Saturday, February 09, 2019

The Ledge in Manchester

I went to a lecture about the Amoskeag Ledge this morning at the Millyard Museum.The photo is from the 20s, of a group called the Brownies which used to swim there year-round and put on well-attended diving shows, from great heights and holes cut in the ice. Their divers held the world record in those years, first at 108', then 132'.  Very dangerous. They are on ice in this picture.  The photographer may or may not be, as that is just about where the shore to this quarry pond was.  The top of McIntyre Ski Area is straight back over that cliff face about 40 yards.  This is all fenced off now, because of the danger.

I swam there as a boy, starting from when I moved to the neighborhood at age 13. My house would have been about 100-150 yards of left of where that man with the bullhorn is standing. There was an extended cliff face at right angles to the cliffs in the background just out of sight on the left of the picture. The place looked different in the 70s, but quite recognisable. The smooth cliff face on the left is the highest place one could jump from in my era, 55'. The cliff faces out of site had graduate jumping off points, mostly referred to by their heights.  I could draw them today, including the routes required to climb to them. 14, 18, 21, 24, 30, 32, 36. The families of my friends up the street, whose yards were the preferred cut-throughs, still live there. There was graffiti, especially on the smooth face, including a giant hand with middle finger.  A dentist down the street painted over that cleverly by turning it into three gymnasts on each others' shoulders and knees. I understand it is tagged now.

It was officially illegal to go there, but the police only bothered people for fighting, noise at night, or public drunkenness.  I jumped (never dove) from 55 beginning my first year, and did it over and over again that summer.  In subsequent years I would do it a few times a year. I was petrified of heights - still am, but not over water. Once I got to the edge it was easy.  It was navigating the steep rocky areas down to the jump-points that scared the cookies out of me.

There were legends we told each other about the place, none of them true, as it turns out.  A few people did die there over the hundred years it was open after water started seeping in around 1882, but none in the ways described to me.

My one good story: my stepfather had cut down a large tree, quite straight, with a trunk about 18".  I remember it as more like 24" but am sure that much weight would have been beyond us to move.  My brother and I recruited boys from the neighborhood and we dragged a 10' section up the hill to the cliffs on the left. Our hope was to use it as a float to hang onto or do logrolling* with. It took over two hours to go 75 yards (my stepfather's time and distance estimate), but it was very satisfying to push it over 32 and watch it splash.  We stood waiting for it to float back to the surface.

It didn't float back to the surface, not in the next hour, not by next morning, not that whole summer. My stepfather sort of smiled and said he thought that might happen, because it was still so green. So either he was lying and only thought of that later, reasoning it out, or he did think of it and didn't suggest to us that we let it sit a year.  Either way, a complete bastard.

*Logrolling was one of those things you always saw once a year on Wide World of Sports.

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