People


Aug. 3, 1913: Walking with Weston

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Edward Payson Weston (1839-1929) popularized pedestrianism – long-distance walking – in the late 1800s. The native of Providence, R.I., logged thousands of miles, held several endurance records and earned a pile of money during his professional career. His last long walk, from New York to Minneapolis, covered more than 1,500 miles. A strong advocate for fitness and exercise, he warned that the rising popularity of the automobile would make people lazy.

The Minneapolis Tribune assigned Dan E. Richter, a reporter and future attorney, to walk 400 miles with Weston from Chicago to Minneapolis. Despite blistered feet and aching muscles, the novice walker managed to keep up with the old man – by then 74 – and complete the journey. He earned Weston’s respect and a rare byline for this first-person account:

Walking With Weston Is Experience
of a Lifetime for the Amateur Who
Thinks He Can Hike With Anybody

Tribune Staff Correspondent
Gives His Sorrowful Ex-
perience in Trying to Keep
Up With the Famous Old
Pedestrian.

Blistered Feet, Sore Mus-
cles, Aching Cords Make
Day Dreary and Night
Worse – No Joy in the
Morning.

Endurance to Last One Week
Is Enough to Qualify the
Most Ambitious Would-Be
Walkers to Keep on In-
definitely.

From the Walker Himself.

Stillwater, Minn., July 31, 1913.

Editor, The Tribune, Minneapolis, Minn.

Dear Sir: This is to certify that Dan E. Richter, staff correspondent of the Minneapolis Tribune, joined me at the Chicago Beach hotel on July 11, 1913, and walked with me continuously from Chicago to Stillwater and of course will complete with me the short walk from Stillwater to Minneapolis which will terminate Aug. 2, 1913, at 12 o’clock, noon.

On July 17 we walked from Janesville to Madison, 40 miles, within 19 hours, and on July 21 we walked from Devils Lake, Wis., to Elroy, 43 miles, in 19 hours. I consider his performance most remarkable. In fact, I feel assured that Mr. Richter can excel in walking any and all of those who claim they have beaten my record.

Faithfully yours,
EDWARD PAYSON WESTON.

Walking the talk: Edward Payson Weston and his famous walking stick.

By Dan E. Richter.

Walking with Edward Payson Weston is no job for a lazy man. Assigned by the Minneapolis Tribune to “cover” Weston’s walk from Chicago to Minneapolis the writer joined him near Chicago Beach hotel, about 5 o’clock in the afternoon of July 11. The famous old walker was trudging along and I instantly recognized him, carrying his famed walking stick and wearing the old ten-cent straw hat now familiar to thousands between New York and Minneapolis. Approaching him with a muttered self introduction, Weston said, “I have been looking for you. Come on.”

Unprepared and unaccustomed to walking, the task of following Weston over the hard pavements of Chicago immediately manifested itself and the first effect was discouragement and the firm conviction that it was hopelessly foolish to try to trail him for any length of time. Following him five feet behind for a few blocks brings encouragement. As he shuffles along with that short step peculiar to Weston, one thinks he isn’t going so fast after all. By the time a mile is covered there comes a sneaking suspicion that the old fellow is “slipping one over,” and at the end of a five mile stretch almost any “walking bug” hardy enough to trail Weston for that distance is ready to quit.

How They Begin and End.

“Walking bugs” is what Weston calls the army of “I-am-something-of-a-walker-myself,” chaps who tack themselves on at nearly every stopping place with the announcement that they intend trudging anywhere from 25 to 100 miles, “just to show” Weston that walking is easy. Never a word says the grand old man, but a sly twinkle lurks in his eye, and a smile of amusement wrinkles about his gray moustache. But all are welcome to the game. Soon they disappear at some convenient roadside glad to get out of sight and too chagrined to even risk a goodbye.

Without the slightest taint of jealousy in his whole make-up, Weston loves to discover a walker. He wants people to walk and will receive with open arms the man within 10 or 15 years of his age who can beat him.

Seven miles to the Auditorium brought tired feet. Into bed Weston piled, announcing that he would take up the march from Chicago at 6:30 a.m. At that hour both were called and Weston shot out of the door with an energy that appalled the novice.

“A day of this?” one muses, and with emotions indescribable takes the trail feeling that the end is only a matter of hours. After a two-hour pace covering eight miles, the feet begin to burn. A short rest and he drags the novice 20 miles further. The balls of the feet begin to ache and blisters are felt developing between the toes and along the sides of the feet. What of it? You grit your teeth and hang on. Five miles more and the tendon of Achilles begins to balk. A shooting pain darts at provoking intervals though the calf of the leg and later raps a fellow with rhythmic torture between the knee and thigh. Bearing the aches and blisters, now magnified by imagination into large-sized pumpkins, the amateur tries to console himself with the thought that surely he can’t go much farther.

Murder a Way Out.

But he has another think coming. Ready to drop in his tracks he realizes with a shock that he is attempting the foolhardy task of following the great Weston.

Into his golden years, Weston continued to be the picture of health — and nattiness. (Library of Congress photo)

One gets angry with his endless shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Oh, for a gun to shoot him down!

At the end of 38 miles he says “maybe we better take a short rest.” Of all the words to fall upon the ears of the novice following Weston, those are the happiest. Off come the shoes and anxiously the feet are examined. Of course, there they are. A blister an inch long on the underside of the great toe. Another between the fourth and small toes. A row of blisters line up like an awkward squad on the underside of nearly all the toes.

“The fool killer has me sure,” is the thought. Such swollen, red blistered feet! What can one do? Tell Weston, of course. Happiest of all ideas.

“Feet swelled? Got blisters. Ha! Good!” says the old man “Get rid of them. You have the earmarks of a walker.” It is all so painful and hard to understand. But following directions, one takes a needle, drains the water from the blisters, being careful not to break them. How those spots do burn as the skin is pressed back in place. Then a five-minute soak in a salt water mixture prepared by Weston, followed by a sopping of the foot in Weston’s pet ointment.

Then to bed flat on the back, limp, weak and trembling with only the awful conviction that you are a sure candidate for the hospital; but falling asleep quickly, but haunted to the last by the appalling nightmare that Weston is going to make you walk through the darkness of night at the end of only four hours.

Away in the Night.

Rap, rap, rap, pounds that fiend of a bellboy on the door at five minutes past twelve. Out of bed and, strange as it may seem, wide awake, with head and brain clear and every faculty on the alert. Marvelous. Already Weston’s lifelong assertion that walking “can’t hurt” is partially proved. On to the feet. Ouch! Those aching balls, worse than toothache, mumps and earache combined. It is like walking on a bees’ nest. Not another step does one feel capable of going.

“Come on,” says Weston, “that won’t last.” A quick lunch of coffee, eggs and bread, and then off though the darkness following that aggravating shuffle and the tantalizing flicker of the old man’s lantern.

Why did he choose Minnesota for his final trek? The Minneapolis Tribune explained: “The famous old pedestrian came to Minneapolis from New York just to take part in the celebration incidental to the laying of the cornerstone of the Minneapolis Athletic Club.” When the 14-story building opened two years later (above), it was the tallest in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

But the air is brisk and bracing, while the stars seem poking rays of derision. Black fields and woods on either hand and in front an impenetrable bank of black that you must walk through. What a blank fool! Then a thrill of joy. The pain in the feet is working out and great is the sense of pleasure when one finds himself trudging along in perfect comfort. A little pluck coupled with Dr. Weston’s treatment works wonders. But the mind reverts to that ruthless shuffle ahead; fatigue comes and again comes the longing for a club with which to whack him over the head. Dawn creeps across the sky, the birds begin to sing and, enchanted by the beauty of a summer morning, one forgets that he is walking and swings over rough roads in a delightful trance. A proud feeling thrills when the old walker announces that by 5 o’clock, before other folks are out of bed 20 miles have been covered.

Laying Out the Day’s Work.

But there is a hereafter. At breakfast he says that 43 miles must be made before night, with 27 miles of railroad track sandwiched in for a constitutional.

Soon the romance and enchantment is all gone. There is no poetry in scuffling over railroad ties on a rock filling that pounds the feet into a jelly. But three and a half miles an hour must be made, regardless of the pounding beneath, and the added pounding of a burning sun overhead. Perspiration flows down in rivulets, blinding the eyes and trickling the chest and back.

“Are you featuring Weston’s walk?” asks a country editor as the embryo walker pauses at a small station for a swallow of water. “No, the story is feet-uring me,” is the disgusted answer, and then away to catch up with the old man who has gotten what seems a hopeless start and is vanishing around a bend in the track. He pauses to inspect a mile post and snatch a bite from the railway speeder. Every moment is precious and with super-human effort one is again at his heels, panting for breath and stumbling in agony to keep up.

Always All Right.

“Are you all right?” Weston asks. Of course one dares not say no, lest he get orders to quit. At 11 o’clock there is a midday rest. Shoes off, feet bathed and sopped, then flat on the back on the sod – asleep in a moment from the most healthful exhaustion. There is no attempt to fight the sun until 2 p.m., just when it is the hottest, thinks the amateur; but somehow in 19 hours the 43-mile walk is finished and one wonders how he did it. The second night is worse than the first. The blisters report as thickly and promptly as soldiers answering assembly. The needle, sea salt and sop are repeated.

The third day is the same, with padded aching of the cords leading up the shin bones. The legs, ankles and feet are swollen. Even the hands and fingers are red as beefsteak and swollen to twice the natural size. “But that don’t hurt,” says Weston. “Walking causes the blood to settle in the feet and hands. In the hands because of the constant swing of the arms.” The hands feel like two clubs dangling at the end of either arm, but “that don’t hurt.” After a short rest it is all gone.

Sure, Walking Is Good.

Go on: Tip your hat to the old man of the road. He died at age 90, two years after he was hit by a taxi in New York and lost the use of his legs. (Library of Congress photo)

“Walking doesn’t over-exert anything; it is natural exertion and any person can walk until he drops in his tracks from exhaustion. I have done it many a time and it can’t hurt.” “Very good,” thinks the amateur, “but who in blazes wants to drop that way?”

At the end of the first week things look better. Saturday morning with its 35 or 40 miles ahead leads one on, buoyed by the joyous thought that tomorrow will be Sunday and one can rest all day. Five minutes past midnight, after the first week, finds one still stiff and lame at the starting, but in ten minutes it is all gone. The amateur needs only the pluck to endure suffering at the start. By the end of the second week things are better and at the end of the third week he feels capable of enduring 50 miles a day. The grinding railroad tracks, steep hills, rocky and sandy roads no longer hold terrors; and walking through wind and rain becomes a pleasure. Man always feels good after triumphing over anything.

Cure-All for Ills.

To the amateur with plenty of “pip” (which is Weston’s term for pluck) all of Weston’s theory of “walking as a cure for most bodily ills,” can readily be proved if the novice will but make the test. Often the thought recurred that when in school the novice was taught that walking was merely the act of falling forward and catching the balance as either foot was thrown forward.

But walking with Weston on his longest days and hanging to it long enough, would mean to most amateurs an act of falling and remaining prone until kind nature had performed her wonderful work of healthful recuperation.

To sum it all up, walking with Weston causes blisters, aches and pains; swollen feet and legs; discouragement, despair and disgust; but, finally, health, strength and vigor and a deep conviction that when Weston says “walking can’t hurt,” he knows what he is talking about.

May 17, 1909: Burglar under her bed

Monday, May 18th, 2009

I return from a “well-deserved vacation” with proof that the odd practice of drawing attention to a hackneyed phrase by putting quotes around it dates back at least 100 years. North Siders of that era appear to have been a remarkably unflappable lot: One was startled by a peculiar sound under her bed but decided it was a rat and went back to sleep.

Burglar Under Her
Bed; Didn’t Know It

Jocular Thief Annoys North
Siders With Mysterious
Depredations.

Leaves Man Two Cents and
Note Advising He
Invest It.

Burglars hiding under beds, crawling through transoms and looting residences and stores on Oak Lake avenue in North Minneapolis during the last week have made the citizens of that neighborhood “sit up and take notice.” Some of them are even reported to be sitting up nights with guns in their hands and blood in their eyes waiting for the marauders to make a return call.

Last Thursday night Mrs. Z. Herman, Oak Lake avenue, near Eighth avenue north, was startled by hearing a peculiar sound under her bed as she was about to retire. She finally decided it was a rat and went back to sleep without making a further investigation.

But, horrors! In the morning she discovered that the scratching must have been caused by a naughty man who evidently had entered the house early in the evening and had hidden under the bed until the family were all wrapped in the arms of Morpheus. The place had been rifled from cellar to attic, $63 in cash and many articles of value being missing.

GOLDBERG A VICTIM.

Samuel Goldberg, 717 Oak Lake avenue, was made a victim a week ago last night. It is believed the burglar entered by way of the transom, for the doors and windows were found intact. He took $30 in money and left only 2 cents, the coppers being placed on top of a note which had been left on the diningroom table. The note politely suggested that Goldberg invest part of the money and use the balance for car fare.

A. Cohen’s home at Oak Lake and Sixth avenues north was also entered. The burglar worked noiselessly, and it was not known until morning that an unwelcome visitor had been in the house. Then it was found that clothing, jewelry and other articles were missing.

The Cohens are now taking turns sitting up nights and waiting for the bad man to return.

About $50 worth of wearing apparel was stolen from the residence of Joseph Kron, 703 Lyndale avenue north Tuesday night. The thief left absolutely no clue.

Saturday night the store of Max Rothner, Emerson and Eighth avenues north, was broken into. Articles were torn off the shelves and everything was found topsy-turvy when the proprietor appeared in the morning. Until an inventory is taken, it will not be known how much the burglars secured.

But the owners of the Grumberg department store, Lyndale and Sixth avenues north, were the heaviest losers. After breaking into the store last Friday night and looting the place of about $500 worth of gloves and women’s hosiery, the burglar opened the safe and got what cash he could find, which, however, did not amount to more than about $1.

The police have not made the series of thefts and burglaries public, hoping that they will be able to apprehend the guilty man before he quits his operations in that section of the city.

The Minnesota Historical Society describes this North Side structure as a “Jewish tenement house, formerly Plymouth Congregational Church, corner of Sixth Avenue North and Third Street, Minneapolis.” (Photo courtesy mnhs.org.)

The first Mikro Kodesh Synagogue, 720 Oak Lake Av., Minneapolis, in about 1910. A century later Oak Lake Avenue is a two-block stretch of road one block northeast of I-94 and Hwy. 55. Oak Lake — actually a small pond — once anchored a genteel residential neighborhood in the 1880s, but it has long since disappeared. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org.)

Aug. 26, 1915: An awful bereavement

Monday, February 9th, 2009

An aunt I never knew – she would have been my dad’s sister – died in an accident on my grandparents’ farm in the summer of 1915. Her obituary, below, appeared in the Chaska Valley Herald. The text was transcribed by one of my cousins, Claude Sinnen, for use in “The Sinnen Chronicle,” a family history he published in 1997.

Dorothy Welter

Here’s the Welter farmhouse in Chanhassen in the mid-1990s, when it was used as a construction office for the surrounding development. It has since been torn down to make way for more houses.

The community of Chanhassen was shocked and deeply grieved on Wednesday morning of last week to learn of the tragic death of little Dorothy Welter, the ten month old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Welter, who reside on the old Mike Welter farm in Chanhassen township. The demise of the little girl, the baby of the family, occurred in the early forenoon, while Mrs. Welter was absent from the house for but a moment.

The little tot was playing on the kitchen floor, as usual, and it seems had dropped one of her tiny shoes in a pail half full of water, which had been left standing on the floor. The little girl undoubtedly made an effort to get her shoe out and in so doing lost her balance and toppled over the edge of the pail, her head being submerged by the water. When Mrs. Welter reached the house and found her little daughter in the sad plight, she became panic stricken but picked the little girl up at once and resorted to every possible means to produce a flicker of life. Medical aid was summoned at once, but when the physician arrived it was found that the little life had flickered away and that there was no hope.

Dorothy Welter was born in this township November 20, 1914, and was a bright and interesting little girl for her age, and the pride of fond parents. She is survived by her parents and one sister, who are grief-stricken and heart-broken over her demise. The entire community joins with us in tendering them our sincere and heartfelt sympathy in their great bereavement. It is an awful bereavement for them, one that seems too great to bear, but it was God’s will, and He does all things for the best. The funeral took place from St. Hubert’s Catholic Church in this village last Friday afternoon, and the Rev. Father Alexander officiating at the requiem mass. Interment was in the Catholic cemetery.

A postcard of Chanhassen from about 1910 shows “Pauly’s Store in the foreground,” according the caption in the Minnesota Historical Society’s photo database. That appears to be St. Hubert’s Catholic Church in the background. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)