On this day in 1932, nearly 100,000 people “swarmed into Olympic Stadium” in Los Angeles to witness the closing ceremonies of the Tenth Olympiad in the modern era. Among the athletes who had won medals was C. Harold McCallister, a member of the United States’ bronze-winning water polo team.
McCallister was born in South Dakota in 1903 but moved with his family to California at the age of ten. He played water polo in high school and for a year he was captain of the water polo team at Stamford University. After completing his medical degree at the University of Colorado, he established a career in Los Angeles, but he continued to play water polo. At the time of the Olympics, McCallister was 29 – “pretty old for an athlete” by his own admission.
With the world in the grips of the Great Depression, some people thought that holding the 1932 Olympics at all was a bad idea. Only 37 countries were able to send teams to compete, and there were fears that construction costs alone would be unsustainable. In addition to new venues for the various competitions, an entire Olympic village had been constructed – the first in modern Olympic history. The village, which included a postal office, several dining rooms, and entertainment options like a movie cinema and a radio station, offered accommodation to athletes from every country participating at a cost to each athlete of only $2 a night. There were doubts about the wisdom of this, too – according to an article in the Los Angeles Times, many predicted that housing athletes from so many countries together was asking for trouble.
But the Los Angeles games of 1932 surprised everyone. Despite taking place in the midst of the Depression, the games succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest hopes. Rather than losing money, they became the first modern games to actually make a profit. The costs of construction were much lower than nay-sayers predicted, because every single house built for the Olympic village was sold after the games ended – for $140, or a bit more if furnished. By the time the closing ceremonies began, seats in Olympic Stadium had sold out. And as for all those athletes living together? Harold McCallister recalls that “the camaraderie was terrific. People of the various countries, although they could only say, ‘hello’ or ‘how are you,’ were all friends.”
McCallister competed again in the 1936 Olympics, attended several later games as a spectator and was involved in organising the Los Angeles games of 1984. He continued to participate in sports, playing badminton, handball and table tennis with the Los Angeles Athletic Club long after his retirement from medicine in 1975. He died in October 1997.
Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013
Abby Chin-Martin, ‘The First-Ever Olympic Village Was Built in Los Angeles‘.
Hodak, An Olympian’s Oral History, p. 8.