Since 1901, the L Street Brownies, as the “polar bear” club is known, have been coming down to the beach at L Street in South Boston each Jan. 1 to celebrate the new year with a dip—a very brief, madcap dip—in the wicked cold Atlantic Ocean.
“I’ve been doing it since I was an infant,” says Jack Dever, president of the group. “I grew up across the street. Seventy-four years of age. In fact, I was in this morning. Kind of cold. The water temperature is about 31. The air temperature is 16 degrees.”
WBUR placed the temperature around 20 degrees when the annual holiday tradition began at 9:30 this morning. And the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration put the water temperature at 36.5 degrees.
Some L Street Brownies arrive in your usual swimming gear, but many come in costume—Vikings and Batman and members of the band Kiss. (Click on any of the photos here to enlarge.)
“It’s the oldest swimming club in America. They know us at UCLA. They know us everywhere,” Dever says. “Nineteen-o-one, was the first one. Nineteen-o-two, they skipped it because they had too many libations.” But they’ve been doing it continuously since 1903.
“I did it for my 50th [birthday],” says John Coutts of Boston, who was wearing a red Speedo and had painted a big blue “X” across his chest. “And my 51st. This is my 52nd. My birthday is on New Year’s. Something healthy to do. I think it’s going to be healthy.”
“We think it’s healthy,” Dever tells me. “It strengthens the immune system.”
But it’s crazy, right?
“Yes,” Dever acknowledges with a smile. Of course, the nuttiness of the whole enterprise is what makes it great. “Kind of like a Mardi Gras atmosphere.”