Thursday, November 5, 2009


The Yankees are good, but Trudy was first.

When the New York Yankees celebrate their 27th world championship on Friday with a ticker tape parade, few of the players will realize that they are following in the wake of the reception Trudy Ederle earned in 1926 when she returned to New York after swimming the English Channel.

From Young Woman and the Sea:

"As Trudy stood on the promenade of the Berengaria as it steamed into New York Harbor in mid-morning of August 27, she once again found her self completely taken aback. Since swimming the English Channel only three short weeks before, that was becoming something of a pattern.

She’d never seen anything like it. No one on board the ship ha ever seen anything like it. No one in New York had ever seen anything like it. As the Manhattan skyline came into focus and began to grow tall, the boat was greeted from all directions as vessels of every size and shape came out to meet it - fire boats spraying water high into the air, tugboats, cutters, motor boats, private launches and yachts, all with their sirens tied down wide open, creating the loudest din anyone on the water ever recalled hearing before.

At first Trudy didn’t understand, but as the Berengaria drew closer and Trudy saw banners flying on the boats that said “Welcome home Trudy,” and “Queen of the Seas,” she began to realize it was all for her, every bit of it. A few moments earlier, she’d been asked to go the upper deck. Once she arrived two bi-planes circling the ship dropped flowers overhead, their petals falling like rain all around her, the sky raining flowers.

It was all for her.

The greeting was organized by a man known as “Mr. New York,” Grover Whalen, the city’s official greeter, who liked to refer to himself as the “doorman to the western hemisphere.” In 1919, when Whalen was put in charge of the city’s reception for the Prince and Princess of Wales, he came up with the notion of the ticker tape parade. Although the first few such parades were relatively modest, since then Whalen’s efforts had become ever grander. They culminated in the reception afforded Trudy, and, a year later, Charles Lindbergh. The scene Trudy was watching unfold in New York Harbor was just the beginning.

New York came to a stop. Nothing else mattered. America’s foremost film star, Rudolph Valentino, had died of peritonitis on August 23 and ever since his body had lain in state at Campbell’s Funeral Parlor under 24-hour guard by a phalanx of New York City police officers. But on the day of Trudy’s arrival, the bulk of the guard was transferred to Trudy’s home, and the crowd that had gathered around the funeral home for days suddenly disappeared. Trudy was bigger than any motion picture star.

New York was gaga for Trudy and in the days prior to her arrival Whalen and the New York press, particularly the Daily News, had whipped the city into frenzy. Now that the day arrived Whalen rounded up Trudy’s entire family – forty-two strong including aunts and uncles and cousins – and divvied them up aboard two tugs owned by the city, the Riverside and the official VIP vessel, the Macom. As the Berengaria approached, the Macom made it way alongside the gigantic vessel.

From aboard the Macom Mrs. Ederle spotted her daughters first, standing in an open window on the promenade deck, and began waving her arms back and forth, trying to get her their attention. She did, and Trudy nearly jumped out of the window to reach her. “Mamma,” she cried, “Mamma!” Even amid the din in the harbor, everyone aboard the Macom could hear Trudy’s voice above the tumult.

Trudy wouldn’t have to wait for the big ship to dock. A few minutes later the Macom pulled along side the big ship and Trudy and her entourage came aboard the Macom to be ferried ashore, reunited, at last, with her mother. She left in such a rush that she left all her bags behind and nearly knocked her mother to the ground as they met and hugged, tears streaming down both of their faces, Trudy wearing blue serge coat and a lavender felt hat, clutching her doll, her hair bronze from the summer sun, and her face tanned and healthy.

After the Macom docked at Pier A in the Battery on the southern tip of Manhattan, the same place Trudy’s swim for Sandy Hook had begun in virtual anonymity only a few months before, Trudy was hustled through a crowd numbering in the thousands, then into an open car for a procession to City Hall Plaza, but the crowds were so immense the car barely moved as everyone pressed forward to get a glimpse at Trudy. At City Hall Plaza the scene was even wilder, as ten thousand people crowded into the plaza and the surging crowd threatened to turn into a dangerous crush. Trudy and her family were pushed inside by a phalanx of police and the big iron doors of the City Hall closed and locked to prevent hundreds of onlookers from crashing the reception.

Trudy, her family and other VIPS were escorted to the Mayor’s reception room, where New York Mayor Jimmy Walker paid tribute to Trudy. “When history records the greatest crossings, they will speak of Moses crossing the Red Sea, Caesar the Rubicon, and Washington the Delaware, and frankly, your crossing of the English Channel will take place alongside these.”

Trudy hardly had the time to take a breath before she was taken back outside steps for a photo op. The flash of the cameras had barely gone off when the crowd surged, sending people tumbling up the steps, swamping over Trudy. A bulky policeman grabbed Trudy with both arms and lifted her in the air and carried her back inside the building as Mayor Walker called for reinforcements.

At 2:30 p.m. with a gauntlet of police protecting her, Trudy, with Dudley Field Malone at her side, was put into another open car in the midst of a motorcade. As the entourage made the turn from 9th street to Fifth Avenue, torrents of paper fell from the sky as New York witnessed its first, gigantic, no holds barred ticker tape parade. This was no modest celebration that lasted only a few blocks, like that which greeted the Prince of Wales. This celebration lasted all the way uptown, before crowds unlike any the city had ever seen as hundred and hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers lined the streets. At times onlookers rushed the car, stopping it in its tracks, rushed at Trudy and knocked her from her feet, backwards into the seat of the car, desperate for souvenirs. The crowd even tore a bracelet from her wrist and grabbed at her coat and hat, before police, mounted and armed with billy clubs, managed to free her.

Trudy stood in the car, her face tilted upward and spinning back and forth as if her eyes alone were not sufficient to see the entire scene, waving a flag, dizzy from the attention, absolutely, totally, and completely overwhelmed. Trudy waved and laughed and cried and looked up in wonder, almost drowning in the attention, knowing that the crowds, later estimated as at least a quarter of a million strong, were cheering for her, but barely able to hear them herself.

The motorcade finally made it way to its destination, Trudy’s home on Amsterdam Avenue, where 4,000 people crammed the single block that contained the Ederle’s home and butcher shop. Trudy’s family decorated the tenement in bunting and American flags, and a huge banner that said “WELCOME HOME TRUDY” hung from the sills. In the front window of the shop was a sort of diorama, an imitation of the English Channel cut from green cardboard, complete with cut-out waves powered by an electric motor that lifted and fell, and a cutout of Trudy, an automaton bobbing though the “water,” her arms fixed in the crawl stroke, a smile frozen on her lips. Along the side was a copy of poem that read “Pop Ederle by cutting meat made for himself a name,/His daughter Trudy by cutting waves won victory and fame./You see her now she fights the seas, and how she puts it over./ Hurrah for her, first of her sex to swim from France to Dover.”

Finally, at last, Trudy’s car pulled up before the house and the police cleared the crowd so she could get out, but before she did a young girl selected by the neighborhood stepped forward, climbed aboard the car, and tried to place placed a gold and white satin crown on Trudy’s head. Trudy didn’t want it, and pleaded, “I’m tired,” but when the little girl looked heartbroken, she finally agreed, and, as the cameras of news photographers flashed over and over again, turning Trudy nearly blind as well as deaf, someone draped a blue sash over her shoulders that read “Queen Gertrude the First.” Almost as quickly as the crown went on, Trudy took it off as the crowd of friends and acquaintances of a lifetime chanted “Trudy, Trudy, Trudy!” over and over and over, suddenly star struck.

Police made a corridor through the crowd and Trudy was hustled inside, Dudley Field Malone pushing her from behind, then Trudy upstairs to her family’s apartment. There, the scene was only somewhat less frenetic as dozens of people were crammed into an apartment that comfortably held only eight or ten people, but now, for the first time in three months, at least she was finally surrounded by people she knew. But when the crowd failed to disperse the police asked her to stand before the window for a while and wave to see if that would satisfy them. For the next hour and a half she periodically pulled the curtains back, and gave a short wave, but no one on the streets below budged. Almost lost in the frenzy was the red roadster, the promise of which had helped Trudy across the Channel. It had actually been waiting for her at the pier in the Battery, gleaming in the sun, but the crowds had been so large that Trudy had not seen it. It was a Buick, precisely the one she wanted, painted fire engine red with a big comfortable rumble seat in back. In exchange for a testimonial from Trudy, Dudley Field Malone had asked the automaker not only for the car, but $50,000. Buick found the price too steep, and offered Malone the car plus only $1000, which he turned down. For a time it appeared that the roadster would have to wait for Pop Ederle to open his own wallet but at the last minute the Daily News stepped in and bought the car for Trudy.

As the crowd finally began to thin out as New York’s finest urged everyone to move along, the roadster seemed to magically appear, parked along the curb on Amsterdam Avenue in front of the Ederle’s building. Dudley Malone had to remind Trudy it was there, asking her “Do you really want that car?”

The question startled Trudy – that’s how crazy things were - she had nearly forgotten the only thing she had hoped for when she swam the Channel. “Yeah,” she responded, sounding far more weary than excited. She went downstairs for a few moments, climbed in the car and sat back, spinning the steering wheel and fiddling with the dashboard, but there were still too many people on the street for her to take the car for a drive, and the crowd made her feel claustrophobic and she fled back upstairs.

For Trudy, it was all running together, the crowds, the parades the gifts and autographs and hand shaking, everything, but it still wasn’t over. She was placed in another motorcade and ushered to a dinner sponsored by the Mayor at the Roosevelt Hotel and made her first and only public statement of the day, speaking for all of twenty seconds. “My dear friends,” she said, “after all that has been said I must be polite and thank the Mayor and Grover Whelan for the wonderful reception that has been given to me. It will be remembered during my whole life. All the kind things that have been done and said have shown such a delightful appreciation of my efforts to make the Channel crossing for the sake of my country’s flag. I love you for it.” After the crowd watched the British Pathe newsreel footage of her swim, Trudy was then whisked off to a show at the Globe Theater featuring the Ziegfeld Follies and finally to the Club Lido where she danced with the Mayor before more cameras. At every stop she had to run a gauntlet as New York came to a standstill wherever she appeared."

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