Pedestrianism The Insane 6-Day, 500-Mile Race That Riveted America
what played out before a screaming fan base was more than just a race. Weston, a New England dandy who often competed in flashy outfits, was the man to beat. He’d made his name eight years earlier, when he walked the 1,200 miles from Portland, Maine, to Chicago in under 30 days, winning a $10,000 wager in the process. A blue-blooded Yankee, Weston embodied old money and an old America.
Date: 5/3/2021 2:49:28 PM ( 83 d ) ... viewed 97 times
In the 1870s and 1880s, competitive walking—formally known as pedestrianism—was America’s most popular spectator sport. As cities grew and the nation industrialized, people found themselves with spare time and a little money to burn.
The country’s mood had also changed post–Civil War: A stern antebellum work ethic had given way to a new appetite for simple fun. And competitive walking was certainly simple.
Matches cost little to stage and competing required no special equipment. Before long, the nation was swept up in “walking fever.”
The rules for the walk-off were clear: The first man to walk 500 miles would be declared the winner. Running was not permitted.
Each competitor was required to keep one foot in contact with the ground at all times while on the track. Also, the race would take place on two concentric tracks made of pressed mulch, more commonly known as “the tanbark.”
To a generation of Americans, the tanbark was the gridiron of its day.
** Adapted with permission from Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport (Chicago Review Press), by Matthew Algeo.
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