Splash Brothers

Two alumni recall their wet and wild days performing as clown divers.

It’s been almost five decades since Peter Bruckmann ’70 and Jeffrey Buchner ’71 last performed together, yet their faces still light up in unison as they recall their old clown diving routines. “It was slapstick, almost like old vaudeville,” Buchner says of the performances he and Bruckmann put on at aquatic events on campus and throughout the tristate area between 1967 and 1970.

The duo says they were recruited into the aquacade circuit by their Monmouth swim coach, Dick Steadman. According to the pair, Steadman was a former clown diver himself—he had performed alongside Olympians Buster Crabbe and Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller as part of Billy Rose’s Aquacade, a music, dance, and swimming show that was part of the 1939–40 New York World’s Fair—and helped Bruckmann and Buchner devise a routine they would perform during Parents Day and other on-campus events.

“It all started out in the audience, kind of like the [Harlem] Globetrotters, with one of us chasing the other around or off the diving board,” says Buchner, his voice still thick with a raspy Bronx accent despite the fact he has lived at the Jersey Shore most of his life. Steadman would introduce Bruckmann to the audience as “one of the greatest divers of all time,” at which point Buchner would stand up in the crowded audience and yell something like: “Booo! Are you kidding me? He’s been to every dive in town!” The audience, unaware of the gag, would usually begin to whisper and then finally bark “Sit down!” and “Shut up!” as Buchner continued his taunt around the pool. That often ended with an officer—who was in on the joke—escorting Buchner away. When the show resumed, and just as Bruckmann approached the board to wow the crowd, Buchner came from behind the locker rooms to stir things up again.

“He’d dump a bucket of water on me,” says Bruckmann, his cheeks turning a jolly crimson as he explains the next part of the routine. “Then I’d pick up another bucket filled with confetti, and I’d chase him down into the stands and throw it, and all of this confetti is coming out and everyone is diving out of the way—”
“Probably thinking it’s water!” Buchner chimes in.

The two would then begin their kooky show.

As time passed, their routine evolved. The duo’s signature dive was the reverse horse and rider. Bruckmann would jump first and do a reverse flip, and as he was turning in the air, Buchner would jump off the board and dive under him as he landed atop to “ride” him into the water.

They added other dives along the way, like the fire dive—which, they admit, didn’t go as planned the first time.

“Sometimes we practiced, and sometimes we didn’t—the night we lit my brother on fire we didn’t practice!” laughs Buchner. “Dick sort of told us how to do it except for one particular part.”

The duo had brought Buchner’s younger brother, Stephen, on for the trick; he drew the short straw to go first. Dressed in a cape doused in kerosene, he readied to dive while the duo lit his cape afire. Just as it caught, the hair on the back of Stephen’s legs started to sizzle.

“All you heard was this loud shrill—it was my mother passing out in the middle of the whole thing, remember?” Buchner chuckles, barely making it through the sentence as Bruckmann shakes his head up and down gleefully in recollection of the stunt. “All of the hair on the back of his legs [was gone]. He looked like a singed chicken!”

The kerosene left the pool black and smelly for three days, but the episode taught them the importance of using lamp oil and Vaseline in the stunt.

The duo’s on-campus performances normally lasted about 20 minutes, and followed roughly the same format, but there were a few shows that were somewhat out of the ordinary—like the time Crabbe, the former Olympian, performed as part of the Parents Day Water Show on campus in May 1969.

What was more extraordinary were the times the duo, sometimes with a small team of other divers, performed off campus. One show in particular remains a favorite memory for both Buchner and Bruckmann.

The two, along with three other divers, performed a comedy diving routine as the “Monmouth College Commandoes” to mark the opening of a new pool at the YMCA in Flushing, Queens. The event was attended by the likes of Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, as well as Crabbe and his fellow Olympian, Don Schollander.

When the show was over, Buchner and Bruckmann left the building along with the stars, who were signing autographs and having their pictures taken. Thinking the two Monmouth College students were also famous athletes, fans began asking Buchner and Bruckmann for their autographs as well.

“It was hysterical! I said to Pete, ‘Just sign!’” laughs Buchner. “There might be quite a few of our autographs out there. I think we signed a lot!”