Racing For Half A Million Dollars Across The Catalina Channel

Racing For Half A Million Dollars Across The Catalina Channel

Courtesy of The Catalina Islander.

In mid-January 1927, 153 swimmers were entered in the 21-mile Wrigley Ocean Marathon Swim from Isthmus Bay on Santa Catalina Island to San Pedro, California.

The US$40,000 prize money had nearly everything to do in attracting the elite and the adventurous to the 12-15°C mid-winter water were from Southern California. The prize money would be worth US$580,732 today.

But cold did not deter the participants, they trained, tried to acclimate themselves, and set their sights on the money.

One of the swimmers was Charles Zibelman who was born without legs. At the age of 32 in 1927, he was acclimated to cold water growing up in Chicago. He believed that he had an edge over able-bodied swimmers in the Wrigley Ocean Marathon Swim.

Prior to the swim, he put on a demonstration in Avalon on Catalina Island during the week of the swim. While Zimmy was confident that he could finish the crossing, he expected a 25-hour swim.

In August 1926, Clarabelle Barrett had dreams of becoming the first woman to complete a crossing of the English Channel. She came within a few miles of the British coast, swimming for 22 hours, but she became lost in a dense fog unable to finish. She competed in addition to training young 19-year-old Ethel Hertle for the race.

Charlotte Schoemmell trained among ice floes on the Delaware River on Christmas Day before heading out to California. Lottie Mayer was a popular winter swimmer in Chicago before heading out to Catalina Island. Vallery Mahr Schramm held the record for the Golden Gate swim.

The Wrigley Ocean Marathon was established by William Wrigley Jr. primarily to stimulate a greater interest in swimming as a national sport. The 153 swimmers certainly helped him achieve that goal:

1. Carlton Adler from Buffalo, New York
2. Jack Allen from Los Angeles, California
3. Tony Ajax from Long Beach, California
4. John Ben Austin from Los Angeles, California
5. Clarabelle Barrett from Pelham, New York
6. Arthur Bell from Los Angeles, California
7. George Block from Redondo Beach, California
8. Chad Bone from Riverside, California
9. Paul Camp from Long Beach, California
10. Howard Chaffee from Ventura, California
11. Robert Childs from Buffalo, New York
12. Virgil Cole from Chico, California
13. Bert Coleman from Long Beach, California
14. Myron Cox from Los Angeles, California
15. Jack Craig from Venice, California
16. George Creegan from Patterson, New Jersey
17. Julian D’Arcy from Catalina Island, California
18. Robert Elliott from Gloucester, Massachusetts
19. Martin Ferris from Hermosa Beach, California
20. Bob Foster from Venice, California
21. Mrs. L.E. Fourrier from Long Beach, California
22. Edward Haniquet, Jr. from New York
23. Harry Hansen from Los Angeles, California
24. Margaret Hauser from Long Beach, California
25. Ray Henderson from San Pedro, California
26. Louis Hennessy from Ocean Park, California
27. Ethel Hertle from New York, New York
28. Baird Wright Hicks from Long Beach, California
29. Seward Holley from Venice, California
30. Sam Howard from Ocean Park, California
31. Lyle Hubbard from Toledo, Ohio
32. Myrtle Huddleston from Long Beach, California
33. Carl Hull from Venice, California
34. Carl Hyde from Torrance, California
35. Robert Ingersoll from Los Angeles, California
36. Pauline Jackson from New York, New York
37. William Jackson from Mobile, Alabama
38. E. F. James from Long Beach, California
39. Hjalmer Johnson from Long Beach, California
40. Richard Johnson from San Pedro, California
41. Lavern Jones from Los Angeles, California
42. Gene Jordan from Los Angeles, California
43. William Jost Jr. from Oakland, California
44. Guy Kidmore from Laguna Beach, California
45. Saga Kolb from Ocean Park, California
46. Jack Kraft from Fullerton, California
47. Milton Kurland from Baltimore, Maryland
48. Kyle Leonard from Long Beach, California
49. Harry Littleton from Long Beach, California
50. William Logg from Santa Catalina Island, California
51. Hugh Lynch from Walnut Park, California
52. Jean McKensie from Carpinteria, California
53. Don McRae from Long Beach, California
54. James Malin from Los Angeles, California
55. Lottie Mayer from Chicago, Illinois
56. George Melton from Los Angeles, California
57. Shier Mendelson from Toronto, Canada
58. Peter Meyer from Cincinnati, Ohio
59. Cealo Mohawak from Santa Barbara, California
60. Mrs. Alma Moore from Los Angeles, California
61. Leland Moore from Los Angeles, California
62. Phillip Moore from Los Angeles, California
63. Henry Morse from Los Angeles, California
64. Walter O’Haver from Hermosa Beach, California
65. Harold Packman from Avalon, California
66. Rufus Page from Torrance, California
67. Vincent Peet from Pasadena, California
68. Peter Petersen from Los Angeles, California
69. Miss Helen Ray from New York, New York
70. Harvey Reynolds from Cleveland, Ohio
71. Samuel Richards Jr. from Long Beach, California
72. Norman Ross from Chicago, Illinois
73. Bert Rovere from Los Angeles, California
74. Carl Ruoff from St. Joseph, Missouri
75. Sammy Sandow from Long Beach, California
76. Hilmar Satre from Solvang, California
77. Mrs. Charlotte Schoemmell from Long Island, New York
78. Mrs. Vallery Mahr Schramm from Coronado, California
79. Isaac Schamus from Los Angeles, California
80. Reba “Bobbie” Schwartz from Los Angeles, California
81. Joseph Snelling from Santa Monica, California
82. Spiros Spingos from San Pedro, California
83. Martha Stager from Portland, Oregon
84. Buzz Stall from Avalon, California
85. Earl Stein from Chicago, Illinois
86. Eugene Stoppey from Coronado, California
87. Steve Strilich from Salt Lake City, Utah
88. Mrs. Della Sullivan from Holyoke, Massachusetts
89. Henry Sullivan from Lowell, Massachusetts
90. B. W. Summers from Alameda, California
91. Walter Taber from Long Beach, California
92. Charles Toth from Long Beach, California
93. Christopher Uris from Los Angeles, California
94. Emil Vodjansky from Portland, Oregon
95. C. L. Webster from Newport Beach, California
96. Mark Wheeler from Los Angeles, California
97. Joe Wierz from Los Angeles, California
98. W. M. Williamson from Westerleigh, New York
99. Orin Wilson from Venice, California
100. Paul Winkler from San Pedro, California
101. Jack Wolynier from Los Angeles, California
102. Walter Wulff from San Pedro, California
103. George Young from Toronto, Canada
104. Charles Zee from Los Angeles, California
105. Charles Zibelman from Oakland, California
106. Elmer Finn from Long Beach, California
107. Charles Rose from Long Beach, California
108. Hartley Caldwell from Long Beach, California
109. Pearl Purdy Irland from Balboa, California
110. Randolph Leaberg from Mobile, Alabama
111. Fred Henderson from San Pedro, California
112. Tony Cruz from Los Angeles, California
113. Leo Patrick Purcell from San Francisco, California
114. Charles Kabisius from Ocean Park, California
115. L. F. Benner from Portland, Oregon
116. Thomas Whittley from San Pedro, California
117. Eric Lane from Long Beach, California
118. Eugene Moore from Los Angeles, California
119. E. L. Kenepp from New York, New York
120. Stanley Durkee from Los Angeles, California
121. Edgar Benson from Colorado Springs, Colorado
122. George Bianzzi from Los Angeles, California
123. Mel Edwards from Santa Monica, California
124. Arthur James Compton from Long Beach, California
125. G. T. Murello from Long Beach, California
126. Louis Timson from Long Beach, California
127. Guy Trevilla from Los Angeles, California
128. M. Edwards from Santa Monica, California
129. Arthur Banfield from Los Angeles, California
130. Al Hoffman from New York
131. Glen Jackson from Los Angeles, California
132. Frank Paul from Los Angeles, California
133. Norman Wilbur from Los Angeles, California
134. Harry Edward Sylvester Jr. from Los Angeles, California
135. Marjory Filliamson from Los Angeles, California
136. Loretta Rush from Los Angeles, California
137. Mary Mabery from Los Angeles, California
138. Thelma Parr from Los Angeles, California
139. Alfred Melfield from New York
140. Charles Tetrick from Glendale, California
141. Clarence Hause from Los Angeles, California
142. Arthur Wall from Los Angeles, California
143. B. H. NuDyke from Los Angeles, California
144. Emako Dulco from Nome, Alaska
145. E. B. Richmond from Long Beach, California
146. L. G. Flynn from Long Beach, California
147. James Whitney from Oakland, California
148. Denver Harmon from Huntington Park, California
149. Canton Iverson from San Francisco, California
150. Ferdinand Tornscanyi from Bloomfield, New Jersey
151. Justav Dustad Michael from Oakland, California
152. Herman Polzini from Seattle, Washington
153. James Boeller from San Francisco, California
Late Entrant: Ruth Rhodes of Seattle, Washington

With the water at the start at 56°F (13°C), it was understandable that there would be few finishers. Some of the 13 women who dropped out before the start included Pauline Jackson, Miss Ellen Ray of New York, Lottie Mayer, Mrs. Alma Moore, Pearl Purdy Irland, Marjorie Williamson, Mary Mabery, Thelma Barr, Loretta Rush. But others withdrew a few minutes after the race start according to the contemporary reports from the Los Angeles Times. This included Martin Ferris, Eugene Stoppey, Emil Vodjansky, and Walter C. Wulff.

Of the 102 who entered the water (out of the 153 registered), Phillip Moore was the first person to quite dropping out at 11:43 am, 22 minutes after the start. He was followed by Hartley Caldwell, Clarence Houser, C. L. Webster all within the next 5 minutes. Then Jack Craig was pulled at 11:55 am.

By early afternoon, the fog had lifted as is normal. After 2 hours 19 minutes and approximately 3 miles out from Catalina Island, B. W. Summers remained in first with Norman Ross second, George Young third, Pete Meyers fourth, and Gene Jordan fifth followed by Charlotte Schoemmell who along with Saga Kolb and Jean McKenzie wore nothing but black axle grease. Interestingly, two English Channel veterans took a different strategy. Charles Toth waited 15 minutes after the start to enter the water and Henry Sullivan swam breaststroke.

Gene Jordan, who had come within 3 miles of completing the Catalina Channel in 1926, was near the lead, but then got out due to seasickness in the Pacific that was slightly choppy.

Carleton Adler, Bert Coleman and Pete Meyer each swam into the lead during the first two hours, but it was Olympic champion Ross and eventual winner Young who both swam comfortably and strategically early on.

By 3:45 pm, Myron Cox, Julian D’Arcy, Louis Henessy, Seward Holley, Myrtle Huddleston, Jack Craft, Hugh Lynch, W. Rufus Page, Martha Stager, Walter Taber, Paul Winkler, Charles Zibelman, Arthur Compton, Louis Timson, Herman Polzin, Carl Hull, Artie Reynolds, Ella Sullivan, Bert Coleman, Charles Toth, Tony Ajax, Charles Rose, Jean McKenzie, Charlotte Schoemmell, Norman Ross, Leo Purcell, B. W. Summers, Gene Jordan, Henry Sullivan and Clarabelle Barrett remained in the Pacific. Ross was leading until he chose to take a more northerly course. Young had followed behind – and would eventually win in 15 hours 44 minutes to win the US$25,000 first prize.

Wrigley Ocean Marathon General Committee includes David P. Fleming, Sheriff William I. Traeger, U.S. Marshal Al Sittle, William Farnum, Tom Mix, W. B. Cave from the Los Angeles Times, J. C. MacQuiddy from Standard Oil Co., Mark Kelly from the Los Angeles Examiner, Ralph J. Chandler from the Los Angeles Steamship Co., Steve Brode from the Los Angeles Soap Co., James W. Jump from the Jonathan Club, Frank Garbutt from the Los Angeles Athletic Club, Roy G. Webb from the Pacific Coast Club, Harry S. Grayson from the Los Angeles Record, James James from the Los Angeles Herald, Bob Cronin from the Los Angeles Daily News, Paul Lowry from the Los Angeles Times, Sid Ziff from the Los Angeles Express, Ted Cook from the Los Angeles Examiner, Matt Gallagher from the Los Angeles Express, A. A. Miler from the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, Art Eldridge from the Los Angeles Board of Public Works, Fred Cady from the Los Angeles Athletic Club, Miss Kathleen Montgomery, Mrs. C. O. Middleton from the Women’s Athletic Club, Mrs. Ella Stevers of the YWCA Los Angeles, William Nies, Norman W. Murry, D. M. Renton, J. N. Stewart, Milton S. Patrick, Boots Weber, Oscar C. Reichow, Captain William Banning, Matry J. Krug, Port Warden C. B. Terry, President of the Board of Fire Commissioners Rex Laws, Los Angeles Chapter Red Cross Harry Hannington, Evre Powell of the Powell News Service, W. M. Creakbaum of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Judge Louis P. Russill, and L. E. Jessen of the San Pedro Daily News.

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Steven Munatones