Maggie’s Climate Story
How are you sensing climate change?
Sam Leone was born in 1900. After serving in WWI, he became a professional lifeguard in the Rogers Park area of Chicago. Prior to Sam, the role was to recover drowned bodies from Lake Michigan. During his 40-year tenure, only seven drownings occurred on his four-mile stretch of Touhy beach, while his team made more than 10,000 rescues, a safety record believed to be unmatched anywhere. Leone called his methodology Preventative Lifeguarding. Leone was still living above the Rogers Park beach house, supervising lifeguards and safeguarding swimmers, at the time of his death at age 65.
My first memories of Touhy Beach, renamed Leone Beach in 1966, began decades later. It was “The Beach” to me. It was a place where I got sunburned, built sandcastles, and played in the surf of Lake Michigan. In the summers between 1980 and 1989, there were 12 days where the temperature rose to 100 degrees F or more (the average number of blazing hot days in all the decades on record for Chicago had been 4).
I live in Philadelphia now, and folks here think of “The Beach” as located on the Atlantic Ocean; not I. Every summer, my family and I take a pilgrimage to my ancestral home on the NW side of Chicago, it’s about as far from the lake as you can be without leaving the city, which is about 10 miles, or a 30 minute drive without traffic. Since my daughter was about 6 months old, I have taken my family to “The Beach”, and we got sunburned, built sandcastles, and played in the surf of Lake Michigan. In 2020, due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, I did not go home, and we didn’t go to “The Beach”. Last July, 2021 after my parents, now in their 70s, were finally able to get vaccinated against the deadly Coronavirus, I was delighted to pack my family into the car, and go home again.
You Can’t Go Home Again is a novel by Thomas Wolfe, incidentally born the same year as Leone. The Chicago Park District Lab Sample Collectors sample the beaches seven days a week Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day. The testing measures levels of bacterial DNA in beach water. The Chicago Park District uses the results to notify the public when the risk is elevated for developing water borne illness. If a water sample exceeds 1000 CCE of Enterococci bacteria, the Chicago Park District will issue a swim advisory which will be indicated with a yellow flag. It happens more and more often in recent years, due to the increasing temperature of the lake. I was home for two weeks this summer, and there was not a single day without a yellow flag on Sam Leone Beach. There’s a whole different method now to Sam’s Preventative Lifeguarding, and safeguarding swimmers.
We did not get sunburned, we built no sandcastles, and did not play in the surf of Lake Michigan.
How do these changes make you feel?
I feel dejected that “The Beach” is no longer safe, in spite of Sam Leone and his lifesaving legacy.
Leone Beach Park, 1222 W Touhy Ave, Chicago, IL 60626, USA
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