Saturday, March 29, 2014

So beginneth the great Pedestrianism book tour...

Beer is good.
Here I am enjoying a beer in the departure lounge at Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar, waiting for my flight to Seoul (then on to New York). It's only been an hour since I left the house, and I already miss Allyson and Baby Z... So begins the great Pedestrianism Book Tour. My first event is in Brooklyn on Tuesday night. Here's the itinerary. Please come see me if you can...

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.)

Scooooooore!

Reggie Leach, aka "The Rifle"
As a boy, I would announce Philadelphia Flyers games into a Tandy tape recorder while watching them on TV. A little more than a year ago, I posted this audio to YouTube of me announcing a game wherein the Flyers’ Reggie Leach scored a goal against Blackhawks (then known as Black Hawks) goalie Tony Esposito to tie a game at 1-1.

I can remember the circumstances vividly: I was in my bedroom on the second floor of our old red-brick house in Perkasie, Pa. (the northern Philly suburbs), sitting cross-legged on the linoleum-covered floor, watching the game on a tiny black-and-white TV with rabbit ear antenna. My older brother (Steve) had a “Compact Cassette” tape recorder from Radio Shack, with an external mic attached. I would borrow it and watch the game and, as soon as anything interesting occurred—a goal, a fight—I would immediately hit record and start announcing.  

Somehow this one example that I posted on Youtube survived, though I was never sure of the exact date of the game. After I posted it, however, a Facebook friend named Brain Miles did a little detective work and discovered that the date of the game in question was January 23, 1977—a Sunday night. Reggie Leach scored at 3:27 of the second period in Chicago. I was in the fifth grade. 

It’s been more than 37 years since I recorded my voice announcing this goal on an analogue cassette tape. This recording is more precious to me than a photograph. The sound of this ten-year-old boy, his voice trembling with excitement as Reggie Leach shoots a puck that “overwent" Esposito’s “glove-hand shoulder,” is more valuable to me than any other artifact of my youth. I’m just grateful that my mom and dad (God rest their souls) let me stay up late on a school night to watch the game.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Happy Birthday, Sweet Talkin’ Grover Cleveland

Stephen Grover Cleveland was born on this date (March 18) in 1837. If he was alive today, he would be 177. But I bet he wouldn’t smell very good. 

When he was elected to the first of his two (nonconsecutive, of course) terms as president in 1884, Cleveland was a 47-year-old bachelor. During his first year in the White House, however, he began corresponding with a young woman named Frances Folsom, who was the daughter of his late law partner. Frances was 28 years younger than Grover. She’d known him all her life. But, as I explain in The President Is a Sick Manand, no, the title doesn’t have anything to do with his relationship with Frances!as Frances matured, their feelings for each other blossomed into romance.

This remarkable letter from Grover to Frances was written in December 1885, when their relationship was still very much a secret. (They would wed in the White House the following June.) In it, Grover pours out his heart to Frances in a way that belies his reputation for gruffness. Grover was known for his occasional coldheartedness (see, e.g., the Pullman Strike of 1894), but in this letter he comes across as an old softy. 

Happy Birthday, Grover—or, as his friends called him, Steve.

(Special thanks to the Shapell Manuscript Foundation)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy 175th Birthday, Edward Payson Weston

Edward Payson Weston sets off from the plaza in front of 
the College of the City of New York at noon on 
June 2, 1913, on a walk to Minneapolis. 
Courtesy of Library of Congress 
On this day (March 15) in 1839, Edward Payson Weston was born in Providence, Rhode Island. Weston would grow up to be the most famous professional pedestrian in the United States. In 1867, he won a $10,000 wager by walking the 1,200 miles from Portland, Maine, to Chicago in less than thirty days (excluding Sundays; Weston never walked “competitively” on the Sabbath).

in 1870 he began touring the country, performing walking exhibitions in roller-skating rinks. It was certainly more comfortable than walking outside in the elements. It was lucrative too. He charged up to fifty cents for the pleasure of watching him circumambulate for hours on makeshift dirt tracks—and thousands of people gladly paid. 

He usually walked against time, such as attempting to cover one hundred miles in twenty-four hours. To relieve the tedium, Weston often hired a band to entertain the audience, with Weston himself occasionally playing a cornet while he walked. Weston understood intuitively that the event was about entertainment as much as it was about athletics.

At a roller rink in Manhattan in 1870, Weston attempted to walk one hundred miles in less than twenty-two hours to win a $2,500 wager. He succeeded with twenty minutes to spare. A crowd of five thousand squeezed into the rink to cheer him on for the final miles.

For more than fifty years, Weston staged all manner of walking exhibitions. In the autumn of 1922, he walked the 495 miles from Buffalo to New York City in twenty-nine “walking days” (again no Sabbaths), averaging more than seventeen miles a day. Not bad for an eighty-three-year-old.

In 1927, Weston was hit by a car while crossing a street in Manhattan. He was left crippled and would never walk again. On this day in 1929, Weston turned ninety. Confined to a wheelchair, he declared it “the bitterest day of my life.” 

Two months later he died.

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

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Pedestrianism Book Tour

I am very pleased to announce the dates for the book tour for Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Spectator Sport. Please consider attending one (or more!) of these events:


April 1st, 7 pm: WORD Bookstore, 126 Franklin St., Brooklyn, NY 11222

April 3rd, 7 pm: Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake St., Oak Park, IL 60301

April 5th, 1 pm: Doylestown Bookshop, 16 S. Main St., Doylestown, PA 18901

April 10th, 7 pm: Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53211

April 13th, 5 pm: Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008

April 14th, 7 pm: Common Good Books, 38 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul, MN 55105

April 17th, 6:30 pm: Mid-Manhattan Library, 455 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10016.

All times are local. If you have any questions, please feel free to send me an email.