This morning, a former Harvard freshman swimming captain will appear in Roxbury District Court on a charge that be threatened bodily harm to his brother-in-law. Other College athletes have undoubtedly had similar contact with the law, but none possess such fanatical passion for long distance swimming nor have been so sensationalized by the Boston Press.
Charles Frederick Grover '50--the gentleman in question--received front-page treatment this summer because he is a Harvard man, because he attempted an incredible 45-mile swim from Boston to Provincetown, on the tip of Cape Cod, and because he had marital problems to boot.
Actually the swim, undertaken as a physical outburst against his family, ended as a hoax; and the newspaper description of him as an "ex-Harvard star" drew only one comment from Crimson swimming coach Harold S. Ulen: "I never saw any starts on him."
Grover entered Harvard in 1946 after military service at a time when freshmen could compete on varsity teams. He was not good enough to swim with the varsity, however, but became captain of the freshman squad apparently because his 24 years impressed his younger classmates.
During the season, Grover compiled a mediocre record as a 440-man and an excellent reputation for telling coaches and team members exactly how things should be run. When he acted even more strongly on this reputation upon his return to College as a sophomore, he was requested to betake himself from the pool and never return.
From Pearl Harbor to an Obsession
This climax to his apocryphally "starry" Harvard swimming career came just after he had self-righteously refuted all doubts as to his amateur status. During the previous summer of 1947, a gentleman with somewhat the same name as "Charles Grover" won the professional long distance endurance swimming championship at Lake George. But when his coaches queried him on the subject, Grover disclaimed the similarity. The similarity later proved to be a case of identity.
Grover could now return to long distance swimming with a freer style. He had begun after he joined the Navy in 1940 in time to be aboard the battleship U.S.S. West Virginia in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese struck.
As he later found occasion to report in the Boston Traveler, "I knifed through the blazing surface and started to swim under water breast stroke, gliding as far as I could on every stroke to conserve my wind and strength."
Grover placed second in Rhode Island's Matanuck Beach-Block Island race in 1950 and fifth in a 1954 endurance swim at Atlantic City, N.J., in 1954. His interest in long distance swimming grew almost maniacal, so much so that it developed into an obsession which dominated his thinking and became almost a release from worldly problems.
His worldly problems seemed to be many, moreover. A former fellow tenant of Grover's describes him as "antagonistic, a brute, and a pretty fresh monkey, always ready to pick up his fists."
He has been to court on assault and battery charges brought by his landlord in Dorchester and has several altercations which led to similar complaints from neighbors. One of these felt that this belligerence affected his marital life, noting that "his second wife used to stay over with him a couple of nights a week and then have to go home."
Although Grover was married during his first three years at College, he squired young ladies other than his wife around the I.A.B. pool; his first divorce enabled him to spend his senior year in Lowell House.
Grover's waking hours when last observed tended to be those between 3 p.m. and 1 a.m. when he was out of a job, which was often. He worked most recently at Tabor Academy, having previously been fired by everyone from the president of the Scituate Yacht Club to Liggett & Myers.
Perhaps it was this reality, specifically the problem of alimony for a second divorce, that tempted Grover into Massachusetts' stormy Bay on July 27 last summer.
Goggled and greased, wearing Swimming: His means of expression tan-and-white bathing trunks and a white bathing cap, with K-rations strapped to his body and a compass strapped to his wrist, he jaunted down Carson's Beach, in South Boston, and plunged into the unusually rough waters of Pleasure Bay at 11:10 a.m. on an unusually raw Wednesday, boasting the intention of reaching Provincetown, 45 miles distant.
No Boat for Him
The date was two days after his second wife and mother of his third child had given the deputy sheriff divorce papers to serve on him, charging cruel and abusive treatment (she reported him missing since June 30).
Water so rough that the regular Wilson Line Boston-to-Provincetown steamer wasn't sailing didn't deter the man. For Grover wasn't going to have a boat follow along with him. "No one has ever swum a distance like that without a boat," he informed a life guard.
The open stretch of Massachusetts Bay is about 45 miles of tricky, often impossible water. The English Channel at its narrowest is 20 miles wide, though more swimmers often cover 25 miles when caught in the strong currents.
But Grover was undaunted, even though no one paid his boasting much heed since the venture was so obviously impossible. No one, that is, except the local Boston press. Headlines announced, "Ex-HARVARD STAR BEGINS HUB-PROVINCETOWN SWIM," and glorious Grover took off.
After a short while in the rough sea, he was reported lost by the Boston papers, but the Coast Guard refused to search the Bay for him unless one of his family first reported him missing. Meanwhile, his brother-in-law, Stephen A. Thomas, brought suit against Grover for threatening him, and a warrant was sworn out.
Safe? Missing? Arrested?
But Grover, without telling the press, came ashore at Minot's Light, North Scituate, only half a mile from his starting point. When his mother finally reported him safe just as his wife reported him missing, the police picked him up on his brother-in-law's charge and secured $100 bail.
Grover pleaded innocent when arranged on Sept. 20 and was released on personal recognizance, to appear before Judge Thomas J. Spring today. His only other statement at the time was that he had placed third in the Montreal 40-mile swim on Sept. 3.
Whether he did or not, the Boston press will probably continue to glorify Grover today, and this recognition will continue to be unique. The University apparently doesn't recognize him at all, for there is no record of him in any Yearbook nor in the files of the Alumni Association.