up as if they too were immigrants at
Ellis Island – being sent back to the cities
if any sign of the disease fall upon them.
The shore proved to have it’s best year with
women wearing suits – covering them from
their neck to below their knees – some more
in fashion, single, searching for a mate,
purchased suits with layers of frills, skipped
a bathing cap and wore a straw hat. These
women had no cares except to meet a man –
to stroll the boardwalk – perhaps the next day.
All dressed in their summer suits but the ladies
never entered the cold waters of the Atlantic to
swim: Holding tight to a rope they waded out
then lined up where men stared from the shore
as they did what was known as “fanny dunking.”
Each giant wave they moved their fanny higher,
to fall into the surf, covering themselves with
salt water. The men, clapped.
Once their fanny dunking brought enough
attention, they knew by night dressed in lace,
a young man of wealth would be holding their
arm – strolling side by side on boardwalks.
In July of 1916, as men watched women in
high surf, as a memory of disease was pushed
back into a memory – now the air was clean,
and love was everywhere.
The best year the visitors kept hearing, as
they purchased more, stayed longer, and spent
more time awake each evening –
The best, until a vast amount of killer sharks
invaded all of New England shores.
Women stopped fanny dunking – dancing
in high surf – men left swimming
tights packed – as news told of those who
in only waist high waters, were now dead.
Where does one go – back to the world
where children carried a dreadful disease,
or remain for months and take in a summer
No one knew what brought sharks close
to shore – not one attack for hundreds of
years – but some believed a freak thing -
they swam – in shallow waters – in creeks,
and lakes – even a young boy flipped as
always into a creek after work, some
fifteen or more miles from the sea –
there he too no longer danced in water –
to cool down.
A shark had made it’s way up stream, in
shallow water – his torso gone.
No one in 1916 – knew what dunking
could do to you at sea –
no one dared to cling to a rope. Visitors
at the shore realized they faced two
types of death; disaster at the shore –
back in the city, death knocked at your
Yes, it was a good year at the shore, while
people gathered on the boardwalk, closer
to the time to watch a setting sun – hoping
when the heat broke, a disease would filter
out of cities, and life would return to normal.
Rails would once again pack passengers by
the thousands to carry them back home.
Young women had to wait for another year
to fanny dunk, catch a wealthy man, while
playing games – holding a rope – and lifting
up their fanny to dunk into the surf.