Sailing on the National Mall

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Model sailboat racers, their vessels rigged and ready, line up along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in this image from 1928. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected four years later in 1932, was an avid sailor and an enthusiastic modeler. As part of his New Deal legislation package to ease the woes of the Great Depression, the chief executive wanted to encourage the model sailboat hobby as a wholesome diversion for the nation’s youth, often left to their own devices as parents struggled to make ends meet.

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Parks and ponds were built or improved through the Works Progress Administration. Boys and girls learned to build the sailboats at classes sponsored by the Federal Youth Administration. Locations such as Ogden Park in Chicago, Boston’s Storrow Lagoon and the Conservatory Lake in New York’s Central Park drew crowds of sailors and spectators.

Clubs and associations brought people together during the Depression for simple, lively entertainment that all could enjoy, and the sport had an explosion of growth across the country. “It’s a pleasure to see your craft heeling over before a miniature squall,” one skipper wrote. “And you never have to get wet unless you want to.”

In Washington, D.C., the Reflecting Pool was the popular spot, with regattas and informal racing nearly every Sunday. The sport remains strong today, with one- design classes competing at local, national and world-class levels. But model boating on the National Mall is a thing of the past because of security concerns with the electronically powered, remote-control boats used today.

June 2014 issue