Ashland to Boston 1914

Boston: the Canadian Story
By David Blaikie ©

Ashland to Boston 1914

This descriptive account of the Boston Marathon was published April 21, 1914, by the Hamilton Herald. It provides a revealing insight into the race as it was and its context with the times. At just ten minutes of ten yesterday the wrinkled village of Ashland blinked her drowsy eyelids, yawned and awoke from a year-long slumber. The ”Marathon train” from Boston had arrived.

As the regiment of runners, trainers, rubbers, bicycle attendants, friends and sometimes sweethearts, trooped through the square to the Boston Athletic club’s temporary headquarters, a weather-scarred inn called the Columbia hotel, the villagers gazed upon them with all the curiosity which the people of a dried-up community always evince on the arrival of strange faces. Followed by the eyes of the elders and the feet of the youngsters, the outlanders immediately took possession of the inn and retained it until five minutes before twelve.

Here a corps of physicians sounded the heart of each competitor in the forthcoming race and without exception pronounced each in a most beatable condition. While the doctors were listening to the pulsating music of the stethoscopes, confusion prevailed all about them. Doors were constantly slamming, cries for Jack, or Bill, or Pat echoed through the hallways, bicycle attendants were hunting their prospective charges, and everybody, at least once, elbowed his way into the dining room where the B.A.A. had provided victuals for runners, attendants, and, whenever luck was with them, for impecunious young gentleman attendants only for the moment. But one need not have depended upon the hospitality of the athletic association for food and drink. Dotting the village square here and there were several booths presided over by giggling, chattering high school girls.

With the business acumen which distinguishes even the children of New England, the girls each year seize upon this one day of the life of the village to sell piping hot coffee, crisp doughnuts, root beer and real home-made sandwiches; the proceeds to be expended on that class statuary for graduation day. While the coffee and doughnuts were being sold a village junta was in convocation at the ”depot.” Here Zeke Warren, the gray-haired, sharp-featured police department of Ashland, rolled his quid of tobacco from cheek to cheek and told the less fortunate of the days when Jack Caffery, Billy Sherring, Fred Hughson and other “of those Canucks” came down to Boston to settle their athletic differences and, incidentally, to show the Boston folk some real running.

While garrulous Zeke was holding forth, however, and while the hills of doughnuts in the booths were dwindling to mounds, the hands of the clock were nearing twelve and it was not long before the observation electrics were being filled with runners and attendants for the one mile ride to the starting point of the race.

After the heavy camera corps had swung into action and then retired the eighty odd runners crouched for the pistol shot and, when it rang through the quiet air, they scrambled along the narrow roadway like a crowd of unleashed schoolboys. As they zigzagged down the winding hill they looked not unlike a serpentine file wreathed into a living chain.

In the village they received the first of a series of ovations which were to be repeated at every gathering point along the race. Even the schoolgirls forsook their booths to applaud the runners.

The three-mile stage to South Framingham is a straight bit of roadway, but very dusty on a warm day and exceedingly muddy on a moist one. Here it was thirteen years ago that Jack Caffery and Fred Hughson of Hamilton engaged in a duel which resulted in records that in some instances even yet remain unbroken. Caffery’s mark of twenty-one minutes at South Framingham and 2:04 at Coolidge Corner, the twentytwo-mile point, still defy the onslaughts of present-day champions.

The aspirants for this title yesterday were breathing easily and running smoothly as they entered the roped-off lane through the town of South Framingham. A volley of cheers greeted them. There was craning of necks and hasty glances at programs to distinguish each runner as he swung past. None, however, surveyed the long line of athletes with greater interest or applauded with greater enthusiasm than a group of Greek mill operatives near the railroad tracks. Visions, perhaps, of the long, dusty, tortuous road between the Plain of Marathon and Athens, immortalized centuries ago by a death-crowned runner, arose in the minds of the sons of Helles as they gazed upon these modern Olympians. And if the athlete knew not the meaning of the expression he immediately understood it was a most friendly one.

After leaving the Greeks to dream of the past glories of their race the marathoners swung down the turnpike toward Natick, and as they cantered along returned the greetings of the occupants of the cottages that fringed the roadway. They passed garden patches, clumps of maples and pines in the surrounding fields, and saw a typical scene of suburban New England. Countrified as all things were, the whistle of the robin was drowned out most of the time by the honk, honk of the scores of automobiles that were beginning to encumber the roadway. Along the side of the highway clanged a long line of observation cars packed to the roof with cheering, shouting, gesticulating, flag-waving men and women. Stolidly the runners jogged forward, intent only on the work before them. When the men had filed through the lane at Natick Square, eight miles from the start, they were welcomed by a roar from the awaiting crowd.

By this time the runners were spun out into a long extended line and each man had plenty of time to digest his need of encouragement. At Natick begins the state boulevard which winds its way into Boston. In construction it is undoubtedly one of the finest bits of roadway in the country. Reanimated by the springy response of the smooth, firm pavement, the men unconsciously increased the pace and cantered past the country estates of Boston merchants that were now becoming numerous as suburban Boston drew near. Before Wellesley Centre, twelve miles, was reached the runners encountered the stiffest grade of the course, almost a mile in length. Noanantum hill snuffs out the hopes of many an aspirant for marathon fame. As the straggling, ever lengthening chain toiled up the incline, Kyronen, the leader, was cheered at its summit by a large gathering of girls from Wellesley college.

In minaret skirts and in flowing gowns, with fair heads adorned only with nature’s crowning ornament, in the flaming sweaters of the college, girls of every style of beauty, and sometimes plainness, encouraged the passing runners with smiles and applause. By the time the last of the college buildings had been passed the boulevard was crowded with a complex mass of automobiles, bicycles, rigs, motorcycles and observation cars. Each runner was cut off from his fellows by a squad of these vehicles. With twelve miles behind them the men worked their way along the Washington street boulevard into Auburndale. Their cheeks were beginning to look drawn and their stride to lose its elasticity. They were cheered, however, and urged to greater effort by the applause of the unbroken line of people fringing the roadways.

Until the goal was to be attained, a dozen miles away, that line would have no apertures. So the men plugged forward, passed the Woodland Park hotel, an aristocratic hostelry with a gathering of aristocratic loungers on its broad verandas, and turned into Newton boulevard amid salvos of cheers. The boulevard broke the heart of many a runner during the succeeding three miles, for these hills comprise nothing but short, steep hills; and hills are anything but welcome to men who have toiled over sixteen miles of roadway. With unflagging stride the leaders breasted these one after the other and coasted down the long incline which terminated at the Brookline reservoir.

From this vantage point they could discern some five miles away the golden-domed state house which gladdened the eyes and lightened the footstep of Jack Caffery fourteen years ago when he realized that he was to bring the first great Boston Marathon prize to the St. Patrick’s club rooms in Hamilton. So the sight of that golden dome must have affected Jimmy Duffy, for, with livelier stride he struck forward toward Coolidge Corner on his way to the B.A.A. clubhouse. The crowd was twenty to thirty deep. As the leader pattered through the narrow lane a roar of applause greeted him and as he sped down the Beacon street incline it kept pace with him and beat him stride for stride. Keeping a thin opening clear the small regiment of bluecoats stationed at intervals of every one hundred yards worked like beavers in pressing back the crowds.

They were aided by a squad of mounted patrolmen, who charged up and down the line and, with flanks of horses and batons, kept the frail ropes from being snapped. With hazy eyes the heavy-footed leader noted all the commotion about him and lashed himself forward. Before him stretched for two miles a solid mass of bobbing heads. Through this living wall he strode and thanked the gods that a clear, unobstructed passage lay before him. Another mile was passed and he swung by the noble monument erected to the Norwegian pathfinder, Leif Ericson. Its smiling face seemed mutely to encourage him. He glided by the interminable rows of stately brownstone mansions, with their crowded windows, and passed the lone line of blockaded trolleys at the intersecting Massachusetts avenue.

As he rushed down the home stretch the roar of the multitude sounded faintly in his ear; his attention was directed only at the little flag which marked the turn into Exeter street. He shot around the corner. A hundred yards away stood the imposing Boston Athletic Association clubhouse and, in front of it, stretched across the street, was the red tape. It seemed but a moment before the tape was behind him. The race was over and he had won. — Author Unknown