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History Lives Here Text

Noted AuthorRemembers the Big Pool

Americanauthor Allan Seager was born in Adrian, Michigan, in 1906 and died a few milesaway in Tecumseh in 1968. As a young man he worked for the magazine VanityFair, and then taught in the English department of the University ofMichigan for more than 30 years. He is best known for three novels AmosBerry, Equinox and The Inheritance, and a biography, The GlassHouse: The Life of Theodore Roethke.


In 1954, hepublished a book entitled A Frieze of Girls, with the subtitle Memoirsas Fiction. One critic noted that the subtitle is "an ambiguous phrasewith a faintly sinister overtone. It can mean he is telling history as if thenarration followed the form of a novel. But perhaps it means that he is lyingabout his past, either the subject matter or the tone he brings to it. Ineither case the reader has been warned."


One of thestories, entitled "The Nicest Girl in Cook County" was originallypublished in The New Yorker. It tells the story of a summer when Seager,a member of two national championship swim teams at the University of Michigan,worked as a swimming pool lifeguard. Although unnamed, the venue is clearlySaugatuck. The story is mainly about his acquaintance with a girl:


It happenedthe summer before my senior year in college. I was working as a lifeguard at aswimming pool on the west coast of Michigan with a fraternity brother ofmine... In the early summer, the water of the pool still grew cold at night andno one came in. Arno and I would get into his Model T and drive down to the BigPavilion to dance. The big Pavilion looked out over the little harbor of thetown nearby. It was bigger than any three barns I ever saw, and at night it wasfull of girls, all kinds of girls --from the town, the yachts anchored in theharbor, and the summer cottages up and down the beaches of Lake Michigan. Theroof was the introduction. You bought a string of tickets and asked any girlyou fancied for a dance.


The girlthat Seager took a fancy to initially turned down a request to dance from thelifeguards, but was persuaded by Everett Cartwright, a young boy the friendswould let into the swimming pool for free and who eventually learned to swim,to engage in a couple of dances. The next day Seager was informed that the girlwas the sister of Bones Egan, a well-known Chicago gangster. He admits to usinga fictional name for the girl, the gangster's name is probably also made up.


Apparentlypart of the contract for lifeguards was that they would sleep in a room at thepool building and get their meals at the hamburger stand there. One night afterthe supervisors had left the two boys "set out to prove that it waspossible to make a malted milk thick enough that you could stand not a strawbut a spoon in it."


Wepacked the can nearly full of chocolate ice cream, added the powder and about agill of coffee cream and stuck it on the machine. the machine spun and caught,spun and caught, went "oo-ah, oo-ah, oo-ah," and flew all apart.

As a resultthey were asked to take their meals elsewhere. One of the new dining places ofchoice was "a summer boardinghouse in a town a mile away." One Julyday he was trying to find a shorter route to this dining place, and foundhimself "in the older part of town, away from the summer cottages, an alleyof gigantic maple trees" when he passed a porch and was greeted by thegirl. She offered him a drink, served by a uniformed maid.


His friendlater told him of encountering the girl's brother who had come into the harboron a 50 foot cruiser from Chicago, with a boat full of men including an Italianhunchback who played the accordion. During the festivities somebody knocked acan of alcohol over the side, and the friend, stripped to his shorts andrecovered it from 30 feet of water, a feat that brought him the offer of ajob from the gangster. The friend told Seager, "They don't look anydifferent. They're just a bunch of guys getting drunk on a cruiser. They weresinging, "The Camptown Race" when I left, close harmony."


The sky wasa deep, clear blue, and the sun was so bright all the shadows seemed black.Before us in the water the children of the summer people screamed and splashed,watched by their mothers or drowsy nursemaids. Bone and his boys singing in theharbor seemed a platoon of soldiers in a rest camp.. .


The summerwas over and the two lifeguards went back to school. They had a few otherencounters with the sister of the gangster, and once actually visited her inChicago on the eve of a swim meet at Northwestern, but, do not mention returningto Saugatuck.

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The Big Poolwas located on North Street, near where an electric railway which connectedSaugatuck to Holland entered the town. The pool opened in 1927, the last yearthe Interurban ran, and there was actually a stop nearby. The Big Pool was anespecially popular place to swim early in the season when Lake Michigan had notwarmed up enough for comfortable swimming. Residents of Holland, local peopleand summer cottagers made up the clientele. The pool was round and built like asaucer with shallow water near the edge, gradually deepening in the middlewhere there was a diving tower, a slide, and two small platforms for thelifeguards. It closed prior to world War II and was eventually filled in. Thepoolhouse, a Spanish-style structure remained on North Street until the 1980swhen it was razed.


.Duringprohibition gangsters often visited Saugatuck. Illegal alcohol sometimesarrived via boat on Lake Michigan, and was distributed across lower Michigan.The presence of the Bolton brothers, whose mother had a summer home on SpearStreet in Saugatuck, is well-known. The Bolton brothers' sister, Marie, wrotefor the local newspaper until the 1990s. Other cottages farther south were saidto have been owned, or rented by gangsters from time to time. It would beinteresting to know if anyone remembers Allan Seager's stint as a lifeguard atthe Big Pool. Dick Haight who knew Seager back in Tecumseh, says this incident,assuming it is real at all, must have taken place in 1929.