Caution! Thin Ice!
Like any other frozen pond or lake, Chevy Chase Lake was not without dangers to those who skated there. Though rare, breaks in the ice did occur and the lake was deep enough pose a risk to those who were not careful.
Those in charge of Chevy Chase Lake closely monitored the ice and would not allow patrons to skate until the lake had been frozen for some time to ensure saftey. This publicity notice from the Evening Star highlights such precautions.
Carry a Stick, in Case You Fall Through the Ice...
In the unlikely event that a skater fell through thin ice, one way to prevent drowning was to carry a stick. In this photograph of Margaret Winkler, taken on Christmas Day in 1927, you can see that she is carrying a long stick in both hands. On the back of the photo, a handwritten note says: "Holding a stick as a safety precaution, in case of falling through the ice, place the stick on the ice to distribute weight as you climb out."
John Eris Powell fell in the lake...
Other skaters may not have been as cautious as Margaret Winler. John Eris Powell fell in, but fortunately, he fell through the ice at the very edge of the lake. Nevertheless, the icy cold water came up to his chest. Click on the link to listen to a clip from an interview with John Eris Powell, as he describes playing "shinny" as well as his fall in the Lake.
January 1912: Skating Tragedy at Chevy Chase Lake
The most tragic incident at Chevy Chase Lake occurred in on the evening of January 17, 1912, when a young couple drowned in the icy waters while skating at night. The next day, all the newspapers reported on the search for Margaret E. Kauffman, age 17, and Norman T. Locke, age 18 who were reported missing after making plans to skate at Chevy Chase Lake. They set out for Chevy Chase Lake around on Tuesday evening after Mr. Locke had written to Ms. Kauffman and asked her to accompany him ice skating. An article in the Washington Star, January 18, p. 1, details the last time the couple was seen, shortly after they got off the Connecticut Avenue streetcar and headed toward the lake:
Sadly, the young couple’s fate was not immediately known. When they failed to arrive home later that evening, Miss Kauffman’s parents thought they had eloped. After calling around to towns in Maryland and Virginia in order to discover if a marriage license had been obtained and no affirmative result was found, Mr. Cloyd E. Kauffman, the girl’s father, alerted the authorities about the missing couple. A search of the lake was begun after finding a water soaked black muff and stocking cap, both belonging to Miss Kauffman, and several pencils, thought to belong to Mr. Locke.
It was believed that the couple skated too close to a thin area of ice on the eastern side of the lake. Hot water from the electric power plant entered the Lake in this area, and prevented the ice from freezing completely. After carefully dragging the bottom of the lake, it was determined that it would be necessary to open the dam at the southeast end of the lake to allow the water to recede and permit better conditions in which to search for the bodies. Many hours later, the couple was found beneath the water, only a few feet apart from one another with their arms outstretched. It was believed that they had fallen in together and attempted to cling to each other. Understandably, the couple’s family members were devastated by the tragic loss.
Despite the tragic story of Margaret Kauffman and Norman Locke, ice skating at Chevy Chase Lake was a memorable and important part of the Lake’s history. Perhaps because of the memory of their deaths, some skaters carried a stick, just in case the ice gave way. Despite the risks, the ice skating season was highly anticipated with the first hard freeze of each winter, and people from all parts of the city would come to enjoy skating on Chevy Chase Lake. On December 23, 1924, The Washington Post reported on the front page that cold weather would bring snow and ice skating for Christmas.
SKATING HERE TODAY EXPECTED TO USHER IN WHITE CHRISTMAS.
Ice on Some Ponds Already Used by Children.
"...A few impatient youngsters also ventured out on Chevy Chase Lake, but the elders out there said it was rather risky business. The lake is expected to be safe today as it will be in all probability at Rock Creek park and on the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool."