Bernard A. Drew: Edward Weston, speed walker

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Edward Payson Weston walked and walked. He was a professional walker. He of course walked through Berkshire.

A few months ago in this space I wrote about Festus Campbell of Pittsfield, who in the 1880s ended up in Olympia, Wash., where our daughter Jessie lives. I gave myself the challenge of finding a column topic attached to Portland, Maine, where our other daughter, Darcie, lives. This is the topic (with another to come).

Weston (1839-1929) walked from Portland, Maine, through South Berkshire to Chicago. Twice.The Providence, R.I., native was an endurance walker, a speed walker, a heel-and-toe walker, a self-promoter who sometimes walked competitively for prize money.

It wasn't his first career choice. He worked for a circus until, as he recounted in his 1862 memoir "The Pedestrian," he was struck by lightening. He couldn't perform, so he was fired. He worked on a steamship. He peddled newspapers. He traveled with the Hutchinson Family Singers. He sold candy. He worked undercover for the Union Army during the Civil War. He wrote and published books.

He took up walking in 1861 when he traversed 478 miles from Boston to Washington, D.C., in 10 days, arriving in time to attend Abraham Lincoln's inauguration.

The Berkshire Evening Eagle learned Weston planned a trans-Berkshire stride-through and in the issue of Oct. 30, 1907, told readers, "Major Edward Payson Weston, who started yesterday from Portland, Me., on his 1,200 mile walk along the post road to Chicago, Ill., expecting to outdo his record of 26 days made 40 years ago when he was in his 29th year, will pass through Berkshire county in making this great effort."

Completion of his 1867 walk-through made him a household name. "All at once Weston became the most popular athlete in America," The Eagle said, "and in a few weeks almost every American man met with was walking mad.

Pedestrian, though he was, Weston never issued a challenge until after he went to England and met O'Leary for $5,000. He spent eight years touring England.

Aged Pedestrian arrives

In 1907 Weston planned to come into Berkshire from Connecticut, pass through Great Barrington, VanDeusenville, West Stockbridge, Canaan Four Corners and Chatham and on. This was a different course than in 1867, when he came through Pittsfield. Staples J. Warner told The Eagle in the paper's Oct. 31 issue that he remembered the walker: "I was in Lee the day he passed through there on his famous walk many years ago. Long distance trips of his kind were not so frequent then as now, and Weston's coming excited a lot of interest all through this section. I remember him coming to Lee from East Lee and a great crowd was out to great him.

Raymond Walsh said Weston went to the Berkshire Hall in Pittsfield "and there engaged in a walking contest which was quite the fad in those days."

The Eagle in its Nov. 4 issue anticipated Weston's arrival in Western Massachusetts the next day, saying, "Aged Pedestrian Expects to Enter Massachusetts at Sheffield Will Be Greeted by Men Who Walked with Him on Great Trip 40 Years Ago — still Far Ahead of Record."

Weston's progress was not uneventful. His shoes gave out in Andover. And he would later take the wrong road in New York state.

As the paper reported Nov. 5, Weston skipped North Canaan on his way to Great Barrington, skirting the town to come through Clayton into Ashley Falls.

"At Great Barrington much interest was being taken, and there was a large crowd out to meet the veteran pedestrian," the Eagle said Nov. 5.

"The crowd that turned out to see him was so dense that two policemen had to clear the way for him to enter Hotel Miller," The Berkshire Courier said.

He kept a strong pace through the walk. Beginning Oct. 29, he had gone through Saco and Biddeford and reached Kennebunk the first day, 26 miles. He was, though, 29 minutes behind schedule. Then on to Newburyport (21 miles), Dedham (55), Coventry Center (53), Andover (43), Torrington (77) through Berkshire to Chatham, N.Y., (50) and on. 1,234 miles in all to Chicago.

The daily newspaper had fewer reports the further Weston became from Berkshire, until the Nov. 26 issue, when it headlined: "West on Last stage of His Record Breaking Journey."

A throng of well-wishers welcomed him to the Windy City. Police escorted him, to keep gawkers out of his way."The finish today was a triumphal march from the Chicago Beach hotel through the south side boulevards at a pace which taxed the powers of endurance of several city officials and others who essayed to walk beside the aged pedestrian. The walk ended at the federal building.

It had taken Weston 24 days, 19 hours and 15 minutes. He beat his previous time by more than 27 hours.

Weston's last extensive walk was in 1913, 1,546 miles from New York to Minneapolis in 51 days.     

His walking days ended in 1927 when he was struck by a taxicab in New York City. Now an invalid, he died two years later.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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