Ice Skating on Jamaica Pond

Old winter pleasures on Jamaica Pond

A section of a lithograph depicting skating on Jamaica Pond. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

A section of a lithograph depicting skating on Jamaica Pond. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

It would be highly appropriate for anyone by an ice - covered Jamaica Pond to hear echoes of the famous Skaters' Waltz from Meyerbeer's ballet, The Skater. Older residents can recall lengthy skating periods on the Pond, and their parents would have mentioned ice being cut for local distribution for the family icebox. One enterprising Massachusetts Yankee, Frederick Tudor, organized rural ice cutters so well that the product was sent to Boston and sent around the world after being packed in insulating sawdust.

Skating was the activity focused upon by Mrs. Samuel Cabot of the Pond's north shore in a 1940 lecture. Her text, along with some of the originals of the slides she used, is preserved in the JP Branch Library and has been published by the JP Historical Society. Mrs. Cabot began her collection of Pond materials when she moved into what is now the Cabot Estate in 1919. She quotes from the 1855 - 59 diary of Elizabeth R. Mason (later Mrs. Walter Cabot, which in part has recently been published by the Beacon Press. Here are her quotes, which show a far different Jamaica Pond than the one readers know at present:

January 26, 1855 - A new amusement has arisen on the Boston horizon: skating. Last Wednesday, having heard of the performances of some of the ladies who live on Jamaica Pond, we determined to go out in the omnibus to see them. The weather was fine, and we proceeded to the omnibus on Park Street corner. Arriving at Green Street in little more than half an hour, we walked onto the Pond, where we found a crowd of people skating.

I put on skates and was able to stand on them very well and to be pulled around; that I by taking the arm of someone who skated well, I could follow, making no motion myself but without losing my balance.

In coming home it snowed hard, and the walk to the cars, which is more than half a mile was by no mean delightful. Neither can I say much for the walk from the Providence Depot through Charles Street.

January 30, 1855 - Good skating again. I was glad to arrive at the omnibus. The Pond was covered with people amounting to 500 or 600. The afternoon was brilliant, and I enjoyed it excessively.

January 31, 1855 - I raced down at 10 to the Providence Depot. The weather was brilliant, the skating splendid. We met a good many people on the pond. We all had a very grand time; one sees people in such an easy, pleading way. Returned by the omnibus at 1 p.m.

February 1, 1855 - I proceeded in the omnibus to Jamaica Pond. I enjoyed the afternoon more than ever before. The sun had checked the wind; it was mild and good skating. I crossed the pond several times. We were pushed in a sleigh belonging to the Bacons. Altogether it was splendid. I never felt a sensation of cold even in my feet and was in high spirit. I had my first real fall: I came suddenly to very rough ice without perceiving it and measured my length without injury except to my bonnet and in getting very wet from the snow.

February 27, 1858 - Went out to Jamaica Pond this morning, but the ice was very poor.

March 4, 1858 - Went out to Jamaica Pond today, but the skating was poor excepting a little patch 20 feet long.

March 5, 1858 - Went to Jamaica Pond, but it was so bitterly cold that I was perfectly exhausted when I got home.

January 25, 1859 - Went out coating to Jamaica.

January 26, 1859 - Went out today to some meadows near Jamaica Pond. Perfect ice and hot weather.

January 31, 1859 - Went to Jamaica Pond to skate after dinner.

February 1, 1859 - Went out this morning to Jamaica.

February 6, 1859 - A snowstorm came on Thursday and buried the skating, rather to my relief, for one cannot stay at home when it is good.

By Walter H. Marx

Reprinted with permission from the Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright, Gazette Publications, Inc.

Diary tells of skating on Jamaica Pond

By Cynthia Foster

The article about Jamaica Pond in the February 14 Gazette renewed old memories. My first husband, Carl Anthonsen, and his family bought a little house on Spring Park Avenue in 1922. I came to live here in 1938 when we were married. The pond was one of our favorite haunts, summer and winter. I remember skiing around and across the pond when winters were cold and snowy. Before we were married I lived in the Fenway on Park Drive. We did a lot of skiing through the park between JP and the Fenway.

Carl kept a diary. The reference in the article to the carnival in 1925 reminded me of his account of that event. He was there. I enclose two excerpts from his diary relating to the skating carnivals. It boggles my mind to think of 50,000 people at Jamaica Pond!

Excerpts from the Journal of Carl Anthonsen, February 8, 1923:

Tonight I fulfilled my vow to go skating. The weather being ideal, skated for several hours on Jamaica Pond. Only a small part, however, due to yesterday's snow, was available In addition the ice was rough and cracked in places, and several times, in trying to display my speed, came close to breaking a bone or two. It was uncomfortably crowded, too, it being the night of the annual municipal carnival. Paid little attention to the festivities and was quite oblivious of the 50,000 gathering. I distinctly recall a similar occasion about six years ago. That was when, for what reason my creator only knows, I was breaking away from acquaintances and keeping more and more to myself. Not that I was happy in my own thoughts. For they were rather dismal to say the least. That night, it seems to me, was the first time I had that aching, lonely, bitter feeling, which has so often possesses me since. If only there had been some experienced person to guide me, how different things might have been!

Excerpts from the Journal of Carl Anthonsen, January 8, 1925:

This eve, skating on Jamaica Pond, which was in holiday garb for annual municipal skating carnival. An elaborate program was laid out. But carrying it out was another matter. The fireworks and band concert went off without a hitch, and a couple of races were held. But then the ice, already weakened by a thaw of several days, cracked under the burden of tens of thousands of skaters and water flowed freely above the surface, thus putting a decided dampener on the festivities. This has been the case with all of these carnivals in past years. There are too many people in the world.

Reprinted with permission from the Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright, Gazette Publications, Inc.