History of the Antelope Island to Blackrock Beach swim

According to Dale L. Morgan's "The Great Salt Lake"...
"In 1919 a professional swimmer, C.S. Leaf, negotiated the distance between Antelope Island and Saltair in 2 hours, 28 minutes and 27 seconds, and 7 years later a marathon swim was staged;  the event was won by Chick Mitchell.  The marathon was revived in 1930 and for 3 years was won by Orson Spencer; his record time, 2:20 was set in 1932.  The receding lake level, which left Saltair high and dry, killed the event, but in 1937 it was again revived under the auspices of Black Rock Beach.   
The distance between Antelope and Saltair was never formally measured, the promoters and swimmers being content to estimate that the distance ranged between 6 and 7 miles.  Continued agitation for national recognition of the event, however, led in 1927 to the survey of the new course, and the distance was officially established at 8.12 miles.  
Over this course Orson Spencer in 1937 and 1938 triumphed exactly as he had over the shorter one;  his record time of 3:40:52 was set in the former year.  In 1939, however, in rough seas E.C. Watson was not merely the winner but the only finisher, even Spencer being taken from the water a mile and a half from shore, nearly blinded by the salt, and far from the course.
The record for the Antelope-Black Rock course remains Spencer's time of 3 hours, 40 minutes and 52 seconds, set in 1937."
that is, until 2010, when it was swam in 3:24:37.
August 15th, 1938:

Spencer Wins Salt Water Swim
Paddles 8 Miles in 4 Hrs. 36 Minutes

Choppy water, which makes swimming in Great Salt Lake a constant battle to avoid strangulation, failed to keep Orson Spencer from successfully defending his Antelope to Black Rock marathon swim championship yesterday.

He negotiated the 8 miles of turbulent brine in 4 hours and 12 minutes to finish far ahead of Ken Lyman whose second place time was 4 hours and 36 minutes. The time was 22 minutes slower than his record of 3 hours and 40 minutes last year.

Bill Armour won a spirited race from R. L. Rigby, Magna mill worker, to finish third in 5 hours and 12 minutes. The other three starters failed to finish.

Crowd Cheers
Lyman matched Spencer stroke for stroke half way, but thereafter fell steadily behind. The winner received an ovation from a large crowd assembled at Black Rock Beach to witness the finish.

Will Receive Trophies The Black Rock Beach Company will present tropies to all who finished the race. George Knepp, deputy sheriff, supervised boating the swimmers. The race was supervised by Dr. Munn Q. Cannon, chairman of the Intermountain A.A.U. swimming committee which annually promotes the swim.
July 22nd, 1956

Veteran Swimmer Gives Distance Race Slants
Great Salt Lake is a unique body of water - and distance swimming in it is a unique sport.
And if you're going to enter this season's Antelope Island-to-Saltair swim, you'd better start with the fundamentals-such as breathing.

That's the advce for this season's candidates from Orson D. Spencer, the greatest distance swimmer the Intermountain Area has produced, and one of the best in the sprints as well.

Spencer's career is almost a unique one, from his 1919 memories of the first "race" over the course by veteran instructor C. S. "Prof" Leaf, to Orson's final appearance in 1941 freshwater swim at Pineview Dam.

Prospective entrants for the July 23 race this season would do well to listen to the six-time winner of the Antelope classic, whose still-perfect condition, carries him through a program with the Wasatch Mountain Club, and plenty of skiing activity at Alta in the winter.

The swimmer in the Great Salt Lake is of a different breed.

He has no rhythmical breathing as does the ordinary swimmer - he must "breath with the waves" - if they are choppy, his breathing must be choppy; if they are big and slow - then he'd better breathe big and slow.

Because a mouth full of salt brings a definite choking sensation; and two or three mouthfuls take away all sensation, in short order.

And the stroke also is governed by the waves - the freestyle goes over the wave, so that the splash is back of the face, away from the eyes and mouth. Goggles are good only for a short time, because they get covered with salt.

Spencer also learned that most of the work is done with the arms - the legs are so high because of the buoyancy that they are kicked only to maintain circulation.

Stories of Spencer's remarkable condition are legend, but perhaps the two best are these:

THE FIRST, concerns the time when, at 15 years of age, Orson hiked from Saltair north and then along the shoreline to Antelope Island, a distance of about 10 miles, and then swam the five miles back that afternoon and evening - all by himself. Orson wants this story to be forgotten, for it violates every rule of safety he has stressed for so many years since, such as requiring an accompanying boat for every swimer.

The other story concerns the time, a few year later, when he and Paul Swain rowed over to the island in 2 hours and 30 minutes - and Orson swam back in exactly the same time, that afternoon.

Highlights from Orson's career: He still holds the prep 220 free record of 2:32.2. He set a number of other prep marks, but they have since been bettered... He still holds the 150 backstroke record for colleges, at 1:45... He also holds the 300 AAU medley record of 4:04... As he recalls the Antelope swim development: "Prof" Leaf swam the distance in '19 as a dare... Chuck Mitchell won the first AAU race in '26... and Orson won in '30, '31, '32, '37, '38 and '41...

Orson sounds like a must for the Intermountain Area's sports hall of fame.
Orson name will forever be listed with the Great Salt Lake records as being the first to swim from Antelope Island to Black Rock.
For more details of Orson's illustious swimming career including pictures and more newspaper articles click here.