Saturday, February 22, 2014

Today in History (Pedestrianism Version)...

One hundred fifty-three years ago today, on February 22, 1861, a door-to-door bookseller named Edward Payson Weston set off from Boston on an attempt to walk to Washington, D.C. in ten days. He hoped to arrive in time to witness Abraham Lincoln's inauguration. He didn't make it, but his valiant attempt captured the nation's heart and helped launch a new sport: pedestrianism. From my forthcoming book, Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Spectator Sport:

Edward Payson Weston
Late on the cold, gray morning of Friday, February 22, 1861, Weston arrived at the yellow-domed State House on Beacon Hill to commence his long walk. He was dressed in blue wool tights and a white blouse covered with a heavy blue coat with brass buttons. On his feet he wore sturdy boots a few sizes larger than his usual size. A large crowd was waiting to see him off. It seemed an auspicious beginning, but things did not get off to a good start. 
Weston had a habit of falling into debt, and when two of his creditors in Boston caught wind of his intended jaunt, they sent constables to the State House to arrest him. One creditor was owed eighty dollars, the other ten dollars. Just minutes before noon, the time he was scheduled to leave, he was hauled off to a police station. Weston was a smooth talker—he was a traveling salesman, after all—and he somehow managed to talk himself out of this embarrassing predicament. He was released after promising to pay his debts as soon as he returned to Boston. 
At twelve minutes before one o’clock, Weston finally started his journey. He was already forty-eight minutes behind schedule.... 
At 5:45 that evening he stopped at an inn in Framingham for supper. Afterward he went to the parlor to rest but found “a number of ladies” were waiting there to see him. One of them asked if she could send a kiss to the president. Weston said he “had no objection to receiving the kiss,” but “could not promise to deliver it to the president.” The lady kissed him anyway, as did the others. Feeling “highly flattered,” he resumed his journey.