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Posts Tagged ‘Daniel O’Leary’

Since I like to walk everyday, even going round and round indoors for much of this past winter, I was fascinated to hear about walking as a competitive sport in the 19th century.

At his WBUR radio show yesterday, Only a Game, Bill Littlefield talked to Matthew Algeo, author of Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Sport.

Here’s Algeo: “Edward Payson Weston was a door-to-door books salesman from Providence, R.I. In the autumn of 1860, he made a bet with a friend on the outcome of that year’s presidential election. Weston bet that Lincoln would lose, and, of course, Weston lost the bet. The loser had to walk from Boston to Washington in 10 days and arrive in time to witness the inauguration of Lincoln on March 4, 1861.

“So Weston set out and made his way south. Of course, this was a very tense time in American history. Southern states began seceding. There wasn’t a lot of good, uplifting news. And the idea that this guy would walk from Boston to Washington in the middle of winter on terrible roads — it really did capture the imagination of the public, especially along the East Coast. Huge crowds would turn out to see him just walk through their town. Weston didn’t make it in time. He was four hours late to the inauguration. He did meet Lincoln a couple of days later and Lincoln offered to pay his rail fare home, but Weston said he would try to walk home. But the Civil War intervened.”

Littlefield then refers to Weston as one half of “the first great rivalry in the annals of American sports” and asks Algeo who the other half was.

“Daniel O’Leary, an Irish immigrant from Chicago,” says the author. “And what happened was Weston, to capitalize on his fame, decided to take his act indoors. He began walking inside roller rinks, and he would try to walk say 100 miles in 24 hours and charge people a dime for the pleasure of watching him walk in circles all day. This proved immensely popular — thousands of people would do it. Naturally competitors rose up and Daniel O’Leary actually walked 100 miles in 22 hours. And so he bested Weston’s record and so that set up the big showdown in 1875 that you mentioned. It was a 500-mile race over six days between Weston and O’Leary. …

“They would draw a dirt track on the floor of an arena. … The competitors would be sent off, and they would walk continuously day and night for six days right up until midnight the following Saturday night. And the rules were pretty simple: whoever walked the farthest was the winner.” Read more here, where you also can listen to the interview and read Littlefield’s book review.

 

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