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Friday, February 1, 2008

Ice Skating in New England

This photo was taken in the 1930s, and it could be any pond anywhere in New England, anywhere on the continent where it gets cold enough to skate. This old family photo was not taken by me, but I wish it had. I wish I had been there for at least that afternoon, my skate laces tied together, and skates suspended over my shoulder on the walk to the pond.

This used to be a universal scene in the winter. Skating was not just for kids on double runners being toted to indoor rinks by dads who used to play hockey in college, who zoom around like sharks among the minnows, proving they’ve still got it.

Skating was a social activity, like a town picnic in summer or an ice cream social. It was about community, and was a cheaper way to fight cabin fever in January than flying down to the Caribbean.

Also, since TV was not around when these good folks took to the ice, they had no reason to stay home and become couch potatoes. It was sunny, and evidently not too bitter, so they took themselves to the pond to skate with neighbors. He’s wearing a tie. She’s wearing a skirt. They weren’t athletes. They had no pretensions to speed and nothing to risk or prove by turning a Sunday afternoon diversion into an extreme sport. They linked arms and took a proper turn around the pond while a loudspeaker played “The Skater’s Waltz.” They stopped at the warming house for cup of hot chocolate and a bit of gossip. It was all very polite and very social.

New England has its share of Olympic figure skating heroes, and an important innovation in figure skating was developed by Everett H. Barney of Springfield, Mass., whose Barney & Berry company manufactured early ice skates. Mr. Barney invented the little metal clamp devices that would allow you to clamp your skate onto your shoe, relegating the old cumbersome leather strap to history. His invention helped ice skating become an extremely popular winter pastime in the late 19th century.

Later on the boot as part of the skate was developed. As you can see, the lady wears black skates, similar to the gentleman’s. It wasn’t until Sonja Henie’s flashy adoption of skates with white boots that led to their popularity for women and girls.

Been there? Done that? Able to skate backward? Let us know.

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