Puck Magazine, February 21, 1914 (image via)
As everyone knows, yesterday was New Year’s Day, and with that comes the annual Coney Island New Year’s Day swim. It is organized every year by the Coney Island Polar Bear Club and has always raised money for charity. It also brings luck and a good year to those that jump in every January 1st.
While I knew that every year, hundreds and sometimes thousands come to Coney Island for New Year’s Day, what I didn’t know is that winter swimming has a very long history in Coney Island, and was extremely fashionable around the turn of the century.
New York Times, January 8, 1908
The Coney Island Polar Bear Club is the longest-running winter swimming club in the United States. It was founded in 1903 by Bernarr Macfadden, the self-titled “Father of Physical Culture,” who promoted winter swimming as a health-building activity.
Bernarr Macfadden (photo via)
He began the magazine Physical Culture, in 1899, in which he published many of his ideas about good health and fitness. Among them were the promotion of exercise, the drinking of milk, sleeping on hard surfaces, regular sex, and fasting. He warned against the dangers of eating white bread, wearing corsets, drinking, smoking, taking medication and wearing glasses.
The cold baths were supposed to promote vigor, strength, good circulation and better overall health, though today I think most do it for the fun of it.
So, in the spirit of a freezing-cold New Year’s day plunge, I hope everyone has a happy, healthy, vigorous New Year.
For more information about Coney Island USA and our hurricane recovery efforts, please visit www.coneyisland.com.