Throughout its 200 years, Belleville has been home to some good inventions and innovations.
The dry land swimming apparatus invented by Prof. Christian L. Ebsen Sr. was not one of those.
Prof. Ebsen, as he was referred to frequently in newspapers, was well-known in the city as a physical culture instructor and as the owner of Ebsen's Natatorium, which was located around the area where St. Teresa's Catholic Church now stands on Lebanon Avenue.
In March 1917, the Belleville Daily Advocate announced Ebsen's new idea, along with an illustration of how it worked.
"To teach children and even grown-ups how to swim without taking them into the water is the plan of Prof. Christian Ebsen of this city," the article announced. "He will do this by means of a swimming apparatus which he has invented and for which he has applied for a patent.
"The Belleville Board of Education has endorsed the plan and will have Prof. Ebsen, physical instructor, to teach it in the schools. The Belleville Turners at a meeting on Monday evening also endorsed the plan and a dozen sets of apparatus will be installed at the Turner Hall."
Another article in March 1917 announced: "The new dry land swimming apparatus which was recently invented by Prof. Christ Ebsen is to be shown in the movies.
"Prof. Ebsen was notified today that a motion picture concern from the east would send a man here next Saturday to take pictures of the machine in action.
"Prof. Ebsen said this morning that he would show eight of the machines in action. Two classes will take part. A class of 8 girls will perform part of the time and then a class of 8 boys will get busy.
"The apparatus has been installed in the Henry Raab school and if it proves to be the success that is claimed for it, all of the schools in the city will be equipped."
I could find no record of a patent for the device by Prof. Ebsen, but there were several other patents on record for dry land swimming machines, most of them so similar that it seems incredible they could have been patented.
Ebsen appeared in the newspaper several times, starting in 1901 when he married Franciska Wendt from Minnesota.
Another article noted that the expanded lake at Ebsen Natatorium needed 600,000 gallons of water which the Belleville Water Supply Co. was unable to supply from its new wells at the foot of the Mississippi River bluffs. Instead the lake was filled with water from Lake Christine.
This was big news because the company apparently had claimed that its new wells would supply whatever water needs Belleville could have.
Ebsen is most famous for producing his son, Christian L. Ebsen Jr., who went by the name Buddy and became America's most beloved hillbilly Jed Clampett, patriarch of the "Beverly Hillbillies."
Editor's note: This is part of a series of occasional columns that will appear on Belleville's history in conjunction with the city's bicentennial celebration.
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