Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Effeteness of Monarchical Institutions


Dan O’Leary competing 
in the first Astley Belt race, 
March 18–23, 1878.
(Courtesy of Peter Radford)
On this date (March 23) in 1878, the first Astley Belt race ended at the Royal Agricultural Hall in London. The Astley Belt races were a series of six-day races held to determine the “long-distance champion of the world.” 

They were “go as you please” affairs—running was allowed—yet the first race was won by a walker, Dan O’Leary, who was an Irish immigrant from Chicago. 

O’Leary was the only American in the race, and his victory over his British competitors, most of whom were runners, was considered a stunning upset. 

O’Leary won the race with 520 miles, setting a new six-day record. “With this triumph,” crowed the popular American periodical Harper’s Weekly, “the effeteness of monarchical institutions becomes more evident to many minds.”

(Read more about Dan O'Leary and the peculiar history of competitive walking in my new book, Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport.)