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Faces from the 1940s: Current lifeguards seek to ID these 'guardians of our safety'

By DAN TUOHY
New Hampshire Union Leader

August 12. 2017 8:24PM
Who are these six Hampton Beach lifeguards from the 1940s? Current members of the Hampton Beach patrol are hoping to find out. (COURTESY)

HAMPTON BEACH -- The six lifeguards, side by side in vintage swimwear and sitting under two beach umbrellas, smile and stare back at you from the black-and-white photograph.

Jimmy Donahue believes it was taken in the early 1940s.

The image is now framed and hangs on the wall of the Hampton Beach State Beach Patrol headquarters, along with other "team photos" from past lifeguard seasons.

Donahue, the beach's chief of lifeguards, is something of a historian of this place. He worked his first year as a lifeguard in 1960. He has patrolled these sands since he was 16. He's been coming to Hampton Beach all his life.

"It's become part of me. I can't imagine not doing it," he said.

He can name guards from past summers, friends and peers from more than a half-century of seasons.

But who are the men in the picture?

Donahue has mostly complete "team photos" that stretch back to the 1960s, with some gaps.

The picture of the six guards from the 1940s is among framed photographs that were a Father's Day gift from his wife, Jonie.

Donahue said the six appear to be town guards and are sitting on part of the boardwalk in front of what was then the police station.

It's become a bit of a mystery at Beach Patrol HQ. Gov. Chris Sununu and members of the Executive Council learned of it during their recent tour of the facility earlier this month.

"It's a great story," said Councilor Andru Volinsky, as he inspected the wall of frames.

Leland Brennan, assistant to Chief Donahue, said the Hampton Beach lifeguards have been reaching out to anyone who might help identify the six. A hundred thousand people enjoy the seaside resort town on a nice summer day, but it's still a small community, with several generations visiting each year.

Somebody has got to recognize one of these guys, Brennan said.

And so they "crowd-source" for clues.

Donahue said two lifeguards who worked Hampton Beach in the 1950s stopped by the patrol room a couple of weeks ago. They didn't recognize the men in the photo.

- - - - -

Franklin Roosevelt was President at the time. Depending on the year, the New Hampshire governor was either Gov. Francis P. Murphy, Gov. Robert O. Blood, Gov. Charles M. Dale, or Gov. Sherman Adams.

The Hampton history page maintained on the Lane Memorial Library's website shows a Hampton Beach vacation brochure that was published around 1940.

In that brochure, there's the very same image of the six lifeguards.

Kevin Robbitts, head of technical services for the Lane Memorial Library, took time to search for additional information on the photograph. He checked out town reports and skimmed issues of The Hampton Union from that time period. No luck, he reported back.

The brochure includes no caption or photo credit. It does celebrate Hampton Beach. Its front reads, "For Health and Happiness." The back reads, "For Rest and Recreation."

And on the third page, the one with our six lifeguards, it boasts of the fine bathing at Hampton Beach.

"Probably no other single feature of Hampton Beach appeals to so many vacationists as the glorious bathing beach at Hampton. This beach is noted among the finest beaches in the world - miles of clean, white sand with sparkling, foam-crested waves rolling in from the broad open Atlantic Ocean."

And it recognizes "Our Life Guards."

"And Hampton Beach is safe for everyone," the blurb reads. "Dependable, really husky young men are on the alert all the time - on the beach and in life boats. They are guardians of your safety, protecting you and the children from possibility of accident. They have every sort of equipment ready for immediate use in case of need. No precaution for safety is overlooked at Hampton Beach."

So who were these six "guardians" of our safety?

Donahue and Brennan welcome any information that can help identify the guards in the picture. Call them at 227-8706 or 227-8707.

Chief of Lifeguards Jimmy Donahue has been part of the Hampton Beach patrol since 1960. (DAN TUOHY/UNION LEADER)


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