[With my older son in the midst of his high school cross-country season, and both sons gearing up for their next seasons of indoor and then outdoor track, running has become a huge part of this AmericanStudier’s life these days. But it’s long been part of both my life and America overall, so this week I’ll AmericanStudy different sides of running, leading up to a very special Guest Post from one of those aforementioned youthful AmericanStudiers!]
layers to the histories of the first, 1897 Boston Marathon.
The B.A.A.: The
Marathon was far from the starting point for organized athletics in the city.
Ten years earlier, in 1887, the Boston
Athletic Association had been founded, reflecting the rising
national interest in both amateur and professional
sports in the late 19th century. The BAA built an impressive
clubhouse in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood, with facilities for numerous
sports including boxing, tennis, and water polo; and it began hosting track and
field competitions and other athletic events, including an annual Spring
competition known as the BAA Games. In 1897, perhaps in part to commemorate the
BAA’s 10th anniversary and inspired by the marathon at the 1896
Summer Olympics in Athens, the Association’s leadership decided to
conclude those Spring games with a marathon of their own. BAA member and Olympic
Team Manager John Graham worked with local businessman
Herbert Holton to choose and design the 24.5-mile course.
Day: That overall Spring timing was to coincide with the end of the
BAA Games, but the specific timing of April 19th was due to another
factor: the newly-created holiday of Patriots’ Day. The
then-Massachusetts-specific holiday was just three years old at the time,
having been first celebrated
in 1894 after the Lexington
Historical Society petitioned the MA Legislature to create a
holiday honoring the 1775 Revolutionary War Battles of Lexington and Concord. And
running the Marathon on that date was even more specific than that, as the BAA sought
to link the American Revolutionary effort and spirit to that displayed by
the Athenian soldiers at the 490 BC Battle of Marathon for which
the race had been initially named. A bit of a stretch, perhaps, but the Boston
Marathon has never been anything less than grandiose!
Mac” McDermott: The winner of that first Boston Marathon (known then as the
B.A.A. Road Race) was quite a grandiose figure himself. Not in size, as the Irish
American lithographer and amateur runner John J. “J.J.” or “Little Mac”
McDermott was just 5’6” and 124 pounds when measured before the race. But as
that hyperlinked article puts it, this was America’s first great marathoner,
and I would argue one of the 19th century’s greatest American
athletes: he won the first
marathon run in the U.S., in New York in September 1896; and won the
first Boston Marathon just seven months later, quite possibly while running
with the tuberculosis that would kill him
less than a decade later. It’s not clear whether McDermott definitely
had TB when he won in Boston, but when it comes to the first iteration of such
a legendary race, I’m going to print the legend.
do you think? Running connections or contexts you’d share?