Abandoned Pools, The Police and Me

This little girl is Pat Groff on “Ragmuffin Day” in 1950. I found it on her brother Larry’s old picture album. She is standing in Brooklyn’s McCarren Park Pool.
I have been obsessed with finding out the history of McCarren Pool ever since I stumbled upon it while walking Little Gret about four years ago. Large trees hide the openings, a series of two barbed wire fences wrap around area. I pushed myself against the first fence, peering in to what used to be the ‘social hub’ of my neighborhood starting in the 1930s and peaking in the 1950s.
It was the scene of the first shoot we ever did for Danger Dame. I thought it was appropriate. Me…born in the wrong era. Lost. Looking for what became of the beautiful pool from half a century ago.
Little Pat’s building over her shoulder is in the top left corner of my photo. Her and I in the same place…54 years apart.
The pool is three times the size of an Olympic Pool. Its grand arches and architecture recalls its elegant past. I closed my eyes and thought of the ghosts of times gone by.
I found oldtimers’ beautiful stories about it, and pictures and more pictures from “urban explorers” who break into closed down sites to photo journal.
There was two barbed wire fences between me and the pool. I was dressed in the Lucy dress already, with the big crinoline and five inch heels for the shoot. I hopped the fences…only getting snagged on the second barbed wire with my crinoline. We finally get to the pool itself. And I ran around like crazy…being in the pool itself and seeing how big it was – how amazing it must have been back in its heyday! I screamed in delight as I’m sure the kids did 50 years ago when this place was alive.
Fifteen minutes into the shoot, we get a call on the cell from our lookout that two, not one, but two cop cars were circling and pulling around. I guess I wasn’t too inconspicious when I was climbing the fences in a gigantic 1950s swing dress. Burke and I looked at each other…well…there’s nowhere to really hide. And by the time I climbed over the fences again and through the crazy vines in between, we knew we would be caught. So we just shrugged at each other and figured….alright…let’s get as much shot as we can in five minutes before they take us away.
The below picture cracks me up beyond belief. This was the last shot of the day. To the unsuspecting person, it may just look like a random retro shot. To me, it’s the exact moment when I spotted the four cops coming around. Two city police, two park police. I was just about to sit down on the tire, for my little picnic shot.
I am looking right at them. They are looking at me. I’m thinking….shit. I’m gonna have a lot of explaining to do.
I produced the park permit. They scratched their heads. “Ma’am, this is not technically part of the park…why would you think this would be okay if you had to climb over two barbed wire fences?” And I said, “Well, I didn’t want to bother you guys to come down and open them up.”
“Well, isn’t that polite of you!”
Uh, oh. This was not working. My mind was pretty much racing at this point…smile more, start crying, something! Instead I just said, “Wow. This is really something, huh? Love this pool. Do you guys know if they are gonna re-open it ever or what?”
I’m going to jail.
I try again. “I’m just a history buff. I love the 40s, the 50s. The city. The history. I used to be a tour guide on those double decker buses, you know.”
WHAT?? What was I frickin saying?? Somebody needed to stop me. Thankfully one of the other cops did, “Did you climb over in that getup?” “Yep.” “Heels and everything?” “Yep.” I mean they were trying everything they could do not to start busting out laughing. We got off with a warning. Not even a ticket. But I mean, who’s gonna give a ticket to a girl that looks like an insane dark haired version of Lucille Ball from I Love Lucy? That dress saved me from jail. No wonder I love it so much.
Long live the spirit of McCarren Pool!
I can’t wait til the next photoshoot there.