W. Joseph Campbell

Today’s Boston Marathon: Recalling the 1897 inaugural run

In 1897, Anniversaries, Year studies, Yellow Journalism on April 19, 2010 at 7:17 pm

An ESPN columnist said it well today:

“The Boston Marathon turned 114 years old on Monday, but it never gets old.”

Indeed. The Boston Marathon is perhaps the most famous and prestigious race of its kind in the United States.

The first running of the storied marathon was in 1897, the year that defined American journalism.  The race was one of the year’s landmark moments.

As I wrote in a book by that title, the inaugural Boston Marathon was run April 19, 1897, having been “inspired by the revival of the marathon race at the first modern Olympic games in 1896.”

The course, I noted in The Year That Defined American Journalism, began in Ashland, Massachusetts, and was 24.5 miles long–about 1.5 miles shorter than that of a contemporary marathon race.

Fifteen men were in the field in 1897.

Some  of them, said the Boston Post, in revealing a delicious sense for detail, “looked as if they could spare a few pounds.”

Winner of the 1897 Boston Marathon

Along the course that spring day, “the runners answered the cheers of spectators with bows and waves.”

The winner of the inaugural run was John J. McDermott of the Pastime Athletic Club in New York. He finished the course in 2 hours, 55 minutes, and 10 seconds, which the Boston Globe said exceeded the record time of the 1896 Olympics.

McDermott supposedly dropped nine pounds during the race, suffered severe leg cramps, and was forced to cut through a funeral procession as the marathon neared the finish line, where some 3,000 spectators awaited.

“This probably will be my last long race,” McDermott said afterward. “I hate to quit now, because I will be called a quitter and a coward, but look at my feet.

“Do you blame me for wanting to stop it? I only walked about a quarter of a mile in the whole distance and it was 20 miles before I lagged a step.”

But, he added, “I think I shall be all right tomorrow.”

McDermott entered the 1898 edition of Boston Marathon, and finished fourth.

WJC

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The winner was John J. McDermott of the Pastime Athletic Club in New York, who finished the course in 2 hours, 55 minutes, and 10 seconds, which the Boston Globe said exceeded the record time of the 1896 Olympics.[i] McDermott dropped nine pounds, suffered severe leg cramps, and was forced to cut through a funeral procession on the last leg of the race. Some 3,000 spectators awaited at the finish line.[ii] “This probably will be my last long race,” McDermott said afterward. “I hate to quit now, because I will be called a quitter and a coward, but look at my feet. Do you blame me for wanting to stop it? I only walked about a quarter of a mile in the whole distance and it was 20 miles before I lagged a step. I think I shall be all right tomorrow.”


[i]. “Record Time,” Boston Globe (20 April 1897): 1.

[ii]. The crowd estimate appeared in “Beat the Greeks,” Boston Post (20 April 1897): 8.

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