On a Wild Swimmer

Skinny dippin’ (yes, I purposely dropped the “g” because Alabama) used to be much more acceptable than it is now. People in other parts of the world outside the US refer to it as “wild swimming” or some such. This is about one older fellow who liked to swim in the buff. He took up the practice as a way to practice better health and to try to stay in shape as he aged. It worked to a degree–he lived into his 80s, so he did something right.

Anyway, this fellow, whom we will call John, would take one and all with him on his swims. When his sons came home from college, they’d go. When he had visitors at his house, he’d take them. When business associates asked to meet with John, he’d suggest they take the business down to the river where they’d leave their clothes in a pile and strike out into the water the way God made ’em.

One warm day in June, 1825, John and one of his sons and an employee of his went down to the river for a dip. John decided they should take a small boat, almost a canoe, across the river and then have the employee bring the little boat back. And so, they set out to cross the stream.

But halfway across, John realized the canoe leaked. And a wind blew up that caused ripples on the water of the river. The erstwhile skinny dippers jumped out of the sinking boat. The problem was that their clothes were so heavy as they filled with water, that John soon found himself in danger of drowning. Nowhere near shore, the older man realized the error of wearing his clothing as he struggled to make it out of the river alive.

Now, somehow, John made it back to shore. The old man lay on the bank and gasped for air. His son ordered the employee to run for help and get a carriage to take John home, to get some blankets and a fresh set of clothes so the old man wouldn’t catch cold. Luckily, no one was seriously injured, although John lost a waistcoat and one of his shoes; his employee lost his pocketwatch and some other items.

You’d think that the close call would make John reconsider his hobby of skinny dipping, but it didn’t damper his enthusiasm one bit. Sure enough, it wasn’t too long before President John Quincy Adams was back wild swimming in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.

On a Traffic Stop

Officer William West served the District of Columbia police force with pride and efficiency. An army veteran, William took his job of serving the public seriously. People who knew William (never “Bill,” always William) said he was tough but fair, honest, and believed that policemen and fireman and other first responders were grossly underpaid and underappreciated. In William’s case, that was certainly true. The pay at the force wasn’t great, but he prided himself in never taking a bribe to look the other way or to let someone off if they broke the law. For William, to be corrupt would make the entire system corrupt. He loved his country, his police force, and his job.

One week in the city, William was assigned traffic duty. That meant, basically, to set up what most people would call a speed trap to catch those who ignored the limit. William, characteristically, saw it differently. There had been serious incidences of speeding recently, and a mom and her kid were injured when a driver hit them while going too fast in the city limits. So, William saw his job that week as being important.

Oh, there’re some other things you should know about Officer William West at this point. He was a black man, born in Maryland, and lived in the area of Washington his entire life except for his time in the US Army. He and his wife, Katherine, had six children. He was 30 years old when the following events occurred.

William was patrolling near 13th Street an M Street when a vehicle flashed by. William quickly signaled for the driver to pull over. The man did. He was a white guy, about 20 years older than William, and when William approached the vehicle, the man said, “Well, officer; what do you want with me?” William later reported that he recognized the man, and that the man’s attitude was condescending. However, William, as usual, kept his professional cool. William calmly explained why the man had been stopped, and he politely asked the man to drive slower and gave the man a warning only. “We’re looking for people to set an example, sir,” William explained. The man sheepishly promised it wouldn’t happen again and apologized for speeding. William let him go on his way.

But that wouldn’t the last interaction between the two.

The next day, near the same spot, William spied the man again speeding through the area. It took William some distance to pull over the man this time. “I gave you a warning yesterday,” William informed the repeat offender. “You gave me your word that you wouldn’t speed again.” The man could not protest. William, making sure to be as polite as he could, placed the man under arrest for speeding. “I’m sorry, sir, but duty is duty,” William told him. William took the man to the station and turned him over to the booking clerk.

“You sure about this?” the clerk asked William. “I am,” the duty-bound officer replied. The man paid his bond and was released.

Until recently, Officer William West’s arrest of President Ulysses S. Grant was the only time that had happened to a President of the United States of America.