A Brief History of Milwaukee's Polar Bear Club
January 1, 2009 11:30 AM   Subscribe

The Polar Bear Club of Milwaukee has been going strong since 1916, with crazy folks like this carrying on the tradition of jumping into the icy waters of Lake Michigan year after year.
posted by jon_hansen (18 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ah -- they got nuthin' on the oldest polar bear club in the United States: the L Street Brownies of South Boston -- "a New Year's Day ritual for more than 100 years."

Today they braved 11 degrees F / minus-7 degrees F.
posted by ericb at 11:51 AM on January 1, 2009

*minus-7 degrees F. with wind chill factored in*
posted by ericb at 11:52 AM on January 1, 2009

BTW -- The Coney Island Polar Bear Club claims to also be the oldest such club.
posted by ericb at 11:54 AM on January 1, 2009

TIME Magazine interview with Coney Island Polar Bear Club president, Dennis Thomas.
posted by ericb at 11:59 AM on January 1, 2009

Those Coney Islanders provide a date of their first New Years' dunk? The L Street Brownies' first was in 1902.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:00 PM on January 1, 2009

Those Coney Islanders provide a date of their first New Years' dunk?

From their website:
"The Coney Island Polar Bear Club was founded by Bernarr Macfadden in 1903."
Yep, the Yankees suck!!!
posted by ericb at 12:03 PM on January 1, 2009

My uncle was stationed at McMurdo Station in Antarctica for a couple years. They have a similar ritual, and I know he participated, because there are pictures ...
posted by krinklyfig at 12:05 PM on January 1, 2009

I would like to try that. I love the cold - biting winter air on my face is like a tonic. I haven't worn a winter coat in years. But the Polar Bear Swim reminds me of an episode of Cheers, when Cliff and Norm and the guys were debating whether or not they should take part in Boston's versino of it. Phil derided them as wimps; when he was growing up, folks swam in the ocean whether it was January or July. The others left, pumped up to join in the Swim, and someone then asked Phil, "Where did you grow up?" "Honolulu," he replied.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:08 PM on January 1, 2009

I took a New Years dip at Swallow Falls one year. If I were trying to sum up the experience, I would say it was cold.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:13 PM on January 1, 2009

The Jacksonport, Wisconsin Polar Bear Club got together with 750 swimmers this morning in 31°F temp. Participants noticed some cameras filming the dip into Lake Michigan this year; some of that footage of the icy plunge may be used in the film, Feed The Fish. Said local Bob Brauer, "Your poor heart. There's not enough room in your body for it when you hit the water."
posted by netbros at 1:09 PM on January 1, 2009

I tried cold-water-dipping for the first time last year at the baths in Budapest. I could totally do the polar bear thing, if there were a sauna ten feet from the water.

(Blatant self-promotion: see my profile for photos of today's Coney Island Polar Bear Swim! I didn't go in, but I'm going to invent a portable sauna for next year, I swear.)
posted by moonmilk at 2:47 PM on January 1, 2009

Here in the comparatively balmy - but still bloody freezing - water of Scotland - we have the Looney Dook. Here's a short video of today's event.
posted by rongorongo at 3:08 PM on January 1, 2009

i don't know if it's the music or the costumes or just the term 'looney dook,' but that scotland thing looks like too much fun. the bbc article in the first link was hilarious, as well. thanks for the new year's laugh, rongorongo!
posted by msconduct at 4:14 PM on January 1, 2009

This is definitely one of those things floating around the L5 point of stupid and awesome.
posted by dhartung at 4:21 PM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

The phrase "the L5 point of stupid and awesome" is also floating there!
posted by moonmilk at 4:47 PM on January 1, 2009

I did this in Milwaukee when I was stupid and 17. It took me the rest of the day to warm up, and I was in a sleeping bag in front of a fireplace, drinking hot chocolate. Needless to say, I haven't tried it again.
posted by desjardins at 7:40 AM on January 2, 2009

For a short 7 year span my friends and I did this every year in Milwaukee some years it was just a cold dip, other years it was a bone chilling cold that could take days to warm up from. The only benefit of that type of cold is that it makes people in this city wear shorts in March when the temp hits 45 degrees.
posted by hexxed at 8:12 AM on January 2, 2009

Jumping into Lake Michigan in August almost gives me a heart attack as it is! I don't think I could ever bring myself to jump in during the winter, even though I've considered doing the polar bear swim for a long time.
posted by tricked by a toothless cobra at 7:43 PM on January 3, 2009

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