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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Apr 10, 2023

There have been many entertainment and recreational venues through the years and throughout the eras in the St. Louis region. None were quite like Clark's Natatorium. It was an aquatic wonder world of epic proportions. Just press play to hear the whole story. ———

Click on search links to see if there are episodes with related content: Amanda Clark, Pastimes and Leisure,   -------

Podcast Transcript: I’m Amanda Clark, manager of the See STL Tours program at the Missouri History Museum, and Here’s History, on eighty-eight one, KDHX.  ———

In the 1880s, an Irish immigrant and former championship boxer known as Professor Bill Clark opened what would become one of the best known places in the city – Clark's Natatorium. The natatorium featured a 5600 sf open-air swimming pool surrounded by spectator seating. It was a place for swimming lessons, amateur and professional racing, or just escaping the St. Louis heat. ———

Clark was a showman a heart, and unlike other natatoriums, his featured a wide range of swimming theatrics. For example, on April 27th 1890, you would have seen a show featuring Madame Josephine Denari singing a solo, followed by Prof. Alphonse King riding a marine bicycle. Next up was both duck and gondola racing…all followed by a dramatic 45-foot plunge by a professional diver. Other years featured elaborate shows where swimmers recreated famous battle scenes and fake gunfights with dramatic balcony dives when a performer was wounded. Newspapers noted the pool could be rented for anything from religious baptisms to midnight champagne swimming with chorus girls. ———

In the winter, endurance bicycle and walking races were held, including a high-profile multi-day walking race in 1893, featuring professional walkers from America, Ireland, and England – with the newspapers providing surprisingly riveting daily coverage. The fall of 1890 featured a six-day bicycle race for amateur female cyclists. ———

The natatorium was also a training facility for professional swimmers. Clark’s intense training program concluded with a requirement to dive off the Eads Bridge in downtown St. Louis. Coaches would be waiting below to bring the diver back to shore, but unsurprisingly, not all swimmers survived the stunt. ———

Clark’s original natatorium was slated for demolition in 1901 but another facility was quickly built a few blocks away and remained open until 1912. The building became home to the Irish-American Athletic Club and later Sullivan’s Future City Athletic Club. ———

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri History Museum and KDHX.  I’m Amanda Clark and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis.   ———