Charles Zibelman Hudson River swim 1937

evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
edited December 2017 in General Discussion

Curious to hear from the folks who know the Hudson River and its local history well....

Is this swim considered legit? Or does it belong in the proven frauds thread....

In August 1937, Charles Zibelman swam non-stop from Albany to New York City. Nicknamed “Zimmy the Human Fish,” Mr. Zibelman lost his legs at the age of nine in a trolley accident and subsequently made a living on the carnival circuit from exhibition swimming, setting endurance records. The non-stop swim down the Hudson was one of his more famous stunts. He was in the water for 148 consecutive hours, continuing his swim despite the tide.

Even with due latitude given for the standards of 1937, 148 hours seems pretty mind boggling.

More here:



  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member

    Well,I have no first hand knowledge of this swim, but I read that being legless, he was buoyant enough to sleep while floating on his back.

    The history of Hudson River swimming is colorful, and certainly... inconsistencies abound, Most notable is the switch from elapsed time to cumulative water time.


    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited December 2017

    Thanks - that does seem more plausible if he could sleep while floating on his back.

    In any case, if this swim happened as claimed - 148 hours nonstop swimming/floating, then it's by far the longest duration nonstop unassisted swim. The closest I can find is a 100 hour swim in the Paraná River (Argentina) by Pedro Candioti (El Tiburón del Quillá - "Shark of Quilla Creek") in 1939.

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member

    Many of these early swims were simply stunts. I think it's hey are noteworthy as historical and human interest stories, but there was absolutely no standard of conduct with which to compare swims with real observer reports. I think they should be included in historical lists with an asterisk..... "limited data available"


    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited December 2017

    "limited data available"

    Sadly this caveat probably applies to the majority of independent swims (outside the major sanction orgs) before about 5 years ago....

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited December 2017

    I asked Steve M about Mr Zimmy, which prompted him to do some additional research beyond the previous openwaterpedia profile.

    Steve thinks the claim is legitimate to the standards of 1937, given the contemporary coverage in Life Magazine and the NYT. He also pointed me to some cool video footage of Zimmy in a pool, preparing for a Cuba-Florida attempt that apparently never went forward. Excellent sculling technique!

    Steve now lists Zimmy at the top of his 24 Hour Club list.

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member

    I seem to recall a news photo of him floating on his back with a cigar in his mouth


    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited December 2017

    david_barra said:
    I seem to recall a news photo of him floating on his back with a cigar in his mouth

    Totally fair point. I honestly don't know how to fairly discount 2017 standards to 1937.

    At some point someone will want to swim from Albany to Manhattan nonstop... and they will probably want to claim to be the first... but were they?

    I'm glad i don't have to make these decisions.

    In the past month I've been asked what I think the longest (duration) nonstop open water swim is.

    Most of the very longest (duration) claimed swims were in rivers (Parana, Mississippi) in the 1930s and 1940s, especially several swims by Pedro Candioti and Antonio Abertondo.

    I don't know how to compare these swims (presumably not continuously observed/documented) with Sarah Thomas 104+ miles/ 67 hours in Lake Champlain in 2017, or Chloe McCardel 77 miles in the Caribbean in 2014.

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member

    I think all these historical swims are fascinating, but there really is no way to compare them with (well documented) modern epic swims.

    Still, I think it would be good if some mention of them was given in the reporting of current record attempts.


    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    The ice swimming grandma is of particular interest to some of the folks in these forums.

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • I researched and wrote an article on Zimmy, for the New York History Blog.

    In addition to his Hudson River swim, he set endurance records in 1931 (when he was in the water for over 100 hours) and 1941 (when he spent over a full week in the water). These two accomplishments took place in the War Memorial Natatorium in Honolulu, so there would have been a certain level of observation.

    Read my article here:

  • JaimieJaimie NYCMem​ber

    This is so neat, thanks for sharing @dafiske ! Zimmy is definitely my favorite male marathon swimmer of all time. If I could have dinner with any 2 open water swimmers of all time I would pick him and Annette Kellerman. Not just amazing endurance athletes but fascinating personalities. Oh the stories I bet they could tell!

  • As a follow-up to my blog article on Zimmy, I talked about him on the Sept. 21 episode of Bob Cudmore's "The Historians" podcast. I explain how Zimmy kept warm, slept, and ate during his swim.

  • dafiskedafiske Member
    edited September 2018

    I did some additional research, which will probably interest readers of this thread. (I apologize for the length of this post, but the facts are pretty intersting.)

    Zimmy was not the first, nor last, to swim from Albany to New York. However, Zimmy seems to have been the only one who stayed in the water during the entire trip. He stayed warm via copious applications of grease and hot water bottles passed to him by men aboard a motor boat which accompanied him.

    Sometime around 1896, a man named Cooper did the swim in 11 days and 4 hours. His trip is briefly mentioned years later, in newspaper accounts of an Albany-Manhattan swim by Mille Gade (later Corson). I have not been able to find any further information on Cooper. Since he took over 11 days, I would assume he did not stay in the water the entire time.

    In 1921, Mille Gade, a 22-year-old woman from Denmark, swam from Albany to the Battery in New York. It took her just over 6 days (time in the water 63, hours 35 minutes). However, she went on board a boat to sleep, rest, and to wait out unfavorable tidal action. A man who helped her, Clemington Corson, ended up marrying her. In 1926, Mille Corson swam the English Channel--only the second woman recorded as having done so.

    In 1926, Lotty Moore Schoemmell (her first name sometimes appears as Lottie) swam from Albany to the Battery. At the time, she was the only female certified lifeguard in New York State.

    Schoemmell wanted to outdo Gade, so she chose to swim in October, to make it more challenging. She surely got her wish: when she entered the water at Albany, hail was coming down. She encountered much bad weather during her trip: rain, cold temperatures and fierce winds.

    She slept and rested on a boat, so was not in the water continuously. In fact, at New Baltimore, according to the New York Times, she went into town and slept at a hotel.

    Schoemmell is credited with having created the "grease bathing suit." Basically, this was "no bathing suit," just a coating of grease. This was rather bold for the 1920s. In 1927, when she planned to do the Catalina swim, someone insisted that she be required to wear a real bathing suit "on moral grounds and also to protect [her] from the giant Barracuda." Schoemmell insisted that "there is nothing immoral" about her grease suit. The committee in charge decided they had no authority to keep her from swimming in a grease bathing suit.

    Besides the physical challenge of swimming the Hudson, Schoemmell had to contend with a dispute with her husband. She had sued him because he would not return some of her personal property. In fact, she had been due to make an appearance in court during the period she was swimming. Obviously she could not make it, but a friend went and told the judge she could not appear because she was swimming in the Hudson River. Her husband didn't show either, and the judge postponed the case. I could not find any information on how it was resolved. However, when she completed the swim (on a rainy day), she was greeted at the Battery by some relatives...but not her husband.

    Schoemmell had hoped to complete the swim in fewer days than Gade had, but delays due to weather kept her from doing that. However, she was in the water less time: a total of 58 hours.

    A year later, Bernice and Phyllis Zitenfeld,13-year-old twin sisters, made the swim. They also left the water to sleep. Plus, they interrupted their swim in order to go to New York and receive their 8th grade diplomas at P. S. 9. School officials were unhappy with the twins' publicity-seeking, and said if they did not show up at the school and "maintain a becoming, modest behavior, free from publicity and advertisement" then their diplomas would be withheld.

    Consequently, they left the water near Poughkeepsie, took a train to New York, and appeared at the school. They returned to Poughkeepsie by boat and resumed their swim.

    The Zitenfelds later made several attempts to swim the English Channel, but were never successful and gave it up for good in 1930.

    In 1988, when David "Skip" Storch swam from Albany to the Statue of Liberty, the New York Times made references to earlier Hudson River swims, saying that two swimmers had gone from Albany to 42nd Street, and one from Albany to 129th Street. (The latter probably referred to Zimmy's swim, as he ended up finishing at the 125th Street ferry landing--though in 1937, the Times gave the street as 129th and also as 125th). I have not found any reports relating to swims ending at 42nd Street. I'm guessing that that reference should have been to the THREE swims that ended at the Battery.

    At any rate, it seems that no one made the Albany-to-Manhattan swim between 1937 and 1988.

    Storch took 8 days for his swim, and was in the water a total of 54 hours, 50 minutes. Like the others (except for Zimmy) he went aboard a boat to sleep.

    At the time, Storch's job was to monitor water quality and he wanted to publicize how clean the water in the Hudson River was--he actually drank river water at times during his swim.

    Regrettably, Storch's reputation has been sullied. In 2017, he was accused of sexually abusing an under-age girl. He pleaded guilty and, in August 2018, was sentenced to 7 years in prison. He has been stripped of some of his swimming honors.

  • JanetJanet New York, NYMember

    My favorite tidbit from the Zitenfeld twins story is the trained seal they planned to use as a pace swimmer (NYTimes 6/23/27). No mention as to how that worked out. The seal was reportedly being trained to swim the English Channel.

  • Almost no mention of the seal was made at the time of the twins' swim, but years later, there was an article in the Kingston Daily Freeman, which referenced a profile of the seal, Charlie, that appeared in the Aug 25, 1934 issue of the New Yorker. Charlie, trained by Ray Hollings, DID accompany the Zitenfelds for six miles, but then he escaped. Apparently Charlie was recaptured, as he was performing at Billy Rose's Music Hall in New York City during the summer of 1934.

  • Read the New Yorker article on Charlie the seal here:

  • Sorry, can only see an excerpt of the New Yorker piece, unless you pay/subscribe.

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