About 200 people in bathrobes of all colors and patterns marched to the beat of the drums and the rhythm of the saxophone on Main Street from Daphnes Bar to Brackett’s Landing in preparation for the 2024 Edmonds Polar Bear Plunge. The crowd stretched from sidewalk to sidewalk, temporarily stopping drivers who accidentally turned into the street near Sunset Avenue.
But if you traveled back in time to 2008, you would see a fraction of those participants walking down the street. Daphnes Bar owner and Polar Bear Plunge founder Brian Taylor started the event that year with about 20 people. He used to participate in an annual polar plunge in New York City about 30 years ago when he ran a bar on Coney Island. Not even a pandemic could stop the Edmonds tradition.
One night, while having drinks with friends, Taylor thought it would be a great idea to start a polar bear plunge in Edmonds. He was inspired by a 1932 photo from the Edmonds Historical Museum archives of a dozen men drinking Rainier beer, members of a Prohibition-era group called the Edmonds Uplift Society. They secretly drank together in the basement room of the historic Beeson Building, which is directly across the street from Daphnes.
The museum gave Taylor the original picture, which is now hanging in Daphnes Bar. In return, he rekindled the Uplift Society to help raise money for the plunge. The society closed its books in 2017.
“I want to do something to support the museum after they gave me that photo, and just looking for a name to call the group,” he said. “We used to sell the robes and all proceeds went to the museum.”
In the past few years, Taylor has tagged-teamed with Salish Sea Brewing owner Jeff Barnett to help raise money. Barnett got involved after interacting with many plungers who went to his brewery after the “swim.”
Last year, Taylor raised about $500 and Barnett matched it. In addition to other donations from Daphnes patrons and Edmonds residents, they raised nearly $2,000. That’s compared to 2013, when $340 was raised.
“It isn’t a huge amount, but for the Edmonds Museum, it’s a nod,” Taylor said. “I would love to figure out a way to make more money for the museum, but that’s not what this is about.”
The marching band was the idea of Edmonds resident Scot Simpson, who thought it would be a fun addition to the tradition. “I wanted to do this and reached out to My Edmonds News to spread the word,” he said. “At first, I tried to get Rick Steves. He plays the sousaphone. I had heard him playing the taps every night during the pandemic. I spoke with him a couple of times and he sounded interested, but he is very busy.”
After former Uplift Society member Edith Farrar, who was also the parade’s majorette, approved the band idea, Simpson reached out to the neighborhood and came up with five responses. They decided to play “When the Saints Come Marching In.”
“We had one meeting before the plunge and then figured whatever happened it would all be fun,” he said.
By New Year’s Day, the marching band included saxophonist Anatoly Buchin, drummers Keegan Cass and Kevin Nordeen, and Simpson himself, who played his great-grandfather’s snare drum that dates back to the American Civil War.
“We’re looking for more musicians to play at next year’s plunge!” Simpson said. “Just show up and play!”
At the beach, the marchers joined hundreds of others who had arrived separately for a quick plunge into Puget Sound.
— By Nick Ng