Tuesday, November 27, 2012

1924 Olympian Clarida Hunsberger, captured on film by Harold Elliott

Olympic diver Clarida Hunsberger,
photographed in 1924 at Searsville Lake
by Harold F. Elliott
As part of our year-long grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources to catalog five manuscript collections from the Perham Collection of Early Electronics, we've been processing the Harold F. Elliott Papers. Elliott was a 1916 Stanford University engineering graduate who did a significant amount of work with Federal Telegraph Company in Palo Alto. As it turns out, Elliott was also a talented and accomplished photographer, whose hobby began while a student, culminating with exhibits in his later years. He started a photography processing business, “The Campus Photo Shop,” as a student, and his collection includes over 200 images of Stanford athletics and student life circa 1911-1916.

This photograph of Olympic diver and Stanford student Clarida Hunsberger was taken by Elliott at Searsville Lake in San Mateo County during the 1924 Olympic try-outs. Hunsberger participated in the platform diving event at both the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, and was interviewed by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles in May 1987 as part of their Olympian’s Oral History project. During the interview, Hunsberger recalled her experience at Stanford under coaches Greta and Ernst Brandsten: “Stanford at that time had 500 women and a couple thousand men—that was that era. They had very few women who were interested in diving and, in fact, one of the Brandstens would come out early every morning. I’d go to the women’s swimming pool early in the morning. I can remember walking out on that board with frost on the board; it mattered not what time a year it was or what the weather was. And it didn’t matter to the Brandstens. They were really gung-ho on having a woman who would be a diver. And so then came the day that Ernst Brandsten said to me, ‘You know, today we’re going to take you up to Searsville Lake.’ Now Searsville Lake was about nine miles from the Stanford campus. And up there—the lake was actually a dammed lake—they had platforms built on that dam that the Brandstens were responsible for constructing, because there were quite a few men divers who would work out up there. I didn't have a car to get up there. There were times that I walked to Searsville Lake and walked back.”

Of course, diving platforms in 1924 were not what they are today. The wooden apparatus in the above photograph was also explained by Hunsberger in her interview: “I think that to remind you of the era I should tell you about the platforms. They were constructed of wood and, of course, they’re over this lake, which sometimes was at one height and sometimes was at another height. Then there was no such thing as a stairway going up to those platforms. Now the platforms are 16 and 32 feet, 5 and 10 meters in height. We had to go up a ladder that went straight up. And I’ll never forget that the next rung to the top was missing. (laughter) And if you would do 8 or 10 dives, either from the 16 or 32, or both, and go up that ladder, well, you had quite a workout. And of course you had a nice little swim after you hit the water (laughter), and then to get over to what was supposed to be a ladder to come out of the water. The water would be cold. As I look back on it I wonder why I thought that was a great idea. (laughter) But I guess it was in the blood by then.”

Postcard advertising Harold Elliott's Campus Photo Shop at Stanford University
Hunsberger says she tried out for both the 1924 and 1928 Olympics on the West Coast, continuing on by train to New York for the final qualifiers, eventually placing fourth in the 1924 Olympic high-diving event. She points out, “Photography was in its infancy; nothing like the split-second timing pictures that they would get today. So, with the Olympic Games, there couldn't be the worldwide interest that we have now—not even countrywide. Many people had probably never heard of the Olympic Games, I’m pretty sure. Today most people would know what we were talking about.” With that in mind, this action shot by Harold Elliott is impressive for its time.

Hunsberger’s experiences at the 1924 and 1928 Olympics are recounted in the complete interview, a transcript of which can be accessed at