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Celebrating New Year's By Jumping In The Harbor With The L St. Brownies

L Street Brownies' dash into the frigid Atlantic Ocean. (Greg Cook)

experiences

Since 1901, the L Street Brownies, as the “polar bear” club is known, have been coming down to the beach at L Street in South Boston each Jan. 1 to celebrate the new year with a dip—a very brief, madcap dip—in the wicked cold Atlantic Ocean.

“I’ve been doing it since I was an infant,” says Jack Dever, president of the group. “I grew up across the street. Seventy-four years of age. In fact, I was in this morning. Kind of cold. The water temperature is about 31. The air temperature is 16 degrees.”

WBUR placed the temperature around 20 degrees when the annual holiday tradition began at 9:30 this morning. And the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration put the water temperature at 36.5 degrees.

Some L Street Brownies arrive in your usual swimming gear, but many come in costume—Vikings and Batman and members of the band Kiss. (Click on any of the photos here to enlarge.)

“It’s the oldest swimming club in America. They know us at UCLA. They know us everywhere,” Dever says. “Nineteen-o-one, was the first one. Nineteen-o-two, they skipped it because they had too many libations.” But they’ve been doing it continuously since 1903.

Why?

“I did it for my 50th [birthday],” says John Coutts of Boston, who was wearing a red Speedo and had painted a big blue “X” across his chest. “And my 51st. This is my 52nd. My birthday is on New Year’s. Something healthy to do. I think it’s going to be healthy.”

“We think it’s healthy,” Dever tells me. “It strengthens the immune system.”

But it’s crazy, right?

“Yes,” Dever acknowledges with a smile. Of course, the nuttiness of the whole enterprise is what makes it great. “Kind of like a Mardi Gras atmosphere.”

The 103rd Postal Fire Column Pipes and Drums warms up the crowd inside the Curley Community Center before the swim. (Greg Cook)

The 103rd Postal Fire Column Pipes and Drums warms up the crowd inside the Curley Community Center before the swim. (Greg Cook)

"My birthday is on New Year’s. Something healthy to do," says John Coutts of Boston, who was wearing a red Speedo and had painted a big blue “X” across his chest. (Greg Cook)

“My birthday is on New Year’s. Something healthy to do,” says John Coutts of Boston, who was wearing a red Speedo and had painted a big blue “X” across his chest. (Greg Cook)

"I rock and rolled all night and I'm going to party all day," shouted one of the guys dressed as the band Kiss. (Greg Cook)

“I rock and rolled all night and I’m going to party all day,” shouted one of the guys dressed as the band Kiss. (Greg Cook)

Waiting for the start of the L Street Brownies' annual polar bear swim. (Greg Cook)

Waiting for the start of the L Street Brownies’ annual polar bear swim. (Greg Cook)

A boy is comforted before the polar bear swim. (Greg Cook)

A boy is comforted before the polar bear swim. (Greg Cook)

L Street Brownies' dash into the frigid Atlantic Ocean. (Greg Cook)

L Street Brownies’ dash into the frigid Atlantic Ocean. (Greg Cook)

The L Street Brownies' polar bear swim in South Boston on Jan. 1, 2014. (Greg Cook)

The L Street Brownies’ polar bear swim in South Boston on Jan. 1, 2014. (Greg Cook)

The L Street Brownies' polar bear swim in South Boston on Jan. 1, 2014. (Greg Cook)

The L Street Brownies’ polar bear swim in South Boston on Jan. 1, 2014. (Greg Cook)

L Street Brownies' dash back out of the frigid Atlantic Ocean. (Greg Cook)

L Street Brownies’ dash back out of the frigid Atlantic Ocean. (Greg Cook)

L Street Brownies' dash back out of the frigid Atlantic Ocean. (Greg Cook)

L Street Brownies’ dash back out of the frigid Atlantic Ocean. (Greg Cook)

The L Street Brownies' polar bear swim in South Boston on Jan. 1, 2014. (Greg Cook)

The L Street Brownies’ polar bear swim in South Boston on Jan. 1, 2014. (Greg Cook)

The L Street Brownies' polar bear swim in South Boston on Jan. 1, 2014. (Greg Cook)

The L Street Brownies’ polar bear swim in South Boston on Jan. 1, 2014. (Greg Cook)

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Welcome to the ARTery. The ARTery offers the best of Art news, reviews and features in sounds, words, sights, stages, screens and experiences in and of Boston. The ARTery, presented by WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station, is powered by critic-at-large Ed Siegel and reporter and critic Greg Cook.

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