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Edward Payson Weston - 19th Century Long Distance Walker

by Tom Talpey

Edward Payson Weston posing for a portrait near the beginning of his career. One of the entries which caught my attention in the 1869 diary of the teenage Washington girl, Nellie Newman, which we have dubbed "Nellie's Diary," was on the page for Monday, January 25, 1869, where she wrote "Weston in Concord." The following day she recorded "...Mr. Weston, the Pedestrian, passed through here about 8 o'clock, had walked forty miles was going 23 more to Keene, started from New York to travel 5000 mi. for $25,000."

That seemed like a LOT of money for the year 1869. Curiosity getting to me, I started by looking him up in an old Encyclopedia Americana where I found that his full name was Edward Payson Weston and that he earned his living by walking all over the country (and Europe) for bets, contests and prizes. Using the more modern Google internet search I gleaned many more details of his career. In addition, he published a journal of the trip, called "The Pedestrian," a copy of which I used to verify some of the details.*

His fame began at age 22 when he made a boast while dining with a friend that if Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election he would walk the nearly 500 miles from Boston to Washington, DC, to attend the inauguration. In a speech as he was starting out he announced (quoting from his pamphlet) that he "had made no money-bets, but had wagered six half-pints of peanuts" that he could do it in 10 days. He engaged two men to follow him in a carriage to bear witness that he actually walked the entire distance and to carry spare clothing and supplies, together with stacks of advertising flyers which he would leave off at various stops along the way to help defray the expenses of the trip. One of his major sponsors was the Grover & Baker Sewing Machine Co. However, most of the places where he stopped would not charge for food or lodging, presumably because of the publicity which his visit generated.

A postcard of Weston from the late 1800sStarting out from the Boston State House at 12:48 PM on Feb. 22nd, 10 days before the inauguration in 1861, he was spurred on in every town by cheering crowds, and a "cortege of buggies." (www.trivia-library.com/a/america-most-famous-walker-edward-payson-weston-part-2.htm). "In one village [Framingham, MA] he was kissed by a bevy of ladies who requested that the kisses be relayed to the President." A more serious delay took place in Worcester, where he spent some time extricating himself from an arrest for having left a previous debt unpaid in that town. Outside of Leicester, MA, he encountered snow nearly two feet deep, having to stop frequently to rest. He was greeted by cheering crowds everywhere and in the town of South Brookfield he was even escorted by a brass band. In Connecticut he encountered rain, mud and slush, was chased by a dog and sprained his ankle, but still kept on, reaching New York City on the morning of Feb. 27th.

Most of the time he would eat as he walked, "munching on sandwiches offered by villagers as he trudged by." He would snatch catnaps and partake of light meals at houses along the way and occasionally stay at a hotel. "His longest snooze, at a Trenton, NJ, tavern, was less than 6 hours." "At the Continental Hotel, in Philadelphia, he refused to ride the new steam elevator, saying 'I will not alter my mode of travel' and walked up to his room. Two days later, after an all-night walk, he reached Baltimore, ate breakfast, and then started out in a driving rain over muddy roads on the final lap. He made the Capitol on March 4 [in the late afternoon], too late to see Lincoln sworn in but not too late for the Inauguration Ball, which he had enough strength to attend that night." The journal relates that he was introduced to Lincoln, who offered to pay his way home by means other than foot. But Weston declined, saying that since he had failed to get there in time he would vindicate himself by walking back.

Portrait of Edward Payson Weston, taken at the Spooner & Wells Studio, less than two weeks before he departed on his walk from New York to San Francisco in 1909. After an interlude in which he may have served in the Union Army, and possibly after he had married (I haven't found the proof of when or where, but I did find a reference to his daughter) he turned professional in 1867, at age 28, calling himself "Weston the Pedestrian" and making a 1300 mile hike from Portland, ME, to Chicago in 26 days. The internet web site http://xoomer.virgilio.it/globetrottersd/payson.htm states that by then, "long distance walking had become a glamour sport. Arenas would routinely fill to the rafters for walking matches and record attempts. Weston became a great crowd pleaser, with his black velvet knee breeches, blue sash, white silk hat and kid gloves." On some of his walks he would stop and give lectures at cities along the way. The title of one of these lectures is noted as "Tea versus Beer."

The trip referred to in Nellie's dairy was a wandering 5000 mile trek which started in Bangor, Maine, with plans to walk to St. Paul and return to New York. He never completed it, however, ending the walk in Buffalo, already four days behind schedule. Walking in the winter it was no wonder! Presumably he never got the $25,000 prize that Nellie mentioned.

Piecing together articles from various local newspapers** I have been able to trace an outline of his walk through Washington, as well as the entire state of New Hampshire. He entered the state at Wakefield, on the Maine border, and walked from Union Village to Concord, arriving at the Phenix Hotel on Monday, Jan. 25th, at half past three in the afternoon. After resting for two hours he set out for Hillsborough, stopping during the night at a farmhouse in East Weare. He reached the American House in Hillsborough at three in the afternoon, dined and left at five for Washington.

Mecca Cigarette Card - 1911Late on Tuesday evening, the 26th, (around 8 o'clock, according to Nellie's diary) he passed through Washington, halting a few minutes for refreshments (presumably at the Lovell House.) He was "conspicuously dressed in a showy uniform with a lofty while plume stuck in a military cap." Walking via Marlow and Gilsum in the cold and dark, through the middle of the night and accompanied by a party of six people in a sleigh, including a reporter for the New York Tribune, he reached Keene at six in the morning on the 27th. (Historical Society of Cheshire County, Monadnock Moment #390. There is some question about this reporter, as another source states that the reporter was from Turf, Farm and Field magazine-perhaps there were at least two reporters in the entourage.) He rested at the Cheshire House in Keene until quarter past two in the afternoon and then started on his way in the direction of Westmoreland and Walpole and on into Vermont, "witnessed by a large crowd of boys and girls."

Later in life at age 70 he started on March 16, 1909, to walk from New York to San Francisco, aiming to do it in 100 days. Fans turned out by the thousands along the route to cheer him on. "He was snowed on, rained on, attacked by mosquitoes, and menaced by hoboes. Crossing the Rockies winds were so strong that he had to crawl on hands and knees, [making] four miles in 24 hours. But the old man pushed on, hitting San Francisco in 104 days." He deemed it a great failure and the following year he hiked back, "this time starting from Santa Monica, aiming to reach New York in 90 days. He did it in 76." His last big hike was in 1913 at age 74, from New York to Minneapolis. He died in New York at age 90, two years after being hit by a taxi and being confined to a wheelchair. Although he seems to be an unabashed showman, you have to admire the fellow.

"The Pedestrian" at age 69, walking along a dirt road near Chicago where he arrived on Nov. 27th, 1907, after a walk of 1200 miles from Portland, Maine. DN-0052117, Chicago Daily News collection, courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

There have been numerous long distance walkers over the years who have become famous. One is reminded of Doris "Granny D" Haddock, the Dublin, NH, hiker who on Jan. 1, 1999, at age 89, began a 3200 mile walk from California to Washington, DC, to demonstrate her concern for campaign reform. She walked 10 miles per day for 14 months, staying with supporters and making speeches along the way. Arriving in Washington in Feb. 2000, she was met by over 2200 people. Ya gotta respect Granny D, as well!

And, finally, this year a man calling himself "Buckwheat" Donahue completed a walk and canoe jaunt from Miami Beach, Florida, to Skagway Alaska, to raise money and awareness for a Skagway hospital.. He had started walking on Oct. 1, 2005, and 327 days later, on Aug. 24, 2006, arrived in Skagway, using a canoe for some of the Alaskan portions of his 7000 mile journey. A map and journal of his trip can be found at www.buckwheat.info.

* "The Pedestrian: being a correct journal of incidents on a walk from the state house, Boston, Mass., to the U.S. Capitol, at Washington, DC, performed in ten consecutive days, between Feb. 22nd and March 4th, 1861." I obtained a copy of this fascinating, rare 48-page pamphlet through the Cornell University Library Alumni and Friends Access service and have deposited it in our museum. It makes a very good short read for anyone interested in borrowing it.

** Newspapers:
The People, Concord, NH., Jan. 28, 1869
The Republican Statesman, Concord, NH, Jan. 29, 1869
Farmers' Cabinet, Amherst, NH, Jan. 28, 1869
NH Argus & Spectator, Newport, NH, Jan. 29, 1869
Cheshire Republican (later Keene Sentinel), Jan. 30, 1869
In addition, the New York Times has over 200 references to Weston, mostly around 1909-1910 relating to his walks out west, when he was a regular correspondent for them.

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