Ice skating was a popular pastime for Philadelphians in the 18th century. The easily accessible Delaware River often froze, as did the Schuylkill. And even if the rivers didn’t, the neighborhood ponds invariably iced over.

Ice Skaters on the Delaware Iced Over LOCEarly accounts claim the Delaware River was the favorite spot to gather. Booths sprang up to cater refreshments and often a spit of meat roasted over a fire. Spectators lined the shores while skaters and sleighs pulled by specially-shod horses skimmed over  the ice.

Ice Skater Showing OffA good many of the skaters were noted figure skaters (or thought they were, as in the image above).  Alexander Graydon, in his Memoirs of a Life Chiefly Passed in Pennslyvania, wrote:

“ . . . though the Philadelphians have never reduced it to rules like the Londoners, nor connected it with their business like the Dutchmen, I will yet hazard the opinion that they were the best and most elegant skaters in the world. I have seen New England skaters, Old England skaters, and Holland skaters . . .”

Ice Skaters - LOC

It might be noted that this lively picture had a dark side, and drownings were not uncommon.  In the early 1780s a number of gentlemen formed the Humane Society, modeling the organization after similar societies established in Europe for “recovering persons apparently dead from drowning.”  The society assembled an apparatus consisting of drays, hooks, nets, and medicine, all labeled with “plain and full directions for their use.” These apparatuses were deposited at a number of popular spots along the river and reputedly saved lives in more than one instance.

Scene on the River Delaware 00580072001

Scene on the River Delaware Historical Society of PA

Ice skating was a popular pastime for the characters in Voices Beckon as well.

Voices Beckon BP

“WHY ARE WE WALKING way over here, Mary? We’ve passed several good ponds already.”

“Yes, full of families and children. Society Hill is where the men are, Elisabeth. We’re going to see and be seen.”

Elisabeth smiled, shaking her head. So that’s why Mary was in full dress, her blonde curls sitting just so under her prettiest hat, her new fur muff on display. Well, it couldn’t hurt to try. As much as she told Liam she was looking forward to spinsterhood, in truth she didn’t relish the thought.

And if she had a good time, she would have something to relay to Papa in her next letter. He never asked about her students or her garden. He always asked about her beaus. It was becoming difficult to continually evade the questions he pointedly posed in his letters.

“Here!  Just look, Elisabeth. There must be a dozen young men our age!”  ~Voices Beckon

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