Thar He Blows! In a Classic Photo, the Magic of a Summertime Pool

Duncan Richardson, 3-year-old swimming prodigy, playfully spews water while standing on a pool ladder, Los Angeles, 1946.
Martha Holmes—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Duncan Richardson, three-year-old swimming prodigy, Los Angeles, 1946.

Like a human water fountain, three-year-old Duncan Richardson stands on a pool ladder — artfully spewing water — in this 1946 photograph. LIFE photographer Martha Holmes documented Duncan’s boyish frolic in a Los Angeles hotel pool, but the image’s timelessness lies in its celebration of a fleeting June moment. The photo captures the simple joy that comes from cooling off — the very essence of a carefree summer.

Little Duncan was one of many young swim students of Crystal Scarborough, a swim instructor who emphasized making children feel confident and comfortable in the water, and developed an instructional method that’s still in use today. She appeared in LIFE several times through the years, teaching toddlers and infants — including a seven-month-old  baby — to swim. According to Scarborough’s Los Angeles Times obituary, she also taught swimming lessons to celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, Jane Fonda and Anthony Quinn.

During that long-ago summer of 1946, Ted Williams was the American League MVP with a .342 average, 38 home runs and 123 RBIs. Frank Sinatra released his first studio album. The modern bikini made its debut. And, as they always have, and still do today, kids like Duncan splashed and spouted, reveling in the magic of a summertime pool.

Martha Groppo is a doctoral student studying history at Princeton University


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