We West Side boys used to swim in the Hudson River off Gansevoort Street pier, across the road from what is now the High Line (New York to revive river swimming with $20m floating pool in East River, 9 October). Even then – 60-plus years ago – it was frowned on. What the grown-ups warned us about was not the genuine risk we ran of typhoid. Rather, they regaled us with the story of the boy who dived in the river and got his head stuck in a milk can and drowned. Like many urban myths this may have had a basis in some actual occurrence – probably dating from the mayoralty of Fernando Wood in the mid-19th century. If all the boys we were told of who drowned with their heads in milk cans were at the bottom of New York’s rivers there wouldn’t have be much room for the shipwrecks and the gangsters in cement galoshes.
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