Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ben Spock On 1924 Olympic Eight: Part 1 - Prelude

The National Rowing Foundation’s (NRF) National Rowing Hall of Fame at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Connecticut, holds an amazing collection of rowing memorabilia. The other day, doing some small research, I stumbled over a remarkable letter in the archives. The letter, which is a real jewel, is written on 22 October 1956, almost exactly a month before the start of the Olympic rowing on Lake Wendouree, Ballarat in Australia, on 23 November.

The letter-writer is Benjamin Spock, the seven-seat, in the Yale eight that represented the USA in the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, which took a gold medal. Spock, who by 1956 had become the famous pediatrician who had published Baby and Child Care in 1946, wrote to the seven-seat-man in the Yale Olympic eight of 1956, ‘Rusty’ Wailes. In his nine-page letter with fifteen ‘chapters’, Spock starts out by comparing the two eights of 1924 and 1956.

Again, I found this a wonderful letter, which I was afraid would get lost in the ‘back-stacks’ of the National Rowing Hall of Fame. Not only has the letter a value to the history of rowing in America, but also the history of Olympic rowing. Therefore, I sought the NRF’s permission to ‘publish’ Spock’s letter in different installments on HTBS. Three gentlemen came back to me with positive answers, rowing historians Tom Weil and Bill Miller, both being the ‘Visiting Rowing Curators’ at Mystic Seaport and the Curators of the National Rowing Hall of Fame, and Dave Vogel, Director of Developing at NRF.

Spock’s letter to Wailes was probably donated by Rusty Wailes’s family to The National Rowing Hall of Fame in 2010. In another letter of 25 March, 2005, also held in the NRF's archives, Rusty Wailes’s fellow crew member John Cooke, on the three-seat in Yale’s 1956 Olympic eight, writes about the background of Spock’s letter:

“[Spock] was the last man to make the ’24 boat, when T.F. Davis Haines (called Fred by friends – or Tom) fell shortly before the Olympic trials and bruised his ass. Obviously, he could not sit in the boat and Spock was substituted. Haines had been solidly in the 7-seat for three (3) years! What a shame he missed out, not to take anything away from Spock.”

Tomorrow, Monday, 2 May, you can read the first part of Ben Spock’s letter to Rusty Wailes!

My warmest thanks to NRF for allowing me to post this letter on HTBS.

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