May 2021

As the summer months approach, many naturally retreat to their backyard pools to cool down. The existence of swimming pools in one’s own backyard was rare until the 1950s. In 1952, there were only 17,000 swimming pools in the United States according to the National Swimming Pool Institute. By 1958, that number had grown to over 133,000.

Pool advertisers beckoned new installations by calling swimming pools the new status symbol instead of a shiny new automobile. Installing a new pool was quite an investment in the 1950s at approximately $4,000, however most paid in monthly installments. One argument for buying a pool: “in time it will pay for itself through savings on all-family vacations. The family stays home now to swim.”

Early pool enthusiasts of the 1940s often resorted to building their pool out of a variety of materials including roofing paper and large vats. However, the 1950s brought the introduction of low-cost prefabricated pools.

Two popular options in the 1950s were the Buster Crabbe Swimming Pool and the Esther Williams Swimming Pool. Both were well-known swimmers and film stars that launched a line of pools that were heavily advertised:

“Yes, you can have this big, luxurious, in-the-ground pool, designed by Esther Williams, Internationally famous swimming star-the newest and smartest means of family fun and healthful, out-door exercise. It means less hot, summer driving on crowded highways to club or beach”.

“Installing your Buster Crabbe pool yourself is easier than ever, thanks to ‘Unitization.’ Buster Crabbe provides all the material…everything except the hole. Just two or three week-ends of work, and you’re the proud owner of a bigger, better, safer, and stronger pool.”

For those of us who could only dream of a swimming pool in the backyard, Sur Joy was there for only a dime to relieve us from summer heat.

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It’s prom season once again in East Tennessee. This long-honored tradition of having the Junior class organize and decorate a formal event for the Seniors goes back over a century. Starting out as a collegiate event, high schools were quick to adopt “Junior-Senior Banquets” and Proms by the 1920s.

The decorations can almost be visualized in this 1929 report. “The Senior class of Watauga Academy was delightfully entertained by the Juniors in the dining hall of the girls’ dormitory Friday evening. The dining hall was beautifully decorated with pink, white and green combining the colors of the Senior and Junior classes.”

We have similar reports from over in Kingsport in 1924. “The Juniors entertained the Seniors of Kingsport High School at the Country Club Thursday night, May 1. The party began at 8 and lasted until 12. Games of different kinds were played dancing was enjoyed throughout the evening. At 11 o’clock ice cream and cake were served.”

We are reminded of “no-break” and “girl-break” dances in this mention from 1935. “The Junior and Senior classes of Science Hill High School entertained with a “prom” at the Johnson City Country Club Wednesday night. This is the first time for several years that a Junior-Senior prom has been given. A grand march was led by Miss Mary Catherine Dyer, Science Hill’s most beautiful girl, and Mr. E.B. Hale. The evening was featured by “no-break” dance and by “girl-break” dances.

Popular locations for proms included the Johnson City Country Club, the John Sevier Ballroom, and eventually the high school gymnasiums. The ordinary gymnasiums were transformed by the hard-working Juniors in themes such as “Davey Jones Locker” (1950), “April Showers” (1951), “Treasure Island” (1959), “A Night on the Town” (1963), “Roman Holiday” (1964), and “A Summer Place” (1967).

So while dress styles, music, and transportation to proms may have changed, many prom traditions from the past hold fast.

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