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Swimming Hole: The man, the myth, the leap

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In this end-of-summer episode of Endless Thread, Ben and Amory take a leap of faith (or do they?) to the depths of an upstate New York swimming hole with a legend surrounding it that's almost as shadowy as it's location.

The co-hosts turn to old-school, very offline reporting techniques to uncover the truth about a mysterious man that Ben has seen time and time again on road trips—an elderly man standing at the tip top of a wooded gorge, poised to plunge to the depths of the waters below. Who is this man? Are the townsfolk rumors about him true? Is he really the mayor and troll of this hole? And what happens when this secluded, locals-only swimming hole becomes deluged by people using the internet and social media to descend upon it to escape the COVID coop-up?

Show notes

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Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text. 

Ben Brock Johnson: Amory. How many times have I told you this story?

Amory Sivertson: Which one? Zero?

Ben: You know, it's about a swimming hole, right?

Amory: All I remember is that there's an old man?

Ben: Mmhmm.

Amory: Who is, like, the troll of the hole.

Ben: Hole troll.

Amory: (Laughs.) Maybe you'd better start at the beginning.

Ben: So this is a story that is going to start way off the internet, like so far off the Internet that there's no cell service. Okay?

Amory: Ooh.

Ben: And then it's a story that's going to go on to the internet. Okay? And then it's a story that's going to go back off the Internet. But it really starts with this journey that I was taking, I want to say, more than ten years ago on a regular basis.

Over ten years ago, I was living in New York City, and I had friends who lived up in the Catskills in upstate New York, and I was going to visit them on a regular basis, mostly when the weather was nice in the countryside and not nice in the city, a.k.a. that hot-a** summertime.

And this thing started to happen to me, that started to make me feel like I was seeing things, which was a particular stretch of road that I would take between upstate New York and the Catskills and New York City. It runs through a gorge. You'd get driving down this gorge. In this gorge it's a little steep. It's like a steep and windy road that runs next to a creek that goes between some kind of high kind of cliffs. I kept seeing this thing that looks like a hallucination, which was in the tippy top of this tree, which is basically like a Dr. Seuss tree, if that makes any sense.

Amory: It does.

Ben: It's spindly, it's small, it's like weird looking. This is not like a strong-looking tree. In the top branch of this tree…was standing an old man. In wet swim trunks.

Ben: And I kept seeing this guy. This, like, mysterious old man. I kept seeing the guy again and again. And then about, I'm gonna say, about six years ago, I finally stopped. And I found one of the craziest swimming holes I've ever seen.

Amory: Crazy how?

Ben: I mean, it's not just, like a spot that has deep enough water to swim in. This is a huge waterfall. With a deep, deep, dark watery hole at the bottom of it. And the jump is scary how high it is. And there's rock everywhere. And the locals were jumping from this spot. It was like right next to the waterfall into the hole. They’re all wearing shoes because apparently you can hit the bottom when you jump into the swimming hole.

And so, of course, me being me, I just started talking to these kids. I'm like, okay, look. Have you guys ever seen a guy in a tree here? And they go, “Oh, yeah, that's the mayor.”

Amory: (Laughs.) Of the swimming hole or of the town that the swimming hole is presumably in?

Ben: Great question. So what I remember from this conversation with these local kids was that they said that he was the mayor of the town at the top of the gorge. And not only is he the mayor, but he was recently challenged in the race for mayor in this small upstate New York town. He dared his opponent to jump from the top of the tree. Into the swimming hole. And his opponent chickened out. And the mayor won re-election. Even at the time, I was like, okay, it seems like possible, even likely that they would be pulling my leg. Right?

Amory: Maybe it’s just a story people tell around here? A local legend?

Ben: Well, the local legend got even crazier. The mayor was jumping from the top of the tree into the swimming hole. Hard to tell how high, but I’ve never seen a jump spot that high. I’ve been wanting to do this story for a long time. But I have to admit, like, I've been kind of scared to do it because it's such a good story. Why ruin it by getting the facts, right Amory? Like, don’t meet your heroes, right? But this summer, something clicked, and I was like, me and Amory, we got to go on this adventure.

Amory: You know me. I'm always down for a road trip, less down for a high jump. Moderately down for a swim. I don't even know if I still have a swimsuit. I mean, I need to prepare.

Ben: Oh, boy. You better get ready.

Amory: Okay.

Ben: I’m Ben Brock Johnson.

Amory: And I’m Amory Sivertson.

Ben: And you’re listening to Endless Thread.

Amory: We’re coming to you from WBUR, Boston’s NPR swimmin’ hole. Today’s episode?

Ben: The man. The myth. The legend...

Amory: The leap.

Ben: So a few weeks after that conversation with Amory, we got in the car and got rollin’.

Two things should be stated here. If they aren’t already obvious. Number one, I love swimming holes.

Amory: That was obvious.

Ben: But also, swimming holes, their location, how to get to them, at least in this part of the country, the northeast, they are kind of secret knowledge. They’re passed via word of mouth. It’s considered in some circles not cool to put information about them on the internet. At least that’s how it’s been for decades. And that’s changing.

Amory: The Instagramification of everything.

Ben: Exactly.

Amory: Which means a bunch of jamokes crowding the parks to get the best shot, hiking up mountains without the proper equipment, blowing up the spot. The swimming spot.

Ben: And yet, at the same time, swimming holes are also this wonderful thing, they are places for everyone and anyone. There’s no gated community, no rent-a-cop checking to see if your car has the right sticker for the beach lot. No twenty bucks to park. You don’t need an ID. You just need to have the secret knowledge of location and approach. You hopefully need a respect for nature.

Amory: Speaking of which, boy did we pick a hot day to go on a swimming hole treasure hunt.

Ben: How do you feel about being in a car on a day with 91 degrees...

Amory: With the windows up...

Ben: ...and the windows up and the air conditioner off because it's broken.

Amory: I feel bad. But I'll say this. This is so typical. And so typical. Typical that we're going to a swimming hole, and Ben is like, I forgot my swim trunks. Ben who is like a fish who swims in the pond every morning forgets his swim trunks...

Ben: I mean all you really need to swim is underwear, or an ability to be fine with being in wet clothing for a little while. Or to be ok with maybe swimmin' in the buff.

Amory: You swim in the buff all you want Ben but not with me.

Ben: (Laughs.) Yeah, hopefully not with a professional colleague. I did plan on swimming in my shorts, even if it was dang hot.

Ben: Uh, on a scale of one to full luge, how sweaty is your back right now?

Amory: It's pretty gross. Yeah. I mean, I don't know if you...I was gonna say I don't know if you want the gory details, but the gory details are just… it's sweaty. It's sweaty. My back is sweaty.

Ben: Same.

Amory: And unlike you who forgot your swim trunks.

Ben: I think we're bringing sweaty back.

Amory: I am wearing a swim suit under this dress so...

Ben: I may have forgotten my swimmies but I did have a plan.

Amory: "Plan" seems quite generous in this case.

Ben: Well, you know, Amory, you’ve been really just lollygagging during COVID and maybe you needed to get back into fighting shape as a reporter.

Amory: Uh... (Sighs.)

Ben: You're going to tap into your roots and we're going to go to the town at the bottom of the gorge. And you, Amory Sivertson, have to figure out where this place is and who this guy is, without use of the internet. So we're going to the town. And then we're unleashing your weighty journalism skills upon this town.

Amory: This is how you get around having to do any work. (Laughs.)

Ben: (Laughs.) Oh no, I've done some work. Don't get me wrong, I've done some work.

Amory: Okay.

Ben: But I feel like you must also go on a journey so that we can be on the journey together and so...

Ben: It is true that a few weeks before, I had done some reporting of this story. So I did have a plan. Drop Amory in the little upstate New York town of Palenville and see where her reporter’s nose led her.

Amory: Yeah, except you rushed me the whole time.

Ben: We were on a schedule!

Amory: We started with Ben careening off the road into the parking lot of a golf course to accost a man who had been flying his drone.

Ben: Hey, drone flight, gives you a pretty good birds eye view of the landscape! Maybe he had some drone footage of our spot!

Amory: Yeah, except while you did bound up to this poor gentleman because he had a drone and New York plates…

Amory: This guy bothering you?

Amory: We quickly learned something about Jim Howell.

Amory: You’re from Boston? Where? Quincy. Get out! I live in Quincy!

Ben: Jim, originally a Bostonian or Quincian, and his wife own a place in New York City now. But they’ve been living in Palenville during COVID. Needed to get out of the city I guess.

Amory: And he did have some intel.

Jim: Um, there was a one place where I think people go swimming. I've never seen them, but there are cars parked there and people wander off into the woods, in any event.

Ben: Cahs Pahked. You can take a Quincy boy to New York City but he’ll always be from Bahston.

Amory: Jim said this place was at a tight bend in the road that winds through the gorge above the town of Palenville…maybe near a place called North South Lake.

Jim: Further out. It’s a fairly rough walk getting in there.

Ben: Jim also said it was dangerous.

Jim: It is quite common to have ambulances going up there because people have slipped and fallen.

Amory: This was good information. But did Jim know the legend? A particular swimming hole jumper who was maybe a local mayor?

Amory: And have you heard anything about a gentleman that sits in a tree?

Jim: No.

Amory: No.

Jim: No.

Ben: So we had to keep looking.

Ben: Is there like a downtown or like a town square or something like that like up 23A?

Jim: Yeah, this way. About five, six hundred feet down.

Ben: Oh, okay. So we're close.

Jim: And that's how you get sent up into the mountains as well.

Amory: Bye Quincy Jim!

Ben: About six hundred feet later, we found a sandwich shop and general store called the Circle W and a library. Which we will come back to. Literally.

Amory: I cannot believe you led me on this wild goose chase. And yet, I can completely believe you lead me on this wild goose chase.

Ben: I live for the chase, Amory. Live for the chase.

Amory: Clearly. But I guess I do too.

Amory: Hey, do you have a second to chat? I'll be very brief, I promise. Do you know of any swimming holes?

Pedro: No, I'm actually not really from around here. Like, I'm from Yonkers. Like, you know, I'm just up here for camping.

Amory: Nobody here is from here!

Ben: Yet. But they are trying to help the best they can.

Amory: Including this guy who introduces himself as Pedro.

Pedro: I mean, what kind of swimming hole is it? Like, where is it?

Amory: What we've heard is that...

Pedro: There's a winding road.

Amory: Windy road. There's a little bit of legend around there. So it's I guess, based on what others have told me in town so far, is that it's at the top of North South Lake.

Pedro: The closest thing that I can imagine is heading in that direction that I told you once you get the Stewart's, make that right. There's like, if you see parked cars on like, you know, on that winding road that heads in that direction, chances are there's a swimming hole nearby. So, that's all I know...

Amory: Parked cars along the side of the road, take a right at the Stewart's gas station, thank you Pedro. I would vote for Pedro.

Ben: As would I.

Amory: Pedro, thank you.

Pedro: No, anytime.

Amory: Alright. Enjoy the day.

Pedro: You too. Take care.

Ben: I would also vote for you keeping your recording kit a little less tangled as we leave Pedro and head into the Circle W, Amory.

Ben: It's been too long since you've been in the field. You just don't know what you're doing anymore.

Amory: No, I feel like this never used to be this long! (Laughs.) You are so annoying. I will...

Ben You're just a little rusty, I feel like, you know?

Amory: The woman we first meet at the counter turns out does not want to be interviewed. Even though she is from town and knows about the local swimming holes!

Ben: But her fellow sandwich slinger is open to it. Danny Randell. He says he's media trained.

Danny: I am media trained.

Ben: In fact, he says, he was a QVC presenter for three years selling women’s fashion. Now, he is living in the area, making sandwiches, and telling stories to non-locals about the area’s wealth of waterfalls.

Danny: Kaaterskill Falls is probably the most famous of our falls here, but there's a number of other falls that I'm not at liberty to give away to the broader public.

Amory: Oh, because they're like local...people want to keep them local, for the locals.

Danny: Yeah, yeah. This area has shifted a lot. I mean, there's always been a city, country/melange since the fifties and beyond, but it's definitely changed a lot since COVID. But yeah, I mean, we're open to share all of this. And it's nature has given us a lot of juicy goodies.

Ben: Juicy goodies for me and Amory though? We’re not locals. Dammit.

Amory: Well, he did provide some tasty morsels for legend-seekers.

Danny: So, there's always like a mystic element to the forest of this area...And they're Fae...

Ben: Nothing super specific though. So we got some tasty morsel sandwiches from Danny and his anonymous coworkers. One of whom, as we were leaving, pulled me aside and underscored Danny’s point about this rising tension, between the locals and non-locals who have been coming from all over especially during COVID, getting in trouble, getting hurt, leaving trash. She says there are annual deaths connected to the waterfalls in the gorge. Or people needing to be airlifted out.

Amory: But the old man in the tree? She didn’t have anything to say about that. So we head out and sit down next to the road to do the most important thing we’ve done all day so far.

Ben: Amory’s slammin’ a sammy. We're both slammin a sammy, but honestly, we're on a bit of a deadline, so we’ve got to keep going. You ready for the last stop? Actually the second to last stop?

Amory: The second to last stop?

Ben: Yes. My plan was taking shape. The next stop was a place we’d seen on the way into town. The Palenville branch, Catskill Library. So this was the first call I made. Here we go. And admittedly, I used the internet.

I used the internet to find the spot I’d visited on the map, and then searched for the closest library. Because I come from a family of librarians. So when I first set about getting answers to this story, a few weeks before I forgot my swimmies, before Amory was bringing sweaty back, this was my first call.

Librarian: Hello Palenville Library, this is Ally.

Ben: I’m on a strange mission and I’m wondering if I can get help from a librarian.

Librarian: Well, we can definitely try. What’s going on?

Ben: With help from Ally I found a librarian named Joy. And Joy was my jackpot.

Joy: I am from the mountaintop area and I’ve lived there for quite a while. So um, I’m not sure, she said a mayor? Something about a mayor?

Amory: Joy wasn’t just Ben’s Jackpot. She was also my true joy. To meet in person.

Amory: I'm looking for someone named Joy.

Joy: I'm Joy.

Amory: You're Joy?

Joy: Yes, I am.

Amory: I'm Amory.

Joy: Hi Amory.

Amory: And maybe...

Joy: Ben, nice to meet you.

Amory: So I've been told that I should talk to you because I'm on a quest to find a swimming hole...

Joy: Okay.

Amory: ...with a very steep drop to it. A very high drop. And we’ve heard some kind of legend about an older gentleman that sits in a tree that's at the top of this drop. All right, you're laughing. This is good. I feel good about this. What do you do? First of all, do you know what swimming hole I'm talking about?

Joy: I would say Fawn’s Leap.

Amory: Fawn's Leap.

Joy: It's called Fawn's Leap.

Amory: Okay. Fawn like baby deer. Fawn's Leap. And how far, how high of a drop is it? Ben been telling me like sixty five feet.

Joy: I would say probably about that. Yes. And it depends if you are going to climb on one of the trees.

Amory: Fawn’s Leap! Not any number of other spots we’d heard about along the way, like North South Lake, which is a very confusing name. Or Kaaterskill Falls, which was close by but not right. Fawn’s Leap. Joy has never leapt herself but there’s a very pleasant teenaged bookworm nearby who may have.

Joy: Sebastian, have you ever been on Fawn’s Leap? Have you ever jumped off one?

Sebastian: My father used to bring me when I was a kid. I never jumped. He did. I did not.

Amory: Whoa. And he lived to tell the tale?

Sebastian: Multiple times, actually. This sounds terrible, it wasn't as bad as it sounds. He pushed my mom off of Fawn’s Leap.

Amory: Oh my God!

Sebastian: He was jumping off and she was, like, really scared to do it. So she actually just gave her a little nudge and she ended up surviving too, still alive to tell the tale.

Amory: Are they still married, is the question.

Sebastian: They're not. (Laughs.) But unrelated.

Ben: Surely unrelated.

Amory: Oh. My. God.

Ben: Joy and Sebastian tell Amory exactly where to find Fawn’s Leap. Apparently there’s even a historic New York state sign for it…But I already know where it is. Like I said, I’ve been there before. And I’d made some calls. To the library, and...

Ben: Hi, I’m looking for Hasaan…

Hassan Basagic: Speaking.

Ben: Amory is about to learn something else Joy told me a few weeks back.

Joy: He’s been jumping there forever so that might be who you’re referring to. Up until a few years ago he was still jumping. But I haven’t seen him in a while.

Amory: Yeah, who is it?

Joy: Yeah, his name is Hassan. He's been in the papers.

Amory: First name is Hassan?

Joy: Hassan Basagic. He's the undertaker.

Amory: The undertaker!

Joy: He's been the undertaker there for as long as I've known him.

Amory: That's where he goes to find his clientele?

Joy: Maybe, yeah. (Laughs.)

Amory: The undertaker!

Ben: The undertaker. Which for this legend is almost better than the mayor.

Amory: Oh, absolutely. A trip up the mountain to see the undertaker. In a minute.

[SPONSOR BREAK]

Ben: So this story started off the internet.

Amory: And you also said I couldn’t use the internet to do my own research while trying to find the origin of this story. Apparently Hassan Basagic the man is not the mayor. So that was a myth.

Ben: But is he a legend?

Hassan: Yes, that’s correct, they have knighted me as the legend.

Ben: And as Joy the librarian knows, he’s been a local legend for a long time. But that legend is changing. This is where the story goes back onto the internet for a second.

When I got Hassan on the phone a few weeks back, he told me about something that has happened over the last decade or so. While I was dragging my feet on searching out the man in the tree, other people were discovering him and starting to tell his story on the internet.

Hassan: Barstool Sports, London Daily Mail, New York Post, well ESPN, TikTok, Catskill Daily Mail, in the New York Times there was a video called 'In Search of a Watery Eden'.

Amory: Eventually a guy like Hassan doing what Hassan does had to go viral. And as the gorge has become more popular, it’s popped up on social media too. Especially if you’re looking for cliff jumper content. YouTubers have put together smashcuts of jumping off all the Upstate New York spots with a cool soundtrack. And there’s Fawn’s Leap.

Ben: Sure enough, the Youtube creators using GoPros and drones to capture themselves doing daring flips, found Hassan as well as the swimming hole. There he is in the video, an old man at the top of a spindly tree, waving a tiny American flag, before he jumps into the water.

Amory: But I mean, you can watch a YouTube video on your phone all day long and it’ll never give you the real thing. So let’s get back off the internet and into Ben’s hot-a** car.

Ben: And get rolling up the gorge to start looking for other vehicles parked on the side of the road. Supposedly, the legend is saving us a spot.

Amory: This gorge is breathtaking, by the way. Straight up into the Catskill Mountains we go. With Ben driving way too fast.

Amory: Very windy, not sure what the speed limit is. Oh there we go, twenty miles per hour. Which you're definitely not doing.

Ben: What's the speed limit?

Amory: Twenty!

Ben: Oh, I'm going...

Amory: Fifty.

Ben: Fifty.

Ben: I did slow down. You kind of need to because of how windy the road is. And because all along the road, with barely any space or the shoulders between the cars and the guard rail border overlooking the gorge. There are people walking. All kinds of people.

Amory: There’s cliffs all around, and trees. It’s a state park. And you can tell why. It’s GORGE-ous.

Ben: No time for bad jokes Amory because something is about to happen.

Amory: Okay, we got another collection of cars...we got a lot of locals that look like they're in swim trunks.

Ben: Hassan! (Whispers.) Did you hear that?

Amory: What did she say?

Ben: She said, "Are you the guy?"

Amory: As we pull up to the tiny spot where cars can pull off and see Hassan holding a spot for us, a woman recognizes the cliff-jumping legend. An actual local celebrity spotting! Right on cue!

Ben: Hi. So thrilling to meet you.

Hassan: I got some junk here for you.

Ben: Oh, thank you. For the junk.

Amory: Thank you!

Ben: Amazing.

Ben: Junk as in…a pile of articles from publications that have been written about Hassan over the years.

Amory: The man…the myth…the legend. In the flesh. It’s a little dicey to do introductions in this parking spot. Not a lot of space and the cars and trucks barreling down the gorge.

(Car zooms by.)

Hassan: If he hits me, he's going to have a lot of paperwork.

Ben: Spoken like a true undertaker.

Amory: Hassan is 77 years-old now. But he looks kind of ageless. I was hoping for a Rip Van Winkle beard but I’ll settle for a very energetic fella with a happy smile and a twinkle in his eye. He starts leading us up the road towards Fawn’s Leap.

Ben: Hassan’s giving us the full tour from the roadside, pointing out other pools in the creek.

Ben: Look at Rat’s hole! Wow! Look at Rat’s hole! It’s sort of a deeper blue.

Hassan: It's beautiful.

Amory: He talks a lot about all the people from all over who come. It’s safe to say Hassan doesn’t feel that local/non local tension. At least not in his heart.

Hassan: We have different groups coming all the time. One week it’ll be the Asians.

Ben: This week there’s a crew from Uzbekistan, he says. Last week it was South America, he says. We go at a pretty good clip up the the gorge. Joy told us another bit of trivia about our legend here. He’s also known for running marathons, and people see him running up and down the mountain.

Amory: And even though some atrial fibrillation cooled off his marathoning, Hassan’s still hoofing up here to jump.

Ben: We reach the spot. A tight turn in the road and that New York State historical sign we were looking out for.

Hassan: According to legend, a man pursued by a dog tried to jump the chasm and failed. The Rock Formation and Waterfalls has been a favorite spot of artists and photographers for centuries.

Ben: A hop skip and a jump over the guard rail and through a bit of trees and we’re standing on knee-wobbling cliffs above Fawn’s Leap. Three sheer walls and boulders piled up around a waterfall and a black hole of water that seems to want to suck you over the ledge and into its center. There’s a crowd of young men here. Some jumping. Some trying to get the courage to jump. Hassan tells us he's already jumped four or five times today, but he's back for more right now with us.

Amory: It doesn't get old four or five times a day?

Hassan: No. It doesn't get old. The years slipped by so quickly.. The summer goes by, like, in a flash. You know, it doesn't last long enough for us, you know?

Ben: Oh I do know, Hassan. I do.

Amory: True fact, Ben took us on this crazy road trip on his birthday. Because this is his idea of a good time.

Ben: This was a birthday treat for me, for sure.

Amory: Today it’s locals and some guys from the US Army Wrestling Team trying to squeeze out some late summer vibes before the fall season starts. They’re jumping from the spillway below us. A 29-foot drop. But Hassan jumps from all the spots.

Hassan: Not to brag, but I mean, I've met people who can do at least some of the things I can do, but not all of the things that I can do.

Ben: Hassan says he grew up in Monagah, West Virginia before coming up to New York as a young man. He describes it as a Tom Sawyer life. Swimming holes, living in nature. He’s been jumping off things since he was a little kid. In the just shy of fifty years Hassan says he’s been jumping here, the highest spot was the tree. Which most people agree was about 70 feet above the water’s surface. But about a year ago, park rangers cut it down. Hassan says it got to be what they call a little gnarly.

Amory: Along with the growing tension between locals and Instagramming out of towners, there’s also some tension between the authorities and the thrill seekers. But Hassan says he’s built a good relationship with them. He was the one who tied a bunch of ropes up around this spot, to help people scramble back up from the water to the cliffs after a jump, or rappel onto the waterfall safely from the road…which thank you Hassan.

Amory: Oh my God.

Ben: You okay?

Amory: Yes. You just wiggled the rope. You wiggled!

Ben: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wiggle. I'm sorry. I'll stop wiggling.

Amory: I'm going to go here and let you go down because you're wiggling too much.

Ben: Am I wiggling too much?

Ben: It wasn’t that bad. So the legend tells us the tree is gone. Though we can still see the stump. Also, though he has run for the elected office of Coroner in the county, and was once on the board, he’s never run for Mayor. Or challenged an opponent. That part was definitely a myth.

Amory: You're the mayor of Fawn’s Leap.

Hassan: Yeah. You know, and the thing I would, if you remember anything about me, please remember that I love everyone from my heart.

Amory: Just everyone in general?

Hassan: Yes. I love everyone.

Ben: We will remember that about Hassan. But we’ll also remember the jumps. The first of which is close to the road where you scramble over the guard rail. And it has to be a good 45 feet. Amory and I are watching from the waterfall.

(Cliff jumping audio.)

Amory: Then Hassan moves up to a boulder, the highest spot next to the falls. The boulder is in a slow-motion, eons-long tumble into the falls, and you have to run down it at what feels like a 45 degree angle to jump into the falls. Only one of the young guys here will try it after watching Hassan.

Amory: The groups of men jumping here are all taken with Hassan. At the bottom of the falls, after a bunch of leaps, they gather around him in a circle like it’s storytime. Listening to the elder statesman. But not all of his stories are good ones.

Hassan: A couple of years ago, we lost Benjamin Bochtler, who was a West Point cadet. And he was here in the morning with his buddy. And he was walking down underneath over here.

Ben: The West Point cadet was climbing around under the falls in 2019 and a large chunk of rock fell on top of him and killed him. Hassan’s funeral home took care of the young man’s body. He talks a lot about safety–how jumping at the falls is done best when there are others around in case there’s a mishap.

Ben: Do you think about mortality? Like you're dealing with mortality in your work and you're also dealing with it here?

Hassan: Well, I'm Christian. Yes.

Ben: You're Christian? Any denomination?

Hassan: Yeah. Well, I'm Catholic.

Ben: Catholic?

Hassan: Yeah. But I respect all religions, you know. And you know, Nabokov, the Russian poet said, "Common sense tells us that our existence here is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness."

Ben: As it should be obvious, there is some toxic masculinity that plays into all of this. Right? Guys urging each other to do crazier and crazier stunts, and pushing women to do it too.

Amory: These guys think they can peer pressure me. They don't know me.

Amory: I was on the fence about jumping. Even though some of the guys were really trying to get me to. Hassan, though, basically told me, “You do you.”

Hassan: Everyone is different with different things going through their minds. I always say it’s not important if you don’t jump. It’s not important.

Amory: So… was it important to me?

Ben: I certainly wasn’t going to push you to do it. But you definitely seemed to be considering it.

Ben: What do are you thinking? You thinking about it?

Amory: Thinking about it. But I don't know. I don't know.

Ben: Okay. It's up to you.

Ben: While Amory considers it, I’m getting ready.

Ben: So there's not a specific spot that I'm trying to hit. Just go. I'm good. All right.

Ben: Was I good? I was not good. I was freaking out.

Ben: Each minute that goes by, I'm like, f***, f***, f***.

Amory: This is a different Ben, I have to say.

Ben: Scared Ben?

Amory: You're making a lot of weird smiles.

Ben: Weird smiles?

Amory: This is like emoji Ben.

Ben: I think now's the time for me to go if I'm going to go.

Amory: Really? Okay, Ben. You got this? Wait. I should get a picture of this, though. Okay. You can do it. I believe in you. Don't think too much. You got this.

(Ben screams and hollers.)

Amory: I'm proud of you!

(Triumphant screaming continues.)

Amory: Good job, Ben.

Ben: It was the best. So great. Everything I’d dreamed and more.

Amory: This place is special. And for Hassan, it feels extra special. As the crowds in recent years have swelled like the waters at the beginning of summer, and locals have complained about outsiders, and trash, Hassan has brought down trash bags and cleaned up.

Hassan: No matter where people meet, there's refuse left. That doesn't mean all people leave refuse.

Ben: During the pandemic, more and more people came up here seeking nature. Hassan was quoted in a local newspaper story last summer defending the out of town and out of country bathers from the local haters. He embodies that thing we were talking about earlier, the belief that this place is for everyone.

Amory: Which is good. Because we should acknowledge that we are also outsiders, making an episode, about a place that was once a little more secret. But the cat's out of the bag. It’s already gone viral. And the mayor seems good with it. Even, touched, by the people who come to see him.

Hassan: They make me cry. They do. So, you know, over the years, I've met different ones all the time. You feel like you have someone behind you cheering you on. They really cheer me on. They give me an ovation.

Amory: But is that what makes you emotional?

Hassan: Yeah. The feeling of, after all this time, they've given it to me for years now and that they recognize me still, you know?

Ben: The tree may be cut down, and there might be some more trash. But the swimming hole remains pretty timeless. And the visitors are still paying respects to the mayor. Like these Army cadets.

Hassan: Gentleman, take care. Get home safe!

Army Cadet: We'll remember this day forever! We sent photos to our family. Have a good one.

Ben: Summer has to end, and our visit with Hassan does too. But we’ll be back. I’m coming back next year!

Amory: I’m coming too! And since — spoiler alert — I didn’t end up jumping on this trip, I’m jumping next time. It’s happening. But like Hassan says, only if I want to. Although Hassan also says, if you don’t jump, it’s not important. But you do have to collect ten little stones from the gorge to take back with you.

Hassan: So it was a pleasure to meet you folks. I'm telling you it was great.

Amory: Thank you so much. Yes. So wonderful.

Hassan: Yeah, I'm glad we got it worked out.

Ben: I'm glad I found you.

Hassan: Yeah. And you did a jump!

Ben: I did a jump. Yeah.

Amory: I'm so glad you cleared those rocks.

Ben: Me too.

Amory: Time for credits. And for me to pick up some stones.

Amory: I see some pebble potential right here.

[CREDITS]

Amory: Endless Thread is a production of WBUR in Boston.

Ben: Want early tickets to events, swag, bonus content? My list of top swimming holes, Amory’s Weird Al cover of Bringing Sweaty Back? Join OUR email list! You’ll find it at wbur.org/endlessthread.

Amory: That sounds like a challenge Ben, accepted.

Ben: It is. It is. This episode was written hosted and produced by yours truly, Ben Brock Johnson.

Amory: Copiloted and cohosted by me, Amory Sivertson.

Amory: Ah, I see one. That's comin' home with me.

Ben: Editing help from the rest of the team. Dean Russell, Nora Saks, Quincy Walters, Grace Tatter, Kristin Torres. Our web producer is Megan Cattel.

Amory: Our show was mixed and sound designed by Emily Jankowski and Paul Vaitkus.

Amory: Mm, that's a little big.

Amory: Endless Thread is a show about the blurred lines between digital communities and slammin' sammies before swimming in the buff with a bunch of wrestling army cadets. Which I did not do.

Ben: Neither did I. But you know.

Amory: But we did slam slammies. If you’ve got an untold history, an unsolved mystery, or a wild story from the internet that you want us to tell, hit us up. Email Endless Thread at WBUR dot ORG.

Ben Brock Johnson Twitter Executive Producer, Podcasts
Ben Brock Johnson is the executive producer of podcasts at WBUR and co-host of the podcast Endless Thread.

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