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).