grew up in the Boston area and I still root for the Red Sox when they play the Yankees. But this is not about baseball. Yes, it's about the Boston Marathon, but probably not the way other "Boston" stories are about that famous marathon. It's really about the connections we make to an event like Boston, and how those connections get weaker the further away in time we get till the connections start to break. Then memory becomes history, and we lose the personal component.
I've put down 10 milestones from the history of Boston and expressed my connections to them. You might do the same and come up with a different
set. But what's here is what is important to me. Some of these are well reported in a historical sense, and I won't try to duplicate all
the details – as they say "You can look it up." But there is an emotional content, a personal component to these, from the very positive to the very
negative, and that you won't find if you try to "look it up." I hope you come away with a deeper appreciation of Boston, and thanks for listening.
hese are the years that I have no personal connction to. My knowledge is from the record in books, old newspaper accounts, internet sources, etc. There's plenty known about the BAA and the running of the first Boston Marathon and the early years up till about the First World War. But you know as much about these years as I do (or you could if you wanted to), one might say these years have faded from living memory. In fact with the passing of Johnny Miles in 2003 and Johnny Kelley in 2004, no one alive today is personally connected to these early times.
But I do love the multitude of kids and bicycles surrounding the runner (said to be Sammy Mellor, who placed 6th) in the vintage picture of the 1904 race on the left, don't you? My best guess is that this is somewhere along Beacon Street in Brookline with the trolley tracks on the far side of the road.
ook at that picture. It's from the cover of a book by Hal Higdon I got for Christmas in 1995, and it celebrates and documents the Boston Marathon on the occasion of it's upcoming 100th running. It was sitting on our coffee table that Christmas, and the family were all sitting around chatting. I asked my daughter, "Who did you think that is in that picture?" She said, "I don't know, Johnny Kelley?" My dad, who had just turned 91, looked over at the book and immediately said, "No, that's Clarence DeMar, he has a Melrose shirt on, he ran for Melrose".
Clarence DeMar won Boston 7 times, more than any one before or since. That makes him important in the history of the race. But that little interchange between me, my daughter and my dad in 1995 also makes him special – my dad was already special. It makes a connection from me via my dad to this 7 time winner of the Boston Marathon. I still have that book; I'm looking at it now. It's a special book that brings back that special moment.
had the priviledge of seeing, if not exactly meeting, Johnny Kelley (aka Kelley the Elder) several times. The first was in my debut Boston in 1993. He had run the complete course for the last time the year before, but in '93 he was there for the dedication of "Young at Heart", a bronze statue which was placed at the foot of Heartbreak Hill on Commonwealth Avenue in Newton. (Click on the picture and you'll bring it up.) It's a marvelous statue – on the left is Kelley triuphantly winning the 1935 race holding hands with Kelley finishing his last Boston (his 61st) in 1992 on the right. It's still there – check it out. I've never managed to spot it while running the race, but it's an easy place to drive by on a nice spring day.
I also saw Kelley a number of times down on the Cape where he lived. He was always the official starter of the "Brew Run", a summer 5 miler in Brewster that I ran a couple of times in the 1990s. Every one loved Johnny. And a few years ago Runners World named him Runner of the Century. He was a little yonger than my dad, and lived to be 97 when he passed away in 2004.
ou may not realize it, but if you've run Boston, you're connected to Ellison "Tarzan" Brown. And for that matter with Johnny Kelley as well. Brown was a full blooded Naragansett Indian who had come on the running scene from out of nowhere in 1935. Kelley won the 1935 race and was a favorite to win again in 1936.
But Brown went out fast in the 1936 race and set a blistering pace, breaking every checkpoint record along the way. Just past the 20 mile mark, on the 3rd Newton Hill, Kelley passed him and took the lead. It looked like Brown may have burned himself out and the race belonged to the more experienced Kelley. As he went by Brown, he patted him on the back as if to say "Nice running boy, now let a real man take over." He didn't notice that Brown was just cruising along, almost without sweating. Brown must have thought "I'll get you later". Soon after the gentle pat on the back, Brown passed him back and after some give and take, surged and never looked back. Kelley could not respond. Kelley fell apart on Beacon Street and was relegated to walking 6 times. Will Cloney, a reporter for the Boston Herald noted "Kelley was walking like an intoxicated man". Brown won handily and Kelley ended up 5th.
In reporting the race, Jerry Nason of the Boston Globe coined the name "Heartbreak Hill" for the 3rd Newton Hill where Kelley met his demise, because Tarzan "broke Kelley's heart".
Brown went on to win again in 1939 setting a course record, and although totally untrained and unschooled, was considered one of the most gifted natural athletes of the era. In October 1936 he actually won two marathons on successive days against elite fields. But his life turned tragic: he was disqualified in the 1936 Berlin Olympic marathon for a minor infraction; was chronically unemployed, and died years later in 1975 outside a bar in Westerly, Rhode Island, under suspicious circumstances.
There is a moving biography of him by the same Jerry Nason, written years later after Brown's death. It's worth a read. You might shed a tear, I did.
y earliest memory of the Boston Marathon was when I was 8 or 10 years old and my dad took me to watch the race. I don't recall whether my older brother or sister were there, but I remember that day clearly and what we saw, although I have no idea who was running – then or now. I know from the picture in my mind that we must have been on Beacon Street or possibly Commonwealth Avenue, and very likely near the Kenmore station. We were on the south side of the street so the runners were coming from our left and the spectators were rather sparse. And since we certainly did not go over to Boylston Street, the vintage picture shown here is not at all like the scene we saw.
When we got there, the lead runners had not yet arrived. My dad asked a cop who was standing there when the runners were expected to arrive. The cop, I'm sure an Irishman, looked at his watch, and said something like "Hmm, I'd say in about half an hour – unless my bother is running and then they should be here any moment". I recall my dad chuckling and I knew this was a joke. That little scene has stayed in my memory for close to 60 years. I guess it will always be there.
n 1957 I was 14 and in Jumior High School. On a Saturday afternoon in late April, I was in my room in Quincy, reading or doing homework or something. The radio was on and the Red Sox game was being broadcast. As in typical baseball games, there were long periods of nothing going on. It was about 20 past 2 (how do I know that?) and suddenly there was a roar from the crowd. I perked up waiting for the broadcast announcer (it had to be Curt Gowdy) to cut in announcing the home run or whatever it was.
No, he said the public address announcer in Fenway Park had just announced to the crowd, that Johnny Kelley had just won the Boston Marathon, and the crowd roared for this first American winner since Kelley the Elder (no relation) had won it in 1945. As one commentator said "The reporters could ask their questions without an interpreter". The next 4 runners were Finnish or Korean. Kelley, a remedial ed teacher from Connecticut, was the first (and only) winner who ran for the BAA. And he was from New England and his name was Kelley. He was the darling of the media for months.
To this day I have no idea who won that baseball game on April 20th, 1957. But I will always know who won that Boston Marathon.
he 1960s were full of outrageous acts and front page pictures of things just should never happen. The loss of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King to assasin's bullets, the murder of 3 college students in 1964 who were attempting to to enrole minority voters in the south, the Vietam War with the day after day of front page photos, simply numbed the mind. These acts were of great geopolitical importance, but today, maybe because we are innured to the constant flow of such happenings, the 1960s fade from the memory.
But somehow, the picture you see on the left of an angry race official trying to eject a woman runner who managed to get an official number for the 1967 Boston Marathon will not fade from my memory. I remember the front page story and photo on the April 20th 1967 issue of the New York Times as vividly as if it were yesterday, and I'M STILL PISSED OFF!
In short, Katherine Switzer sent in her application as K.V. Switzer and was accepted. She ran with her coach Arnie and boyfriend Tom. Jock Semple, head of the BAA, saw her around mile 3 and jumped off the press bus and tried to rip her number off and physically eject her. Arnie (left) knew Jock and yelled at him to stop, but Tom (right, turning), a hammer thrower, on instinct just whacked Jock out of the way. The rest, as they say, is history. There's a lot that has been written about Kathy and the "Shove seen round the world". Here's a couple of accounts: Framingham News account and Live your ideal life blog.
In 1966, the year before, Roberta Gibb, who just loved to run long distances and did it well, applied for entrance to Boston but was rejected because she was a woman. She ran anyway as a "bandit" and was ignored by the race officials, but the other runners and the crowds adored her. She made headlines throughout the region, easlily finishing in the 3:20s, ahead of about two-thirds of the field. Meanwhile the establishment maintained its stance that women were unsuited to long distance running and would be unable to finish the distance. They were in denial in the worst sense and pretended that a woman like Roberta did not and could not exist. Here's a nice article excerpted from Tom Derderian's Book on the Boston Marathon: "Bobbi". It's worth a read. Kathy Switzer was so impressd and inspired by "Bobbi" Gibb's 1966 race she resolved to enter in '67.
By 1972, things finally changed and the BAA started to admit women. The NYC Marathon was ahead of the curve, allowing women to enter in its inaugaral race in 1970. Nina Kuschik entered but did not finish, but won both the 1972 and 1973 races. Switzer went on to win the 1974 NYC Marathon in 2:55:45 and was second in the 1975 Boston in her best time of 2:51:37.
ill Rodgers needs no introduction. An unemployed recent college graduate, he trained during the winter of 1975 in phenominally high milage weeks – 201, 136, 143, 137, 140 – and won in 2:09:55, a course and an American record – in a hand-lettered shirt you can see in the photo. And on the way, HE STOPPED TO TIE HIS SHOE! (See the next photo.)
I had the privilege of meeting Bill at running camp in Maine in the early 2000s and chatted about running and training. He is so amiable and low key, you would never in your life realize what a stunning athlete he was (and is).
But there is another important connection between us – sometime in the late '70s, when he was winning the NYC Marathon year after year, I walked up to Central Park on marathon Sunday and when I got to Columbus Circle I entered the west drive (you could do that in those days). Just then I saw him zoom by, not 20 feet away. He glided, he flew, he floated and it was Oh, so easy. I was so impressed, that the idea of running this crazy race was firmly planted in my head, to bear fruit about 10 years later. I was suddenly reconnected to marathoning in a way unlike my previous encounters, which were purely as an observer. Thanks Bill!
n 1993 I finally made it to Boston – as a marathoner. I had had a breakthrough race (32 minute PR) the year before at Grandma's Marathon in Minnesota and I had trained hard during the winter of '93. Lots of Flyers were there (probably close to 20) as was my family, including my dad. He lived down on the Cape, and we had stayed with him for a couple of days before the race. He knew Boston like the back of his hand since he had lived and worked there for years. He was staying with a friend and the rest of us were in a downtown Hotel, the Park Plaza. Later we showed him a postcard showing the hotel overlooking the Boston Common and he said "That's the Statler; that's where we stayed on our wedding night in 1937". A rather astounding coincidence, I'd say.
On Saturday (or maybe it was Sunday) they dedicated the "Young At Heart" statue at the foot of Heartbreak Hill. Johnny Kelley the Elder had run his last Boston (number 61) the previous year, and the statue shows the young and the old Kelley holding hands. See above where I mention this.
Marathon day turned hot, and most of us fell off our pace and struggled in, but I did relatively well considering the heat (I almost caught Ed O'Donnell on Hereford Street!).
But the best thing happend around mile 22 where the course turns right off of Commonwealth Avenue at the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and heads down the steep grade to Cleveland Circle. I was supposed to meet my family along that stretch. I spotted my son about halfway down on the right and stopped. "Where's Da?" I asked. "Across the road with Mommy." So I cut across the road – thronged with runners – annoying a few of them with my sudden retrograde course change. I found them and got a big hug from my dad. It was probably the first time he had been to the Boston Marathon since the 1950s when he took us to watch. The proud look in his eyes were all it took for me to finish strong. A circle of some 40 years had been closed.
was the 100th running of the Boston Marathon, and everybody, but everybody tried to get in. All the big marathons – New York, Chicago, Columbus, etc, which were traditional feeders for Boston, were oversubscribed. I actually ran 2 races during 1995 trying to qualify, something I had not done before or since. In Las Vegas I missed by 3 minutes but in Chicago, I made it by about 20 seconds. It was a mass obsession which seemed to grip all the marathoners in the country. The race itself, with nearly 40,000 entrants, set the record as the largest athletic event in history. And a new innovation was introduced – the timing chip. This was the first use of this technology in a major marathon and allowed this huge field to be scored quickly and accurately. Its adoption became widespread in next to no time.
A huge crowd of Flyers made it up to Boston, and many of the historic figures from the past came to run or participate. Johnny Kelley was the grand marshall and luminaries such as Johnny Miles, Bill Rodgers, Joan Samuelson, Roberta Gibb, Amby Burfort, and Cliff Held were there.
For me this was a people's race, a Flyers' race and a great experience. There was no need for a special moment – the whole thing was special.
Instead of the usual set of photos, I've enbedded a slideshow featuring the Flyers at the 100th Boston Marathon, Click on the photo on the left to start it going.
hat's about all the history I can write on this particular personal journey. But the journey is not over, not for you and not for me. If you are new to marathoning and you've heard that "Boston" is the ultimate accomplishment, then I say "Go for it!". I'm doing my part — a bit over a month ago I came back from nearly 8 years of being "retired" from marathon running and qualified for Boston for the 5th time. I'll be running the legendary race in April of 2013 at the age of 70. (See .)
I hope the race and it's history inspires you to do what it takes and be on the starting line in Hopkinton one of these years. Just do it!