One of my favorite stories from our current "Growing Up in Edina" exhibit involves the annual Aqua Show at the Edina pool and a man who set himself on fire on the diving board...
Wait... I'm getting ahead of myself.
Let's start at the beginning of this story with the opening of the Edina Pool in 1958. While virtually every community now operates a pool, Edina was the first suburb in the metro area to do so.
An average of 4,000 people a day escaped the heat at Edina’s newest attraction. (Considering Edina’s population was about 20,000 in 1955, that number is even more impressive.) The pool was the place to be in the dog days of July and August, and the biggest event of the season was the annual Aqua Show.
People lined the edges of the pool...
... to watch their swim instructors and Park and Rec staff perform. Some of the acts were traditional high dives or synchronized swimming performances.
Other acts were strictly hijinks - comedy acts dreamed up by the Park Director Ken Rosland and his intrepid assistant Bob Kojetin. They'd do things like ride a bicycle into the pool while wearing a clown suit. Or pretend to be a Richfield resident bragging about his city's new pool.
Some skits involved crazy dives from the high diving board. Some involved wearing silly costumes. (Can you see the man wearing the dress and knee socks in this picture?)
And some involved setting yourself on fire.
And some involved all three. Here's Bob Kojetin wearing the skating version of his swimming costume. (Just imagine it without the tutu. Keep the wig and the striped union suit.)
Bob and Ken had an act where Bob set himself on fire....
Yes, this is the part I gasped.
And this is the part where Bob shrugged like it was no big deal. Apparently, he had done it a number of times without incident. And one time, shall we say, "with incident."
Before the act began, he doused himself with lighter fluid -- which apparently burns cleanly at a lower temperature (Side note: do not try this at home.) What's more, Bob assured me, flames burn upwards. Because he stood on his hands, the flames never touched his face and he dove into the water before they could burn through his clothes.
During the fateful performance, he stood on his hands as always at the end of the diving board. Ken lit Bob on fire but an unfortunate bounce of the diving board sent Bob off the end -- feet first.
The flames went over his head, Bob said, but they were immediately extinguished when he hit the water seconds later. He scorched his eyebrows and some of his hair, but the audience "oohed" and "ahhed" none the wiser that what they had seen did not go as choreographed.
I somehow don't think insurance policies and city regulations would allow this kind of performance today. If they did -- knowing Bob like I do -- I think he would still be diving as the human fireball at the Edina pool.
Do you remember the Edina pool Aqua Shows? (Please, please tell me you have home movie footage.) What were your favorite memories of going to the pool?
Whatever you do this scorcher of a week, have a safe and happy July 4th holiday. Historic Minnehaha Grange Hall and Cahill School will be open following the 10 a.m. parade. See where history was made in Edina, including the 1888 meeting where area farmers voted to secede from Richfield Township and form the independent village of Edina.
Added bonus: both buildings have air-conditioning.
Today will be hot. Maybe not hot by equatorial standards, but by Minnesota averages, today's temperatures will be uncomfortably high.
As you sit in your air-conditioned home, think about the kids of 1959. Although many homes had a window air-conditioner, most did not have central air. The best way to cool off was the new Edina pool, located at Lake Cornelia Park near 66th and France. Attendance averaged more than 4,000 per day, as you can see by these long lines.
These photos were taken for City's Tax Assessor files. Here's another look at the lines on the other side of the building.
Here is the back of the diving board and access to the mechanicals underneath the pool.
And here is a view from inside the pool.
It's Friday. It's hot - still a perfect kind of day for the pool.
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Jennifer Adam is the Executive Director of the Edina Historical Society. She welcomes your contributions. Comment on a post or send an email (see below). Traditional mail, of course, can also be sent to:
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