Pollywog Patrol

Conversations with Morey Skaret

This is the seventh in a series of articles on Fauntleroy resident Morey Skaret, who has been swimming, paddling, sailing and boating around Puget Sound for the last eighty-five years. One of his first aquatic jobs was in the 1930s as a lifeguard at Lincoln Park’s Colman Pool, when it was little more than a tidal lagoon.

“There were some creeks that flowed into a marsh at Lincoln Park Point,” Morey recalls. “Point Williams is its true name.” Looking out of Morey’s living room window on this late-autumn afternoon, I can just make out the Point’s dark outline through soggy wisps of fog.

“There was kind of a muddy marsh where ducks swam around. You couldn’t wade in it. But there was a constant flow of water down there. And when the Knights Templar—a national organization—came here, they told our city management that if they could get a salt-water pool, they could swim in salt water, because the Sound was too cold for pleasant swimming.

“So the city council got together and said, ‘Well, let’s go out to Lincoln Point and dig that marsh out, from nine feet deep on the south end up to shallow on the north end. And we had a line across with floats on it, at the two-foot mark, where the little kids could stay. The lower end of the pool was nine and a half feet deep.”

Morey studies his scrapbook. “These three young people standing on the diving board—that is nine feet of water. At that end was the opening pipe—about three feet in diameter—to bring water in and out. It had a gate valve that controlled letting seawater in or out, and a wheel on top that you could open and close.

“After four days swimming,” Morey recalls, “the Health Department tested the water to see that it was fit for swimming. As the lifeguard for the Parks, it was my job to test that water every day.

“Anyway, the Knights Templar came out when we had the pool filled and they just loved it. That pool was salt water—you know, they could taste the water and all that; it was salt! And it was easier to swim in than a lake. You can swim much faster, and are more buoyant, in salt water than in fresh.

“But the first day it was pretty cold. We opened that valve when it was high tide and the pool would fill. Then, before the tide would change, we’d close the valve and capture all that water in there. And the first day, there weren’t very many kids coming down to swim. It was cold, like the Sound. Very cold.

“Second day: more people, warmer water. The third day it was nice and warm; you had a packed crowd. And then the fourth day was really packed. But then the fourth day was when I’d take another test and I’d have to empty the pool.

“I got the job through the Seattle Civil Service,” Morey explains. During the Depression, if there was a line to apply for a job, or to take a test for one, then young Morey was probably in it. “You go down there and they have a bulletin board,” he recalls. “They say the Parks Department wants so many people, and the Engineering Department wants so many. So then you go to the counter and say, ‘I’d like to apply for a lifeguard job.’

“I was very young, nineteen or early twenties, and I was a good swimmer. I passed a course in lifesaving—Water Safety Instructor, they called it. And then you became an instructor and you became qualified as a lifeguard. You know how to handle people in deep water that are fighting you, trying to climb on top of you and pull you under. You learn different holds, ways you can force that person away from you, then pull them into the shore.

“I used the cross-chest carry. When you first dive in to rescue a person in deep water, you swim up to them and you know they’re going to do this—you face them and they reach right out and grab you around the neck. That’s the first thing they do.

“You have to learn a wrestling maneuver to get them off your neck. You tuck your chin in right close to your chest, and they’re around behind your neck. Then you slide your hand down to their hips. Then you turn them around real quick and push up on the hips, and it pops ’em right off your head. Then you turn ’em around real quick to where they can’t get a hold of you again.

“Then I put my right hand across the person’s body, and under his armpit. Then I’d swim with my legs on the back, but I’d have his head on my chest so he could breathe. And then it took quite a lot of struggle to get him to the shore, because you didn’t have full use of your arms and your legs. That was the manner in which we rescued a person.”

When he wasn’t saving lives, Morey was in charge of the “Pollywog Patrol.” Most of the kids wanted to get a “Pollywog Badge” to put on their swimsuit. “It was a prestigious thing at that age,” Morey states. “They had to do so much work before I would sign ’em up to get a Pollywog Badge.

“They’d line up on the shore,” he explains. “The pool was empty then. There were little puddles here and there, a few small shiners and small fish in those puddles. And they had a bucket and a rake—each one had a rake—and they would rake clear across the empty pool and pick up all the debris that they found on the bottom.

“So they cleaned it out that way,” Morey recalls. “It worked real good. When they’d get to the other side I’d send them back again to rake the other way until all the debris was gone. And then they all had a small plastic bucket. They’d pick the small fish and small crabs out of the bottom, and put them in the bucket, then carry it out and dump it in the Sound. So there was no loss of life there, for the fish or sea creatures.

“That building you see back there,” Morey says, pointing to another photo, “that’s the bathhouse. You come down there and change your clothes. One side was for the girls; one side the boys. You gave them ten cents, I think it was. Then they’d give you a basket.

“You’d take that basket and a little pin with a number on it that they gave you. And you’d walk in the dressing room and change your clothes and put your clothes in the basket and bring it back. And you’d take that number and put it on your swimsuit. When you came back for your clothes you’d give the number and they’d give you the clothes.

“Kind of complicated, isn’t it?” Morey laughs. “But it worked. It worked. . . . You can kind of see the style of suits there,” he says, pointing to the photo. “For a long time, men and boys had to wear uppers. The first year I was a lifeguard, I had to wear the uppers on me, and I had to have a skirt around me so I wouldn’t show my privates. Then they finally passed a park rule that the boys could wear shorts—didn’t have to wear this upper part. But the girls of course had to. And they’d wear swim caps for their hair.

“I spent two, maybe three summers as a lifeguard at Lincoln Park Pool. And they paid laborer’s wages—you got $105 a month.”

While Morey’s summers as a lifeguard were drawing to a close, this was just the start of his many careers and adventures on the water.

Next week: Alky Point

In case you missed any in this series here are some links to previous installments:

First Installment
Second Installment
Third Installment
Fourth Installment
Fifth Installment
Sixth Installment

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