Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Downfall of "the Walkist"

Edward Payson Weston, the Celebrated Walkist
Courtesy Library of Congress Prints
& Photographs Division
One of the most delightful things about doing historic research in old newspaper archives is that you sometimes stumble across gems of a story like this one from the Daily Eastern Argus of Portland, Maine, about Edward Payson Weston, the reknowned "Walkist."

Weston, it seems, in 1867 set a record by walking from Portland to Chicago, covering 1,220 miles in 30 consecutive days, if you don't count the Sundays, on which he rested, it being the 19th century.

In July of 1868, Weston attempted a new feat of walking when he attempted to walk 50 miles in eleven hours before a crowd of onlookers in Forest City Park. Weston got off to good start, walking a 25 miles at a brisk pace between 8 am and noon, but then trouble set in.

"He wasted rather unwisely 10 to 15 minutes that afterwards were badly wanted," the Daily Eastern Argus reported, "and partook too heavily of crackers and iced tea, which made him feel somewhat indisposed. He recommenced with great confidence and after a few miles indulged in a cigar, which had an unfavorable effect in his then excited and somewhat peculiar condition."

Weston recovered once again, though, and resumed his pace, though he was slowed in the end by a leg injury. He finished his fifty miles in 11 hours, six and a half minutes, missing his goal by just a tiny margin.

So, here's a little advice to you would-be marathon walkers: lay off the iced tea and cigars.

As for Weston, he went onto greater fame, becoming "the Father of Modern Pedestrianism" and, if you can believe it, making a career as a professional walker. He performed pedestrian feats across the United States--including strolling from New York to San Francisco in 100 days--and toured Europe on numerous occasions, taking on the continent's most feared race walkers.

If this isn't enough to satisfy your interest, check out the recently-published biography by Helen Harris, Paul Marshall, and Nick Harris in A Man in a Hurry: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Edward Payson Weston (2012)

I found this story, by the way, while researching the history of iced tea. Go figure.

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