Big Jim: Lake Elmira

2013-07-26T00:00:00Z Big Jim: Lake ElmiraJim Griffith, Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

One day in July, 1937, Howard O. Welty, a hard-working young reporter for the Tucson Citizen, found himself frustrated by the lack of interesting local news. Being an enterprising member of the Fourth Estate, he decided to make up his own news to fill the gap. From this decision came the gripping tale of young Elmira Doakes, daughter of Joseph Doakes of Tucson, who was the first person to swim across the pond that forms in the Stone Avenue railroad underpass after a heavy rain.

The joke caught on, and ever since that body of water has been known informally as Lake Elmira. Every now and then a further bit of news would surface: the City Fathers were considering chlorinating Lake Elmira. Later on it was revealed that Tucson was seeking a federal grant to construct a marina at the “Toole Avenue Landing.” Meanwhile, the lake continued forming, sometimes at a depth of several feet, and the whole story became a Tucson tradition.

Mr Welty moved out of town to other jobs, but the joke continued, and reports on the doings of young Ms. Doakes continued to be occasionally printed. She was spotted, clad in a bathing suit, hitchhiking out of town during a dry summer. Word had it that in 1945 she was the only woman on the deck of the USS Missouri during the signing of the Peace Treaty ending World War II. A more recent sighting had her working with her Saudi Arabian husband to develop a system for turning crude oil into camel fodder.

Sometime in the 1980s, two dedicated but anonymous local history buffs created and installed a purely spurious historical marker on the south side of the railway overpass, about as far from the sidewalk as a tall person can reach on a dark night. It is still there, now painted over to match the rest of the bridge, and visible from the northbound lane.

And Lake Elmira continues to fill in the summer rains (when we have them).

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

Jim Griffith is the former director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, and co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself. He’s also the author of seven books on the folklore and folklife of our region, most recently “A Border Runs Through It.” His books can be purchased at tucson.com/wildcatgear.

If you have questions or suggestions for Jim Griffith or this blog, e-mail bigjimgriffith@gmail.com

Featured businesses

View more...

Deals, offers & events

View more...

$69.95 AC Inspection Special!

K&D Quality Auto is offering $69.95 AC Inspection Service…