Something personal about swimming in Ell Pond

... swans are bottom-feeding, turtles are multiplying, the pond is getting shallow

from Don Norris

When my folks moved from New Jersey to Melrose in 1947, I was halfway
through my high school career. No problems fitting in, but I have to admit the New
England kids were somewhat stand-offish. It took time before anyone could say "Hi,

What pleased me was that nice pond around which Melrose was built. Like the
Indians left it there for us; they must have fished and swum there for many
hundreds of years. And now, today, we too have swum there. And we have built ten
thousand homes around it, and we have buried our sewer pipes all around the
pond. And our water pipes, and our roads and sidewalks.

I remember taking advantage of the beach on Ell Pond that hot summer. There was
a brick bath house -- that is, brick and cement -- which gets rather "ooogy"
when the floor gets wet. Which is all summer long.

The town (I should say 'the city') had brought in several loads of beautiful
white sand in an effort to make like a beach. I mean, after all, it was muddy
around there. White sand or no, one had to go in the water just to get the
mixture from between one's toes.

It was refreshing, in the water, for it was a particularly hot summer. There was
always somebody there, basking in the sun or briefly taking a dip in the pond.
No one, however, stayed in the water very long. When I dove off the raft, I
could see, I could almost count, the particles of something floating under the

Frankly, it wasn't a fun experience. And the city closed it two years later,
then dismantled the bath house and stopped hauling in beach sand. I don't think
anyone missed that particular beach, at all.

When I got out of the Marines and joined the Melrose Free Press -- my first job
as a family man -- there was an effort by the Rotary Club to get the Army
Engineers to dredge Ell Pond. There were letters to Washington, important people
came out to survey our pond -- but in the end, the price that the Army Engineers
put on the project was beyond the coffers of our municipal government. And the
Ell Pond project was washed down the drain.

Today, in spite of modern efforts to prevent pollutants from seeping into our
pond, it is getting shallower and shallower. Not that anybody has taken a stick
out there and sought to find a solid bottom, but when one sees swans bottom-
feeding, and turtles basking in the shallows, and lillypads working their way
towards the middle, one just knows that the ice hole that was the beginning of a
nice pond twelve thousand years ago, is getting filled with --- ugh, ahh, not
nice stuff.

And today, when I lament the nice clean water of Upper Montclair swimming pool,
I ponder when someone in authority will step up and say, "Well, it's time to
dredge Ell Pond."

July 6, 2012

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