June 12, 2011

The Rocks, The Waves, The Seiche

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent
June 12 2011


We referred to Lake Michigan as the Rocks. As kids, we swam at Montrose Beach. Then as we got older, we swam at the "Rocks." It was an age progression thing, first at Wilson Ave; then, as we got older, we went to Leland Ave and worked up to Lawrence Ave in our early teens.

Now the Rocks between Lawrence and Leland was always crowded. So, to ensure a "Spot on the Rocks," every group painted a rectangle, circle, or square with the names of their particular group inside. A lot of these areas had some pretty fancy designs inside. These areas were always respected and never violated. If we got there and someone was inside, we asked them to move, and they always did. So, we would put our towels inside the square, our girlfriend at the time would write her name on our back in lipstick so when we got a sunburn and wiped off the lipstick you could see her name in white skin right there on our backs.


Now here was one of the dumbest things we ever came up with. Starting at the end of Spring, when the winds begin to blow, we would all head to the Rocks. We would stand on the very top tier of the rocks,  look out a couple of hundred feet, and watch for a big swell coming in. As the swell got within about 25 feet, we would run to the bottom row, up to the edge, and then try to get back up to the top of the Rocks without getting wet. Most of the time we didn't make it; we didn't care, we were challenging nature. The long walk home, soaking wet, down Lawrence Ave was rough.

We all knew it was a dumb thing to do, but we also knew it was the thing to do, because it was something to do. We never really thought of the danger involved. At that age you're immortal and can live forever.


I never heard of a Seiche or knew what it was until about 1954. A seiche is sort of an inland Tsunami, when a swell of water came up and washed over the Horseshoe and Jetties and washed over a hundred fishermen into the lake. Eight drowned; they had nothing to hold on to. This is the reason that today there is a cable running the length of the pier and jetty.

(Editor's Note: To learn more about Seiches on Lake Michigan, and to see the full-size view of the below graphic, go to: Lake Michigan Coastal Seiches)


Emma said...

I love your stories, Bill. Thanks for sharing!

dk said...

Do you remember the area called the pink elephant? That was where my brother 'taught' me how to swim.

Him and all his friends would dive off and he was mad because my mother would send me with him, so when I jumped up and down screaming that I wanted to go in too, he threw me in and said, "now swim."

I'm sure now if I would've been in serious trouble he would've came after me--I hope, but I certainly and forever learned how to swim that day.

ps-we always called Addison 'the rocks."


bob pratt said...

Great Blog! Seiche's maybe responsible for more drownings on the Lake. Even a small seiche of 3-4 inches can be deadly when it runs against a pier and a poor swimmer gets caught in it. The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project has started to study & document drownings on the Great Lakes.
Bob Pratt
Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.


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