94: Six-Day Race Part 3: P.T. Barnum – Ultrarunning Promoter (1874)

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By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch The ultimate showman, P.T. Barnum of circus fame, was surprisingly the first serious ultrarunning promoter and established the first six-day race in America. He waswe famous for the saying “There’s a sucker is born every minute,” and figured out how to get America to come out by the thousands to watch skinny guys walk, run and suffer around a small indoor track for hours and days as part of his “Greatest Show on Earth” presented in the heart of New York City. In this episode, details of Barnum’s connection to ultrarunning history are told for the first time. In part one of this six-day series, Foster Powell started it all in 1773 in England, seeking to reach 400 miles in less than six days. In part two, nearly a century later, the challenge was restored in America with the famous walker Edward Payson Weston, who was both cheered and ridiculed. As this third part opens, Weston seeks more than anything to reach 500 miles in six days, which had never been accomplished before. He had failed in his first serious attempt, reaching “only” 430 miles and was called by some, “The Great American Fizzler.” P.T. Barnum soon enters the story to lend support. Help is needed to continue the Ultrarunning History Podcast, website, and Hall of Fame. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member Edward Mullen Seeks 500 Miles in Six Days Weston's failure to reach 500 miles spurred others to give it try, even those with little experience, in an attempt to cash in on wagers. A key figure in this history, Edward Mullen, of Boston, Massachusetts, came on the stage in 1874 to try to steal the spotlight from Weston. Mullen was a talented ten-mile walker, but unproven at ultra-distances. His "500 miles in six days" attempt came at the Washington Riding Academy at 26th Street and 6th Ave in New York City. Beacon Trotting Park It was reported, “Mullen has never, previous to the present time, engaged in any walking match for any long distance, the longest race hitherto being twelve miles.” Mullen began his pedestrian career only a year earlier in July 1873 at Beacon Trotting Park, Boston, when he won a short-distance walking race. That was the first of many impressive wins up to ten miles. But it seemed rather bold for him to go after the 500-mile six-day barrier. The track for his attempt was said to be 17.3 laps to a mile (305 feet). He began his quest at 12:24 a.m. on June 15, 1874. “Mullen was dressed in full walking costume, consisting of white Guernsey, blue silk trunks and white hose, with Oxford shoes. He is somewhat slimly built, is about five feet ten inches high and weighs 130 pounds. As he turned to commence his journey, he started off somewhat slowly, his step, however, being elastic and springy.” He finished his first mile, in a very surprisingly fast time of 7:22. On day one, he accomplished the 115-mile 24-hours task, beating Weston's 115-mile time by five minutes. At that point he collapsed and had to be carried off the track by his backers. By day three, the determined Mullen had reached 233 miles on very swollen legs, one mile ahead of Weston's failed pace. Fraud Detected On day four, an observant New York Daily Herald reporter suspected that a "trick" was taking place as he counted Mullen's paces per lap. "The Herald reporter watched for some hours and finally concluded that the pace at which Mullen was walking did not agree with the time announced. This aroused a suspicion that there was something wrong with the track and that the walk was not an honest one." He also noticed that Mullen was taking rests more than twice as long as Weston had during his walk, and yet Mullen kept pace somehow. Also odd, Mullen’s respiration was very labored after walking a stretch of only a few ...

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