|Tom Longboat 1907
Perhaps no Canadian athlete has been so acclaimed and defamed as Tom Longboat. The most heralded of all Canadian marathon runners, Longboat was to his sport, in his time, what Tommy Burns was to boxing, what Maurice Richard would become to hockey, Marilyn Bell to marathon swimming. His stature extended beyond his achievements, beyond even the borders of sport itself. He became something more. Only rarely does an athlete become a legend. Many become stars, a few remain memorable, almost none attains the status of legend. Longboat was an exception.
His is a name that, generations after his time, is still a thing of magic, evoking an era. Longboat was larger than life, the shining best of a shining period in Canadian athletics.
There is also a tragic side to the legend. Tom Longboat stands too as the symbol of the fallen idol, a man devoured by his own greatness, a hero who went from rags to riches and back to rags again. Legend depicts Longboat as achieving great fame only to squander it and die a drunken pauper. The image is inaccurate, a distortion of the real Tom Longboat, but it has somehow lived on. Such is the way of legends.Legends are fashioned less by those they commemorate than by others. They are gardens in which common men plant impossible dreams and harvest crops of make-believe. Good and bad are magnified, halftones overlayed. Legends, by their very nature, consume the facts from which they sprang. The subject becomes greater or smaller than fact, finally not even its shape. And those whom legend most immortalizes are those it most obscures.
So it has been with Longboat. Legend exaggerates much about him, from the poverty of his origins to the extent of his achievements, from the excesses of his lifestyle to the wealth he won and lost, from his corruption by society to the greed of his promoters. Most in vogue until recently has been the demeaning side of the Longboat legend. On February 27, 1980, the Toronto Globe and Mail recalled him this way: ‘”Longboat was Canada’s best-known pedestrian in the early years of the century, a fleet genius with a well-bent elbow. He ran and drank and roistered.”
But if there is one thing legend has not distorted it is the climate of racism in which Longboat lived. The newspapers of the day, reflecting the low esteem in which Indians were held by white Canadians, referred to him routinely as ”the Injun,” the Redskin,” and “Heap Big Chief.” Bruce Kidd, in his biography of Longboat, writes that he was treated more like a race horse than a human being. (12)
Writers wondered frequently whether Longboat would squander his fame and when he was deemed to have done so ”his heritage” was cited in explanation. Lou Marsh, the Toronto Star writer and editor after whom the Marsh Trophy is named, (a) described Longboat on one occasion as ”smiling like a coon in a watermelon patch” and on another as “the original dummy.” Longboat overlooked such slurs and when Marsh, who had once been his manager, died in 1936, Longboat spoke of him fondly. “Lou Marsh was one of the finest men I knew,” he said. “He always remembered an old friend.”
Tom Longboat was born June 4, 1887, (13) in a log cabin on the Six Nations Reserve south of Brantford, Ontario. An Onondaga Indian, one of the six tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, his father died when he was a boy, leaving his mother to raise the family of two sons and two daughters. Home was a meagre farm but there is no evidence that Longboat in his young years lacked for life’s basics. His mother was a strong and capable woman who went about the tasks of daily life with a quiet dignity. One of the best accounts of Longboat’s roots, and a good illustration of white attitudes toward natives, was published by the Toronto Telegram when Longboat was at the height of his fame.
Longboat’s Early Days
Back in the Bush
Where and How the Great Indian Learned to Run
— is Home, His Mother and The Rest of Them
Longboat! You hear it everywhere. The children on the streets speak of little else. It is in the hotels, in the homes, yes, even in some of the churches. And to the great mass of the public the picture it carries is that of an Indian who with a long, graceful stride that never tires, has gained world-wide fame as the greatest of all road runners and Marathon winners.
But to a very few it carries yet another picture, and that picture is of the place where the great Indian spent his boyhood days and where his mother still looks out on the world with stoical Indian indifference to the fame her son has achieved.
Out in the bush
In Caledonia they will tell you that spot is about seven miles ”out in the bush,” and when you have driven that seven miles, past stump fences and cultivated fields, that give you a better opinion of civilization on the untutored savage, you turn down a road that might safely be labelled “no thoroughfare,” climb a fence and follow a trail through a pastoral scene that is half bush, half meadow and the rest swamp.
As you emerge from the trees the fraternal or rather the maternal home of all the Longboats bursts on your view and it does not take you more than half an hour to realize that it is by no means imposing.
Built of rough, hewn logs, now rotting away in spots, the crevices partially filled with mortar and topped by a roof, the shingles of which are warped by the weather of many a changing season, the Longboat home could hardly be equalled for simplicity or the lack of needless ornamentation. It is probably eighteen feet long by fourteen feet wide, and as if to emphasize its scorn for useless grandeur a shingle has replaced a pane of glass in the window, while the single stovepipe that serves as a chimney has been eaten away on one side till the smoke escapes on a level with the peak of the roof and threatens at any moment to further celebrate Tom’s victories by making a bonfire of the whole stately edifice.
But it was a good looking Indian woman who answered a knock at the cabin door. Sixty-five years had turned her wealth of straight, strong Indian hair to an iron grey, but it crowned a countenance that showed hardly a wrinkle and out of which shone small shrewd eyes that her long, hard journey through life had utterly failed to dim. Hers is an Indian face and a good one. The broad nostrils of the Indian are there with the cheek bones almost rushing to meet them, the mouth is firm and the eyes close together and rather small.
But a complexion that is as far removed from the copper color as it is from the pure Caucasian tint and the smooth folds of the iron grey hair above it lend an effect to her general appearance that is indefinably pleasing.
And she is straight and tall, this mother of a champion. Beyond a little natural stoop to her shoulders, and a slight limp, caused by an injured foot, there is nothing in her appearance to indicate that toil or privation have been hers, or that the years have treated her otherwise than kindly. And as she came out leaning on a roughly made cane and seated herself on the doorstep to be sketched, he would have been a farsighted man who could have told what thoughts were concealed beneath that impassive countenance.
A Scene that will live
And truly that scene will live long in the memories of those who witnessed it. The stoical old woman sat on the doorstep, calmly indifferent to her surroundings. Nestled up to her was her little granddaughter, a merry little Indian tot of three, who hugged a rag dolly just as her white sisters do. Behind them the little shack that the wildest imagination could not transform into the home of the man of whom all Canada is talking. And back of that again the Grand River swept around a curve, washed the feet of the little farm that knows naught of cultivation, paying its tribute to the Longboat home, and then sweeping silently on to Lake Erie.
Nor was that all, for even as we gazed our Indian guide and interpreter — for Mrs. Longboat speaks no English when there are strangers around — exclaimed, “There’s Tommy’s brother.” And there shambled up a path a long lanky chap clad in overalls, a coat a few sizes too large and a disreputable soft felt hat, and a grin. He looked for all the world like Tom Longboat in disguise. He didn’t come all the way either, but seated himself on the ruins of an old buggy and allowed his grin full swing. That was Simon, Tom’s younger brother. He doesn’t speak a word of English but our Indian friend averred, “He run faster than Tommy.”
An amateur mill
But even as we gazed at Simon the scene was again added to. A hundred yards beyond where he sat live Mrs. Longboat’s eldest daughter, her husband and numerous progeny. And out of their habitation came two buxom Indian lasses, who seized what looked like two good-sized round cordwood sticks, and proceeded to pound diligently in a hollow stump in front of the door. They were grinding the corn to make that strong heavy bread that would give a white man all the varied degrees of indigestion in one bunch, but which makes the Indian fat and strong.
Tom’s early days
But what about Tom Longboat’s early days. While Mrs. Longboat posed for the artist, the Indian guide, whose lips had been unsealed by slipping something into his hand, talked — ”Tommy practice running two years,” he said. ”He run every morning and every night. He run down at the council on 24th May and get beaten. Then he come home and run more. He run round this block.” And he waved a hand to take in a large tract of country. ”It five miles and a half around and Tommy get so he run it in twenty-three and a half minutes. Next 24th of May Tommy go down to the council and run again. It a mile race and Tommy win by near a quarter of a mile.
”Bill Davis was there and see him run and he coax Tommy to go to Hamilton and run there.”
Tom’s early training
From what can be gleaned in the neighborhood it is apparent that while Tom Longboat was not reared in the lap of luxury he had plenty of opportunity to develop the muscles of his long, thin legs. While he was yet small the mother would take him and Simon, one in each hand, and walk them all the way to Brantford, a distance of twelve or fourteen miles. Of course it was just as far back again. When Tom was twelve years of age Tom ran his first race. It was with a cow belonging to a neighbor. Tom got her by the tail and ran her round the field until she died. He reaped more trouble than glory from that race.
Tom as a specialist
After that Tom went to the Indian school in Brantford for about five years where he learned to read and write. But his education did not destroy his love of running. On his return he took up his old pastime. He worked occasionally but while he did not hate work he loved running, and while he often neglected the former, he never allowed his interest in the latter to dwindle. Living in an age of specialists, he made running his specialty, and the result is that the poor Indian boy from the shack in the bush is today being talked of in every country that breeds men who try to develop speed and stamina.
Inside the Longboat home
Much more of interest might be written on this subject; of the inside of that hut with its single room and its three beds, its three clocks, its cooking stove of the vintage of the early sixties, its two lamps that burn all night, its rich profusion of useless disorder, and its big gilt-framed picture of Champion Tom. But this is enough to show that when the citizens of Toronto want to do something for Tom Longboat they might perhaps do it best by providing a better home for his mother. (14)
The Bill Davis who spotted Longboat’s talent at the Caledonia Fair was the same Bill Davis who had run with Jack Caffery at Boston. He became Longboat’s coach, entering him in the Hamilton Bay race of 1906 and setting the stage for what turned out to be an auspicious day in the annals of Canadian road racing. Longboat stood out that morning from the field of runners who gathered in front of the Herald Building but, as an account of the day made clear, few were impressed at what they saw.
“At the age of nineteen, gangling and unsure of himself, he cut a pathetic picture in a pair of bathing trunks with cheap sneakers on his feet, and hair that looked as if it had been hacked off by a tomahawk.”(15)
Then came the race and the beginning of the Longboat legend. Of all who were misled that sunny Thanksgiving Day, handlers, onlookers. the other fifteen runners entered, none were fooled more than the unsuspecting bookmakers. Several, for lack of information, put Longboat down at sixty to one odds while others, assuming his chances were hopeless, let bettors name the odds themselves. One such bet, between an unnamed bookmaker and a citizen named J. Yaldon, was pencilled onto the sheet at one thousand dollars to two dollars.
The favorite that day was John Marsh, an English runner who had won a similar race sponsored by the Winnipeg Telegram. Longboat, at Davis’ instruction, used Marsh as a pacesetter, locking onto his heels and sticking unshakably for fifteen miles. When Marsh sprinted, Longboat ran with him; when Marsh slowed, Longboat did likewise.
Onlookers bumping along in carriages and wagons, and crowds watching from the roadside as the runners passed, laughed at Longboat in the early stages of the race. He held his hands oddly and his feet swished sideways in a peculiar manner. But there was no laughing on the Plains Road near Aldershot when Longboat made his move. Marsh could only watch as Longboat sped ahead and disappeared from view, headed effortlessly for the finish line in downtown Hamilton. Longboat won with ease, his time of 1:49:25 just seconds off the course record. Pressed even slightly, he would have broken it. Marsh struggled into the Herald offices spent, nearly four minutes behind.
Longboat’s victory jolted the Hamilton running fraternity. Bookmakers went white contemplating the sudden debts they had incurred. J. Yaldon was ecstatic at his one-thousand-dollar bonanza and others reaped even larger windfalls. One bettor waved a ticket calling for a payoff of three thousand dollars. Longboat was a sensation. Ten days later he entered and won the Ward Marathon in Toronto, a fifteen-mile race named after John J. Ward. A city controller who wore a conspicuous red cap while following the progress of the race by car, Ward saw Longboat sweep away from a field of more than sixty runners to defeat a highly-rated athlete named Bill Cummings by more than three minutes.
When Longboat next raced, in the ten-mile annual Christmas Day race in Hamilton, he again sprinted away from Cummings to win with ease, clocking a time of 54:50 that was a Canadian record by two and one-half minutes. Longboat, who along with Cummings was knocked down by an overturning rig in the early stages of the race, crossed the finish line laughing and earned thanks from Billy Sherring, who presented the prizes, that he had not gone to Athens the previous summer to run the Olympic marathon.
Harry Rosenthal, a Toronto businessman, became Longboat’s first manager but the arrangement lasted only a few months. Questions arose over the amount of expense money changing hands as a result of Longboat’s heavily-publicized races and the partnership was ended to protect his amateur status. At the direction of the Canadian Amateur Athletic Association Longboat joined and took up residence at the West End YMCA in Toronto. The Y entered him the following spring in the Boston Marathon.
Such was Longboat’s stature by April of 1907 that he took Boston by storm. The press besieged him on arrival, hailing him variously as The Speedy Son of the Forest, The Onondaga Wonder, The Indian Iron Man, The Streak of Bronze, The Caledonia Cyclone, Wildfire and The Running Machine. He shunned interviews but newspapers were accused of printing them anyway, the concoctions of frustrated writers. One newspaper substituted the photo of an Indian football player when it was unable to acquire a Longboat photo of its own. (16)
So certain was the sports world of Longboat’s victory at Boston that his backers had trouble placing bets, even after he fell in training and bruised a knee. The glittering three-foot-high statue of Mercury, furnished as first prize, was all but awarded to Longboat in advance. The more than one hundred others entered were assumed destined to fight it out for the silver cups to be presented to the next seven finishers or the medals set aside for the following twenty-five runners.
An estimated one hundred thousand spectators turned out for the drama and Longboat more than lived up to expectations, running easily for the first ten miles and then turning away his challengers one by one. A bizarre incident occurred at South Framingham when a train pulled across the road. The first nine runners got past but the rest were blocked for several minutes.
Longboat swept through Wellesley to chants from the women of Wellesley College, their screams turning his head but not slowing his pace. Soon afterward the race became reminiscent of the Canadian dominance of Caffery’s day as Longboat and Charlie Petch, another Toronto runner, passed Sammy Mellor of New York, the 1902 Boston champion, and forged into the lead. Petch was the surprise of the race, his speed matching Longboat’s for so many miles that Longboat skipped several stops for lemon and tea. But at twenty-two miles, after an exhausting climb through the Newton Hills, Petch faded, eventually to finish sixth, and Longboat pulled away. A crowd estimated at fifteen thousand lined the streets near the finish as Longboat ran to victory — hats, canes and umbrellas being thrown into the air in salute as he passed.
He crossed the finish line on Exeter Street in 2:24:24 4/5, smashing by a full five minutes the durable course record Caffery had set in 1901. Boston citizens heaped the acclaim that was his due upon him but took consolation from the fact that it was not another Canadian sweep. Two Americans, Bob Fowler and John J. Hayes, finished second and third.
Longboat collected his victory trophy at the BAA Clubhouse and departed for a victory feast of chicken broth and steak tenderloin at his hotel while some of those he had beaten were still struggling toward the finish line. So voracious was his appetite that the bill came to three dollars and ninety-five cents. That night, at the direction of his new manager, C. H. Ashley of the West End YMCA, Longboat was in bed by eight o’clock.
En route home to Toronto, travelling by train through Niagara Falls, Longboat became acquainted with Lou Marsh, the Toronto Star writer who had gone to Boston to cover the marathon for his newspaper. Marsh wrote later that Longboat was anything but the dull-witted creature some perceived. P> “The man who says this Indian boy is not keen of wit knows not whereof he speaks,” Marsh wrote. “His head is full of ideas and he is one of the greatest ‘kidders’ who ever came down the line to fame.”
Longboat reflected on the race at Boston.
“Do you know what was wrong with those other fellows?” he told Marsh. ”They didn’t have the grit. Some of them are fast enough but they couldn’t stand the pace. They couldn’t stick. That is what wins races like this. You’ve got to get out and run and stick through to the end to win.”
A sea of celebrating humanity engulfed Longboat as he stepped from the train at Toronto, followed by a frantic Ashley who carried the trophy in unstretched hands. The champion was placed in an open car, a Union Jack about his shoulders, and taken to City Hall in a torch light parade. Those who lacked torches set brooms afire and held them aloft. Horses reared in fright at the flames. Young women gazed at Longboat in rapture as bands played and fireworks exploded around him. Street car conductors handed out unpunched transfers, not knowing when normal transit might resume. An uncle, also named Tom, met Longboat at City Hall and kissed him on the cheek. A gold medal, on the rose and purple colors of the YMCA, was pinned to his chest and the mayor read a congratulatory address, highlighted by an announcement of a five hundred-dollar gift from the city for his education. (b)
It was a genuine and heartfelt salute to a hero but the celebration was tempered by the tact that Longboat was, in the end, an Indian. The Toronto Star, after calculating with amazement that Longboat had covered the Boston course at a rate of sixteen feet a second, reflected the sentiment.
“His trainers are to be congratulated, not only for having such a docile pupil, but on being able to show such excellent results from their regimen. It is to be hoped that Longboat’s success will not develop obstinacy on his part, and that he will continue to be manageable. If he does not lose his head or begin to break faith with the public, he has other triumphs in store, and as much adulation as mortal men could wish. Canada makes no bones about gaining a little glory from an Indian. In other matters than foot races we have become accustomed to leaders from the Six Nations.” (17)
Newspapers compared Longboat with Billy Sherring, contrasting the Boston Marathon of 190 with the Athens marathon of 1906.
The Two Great Marathons
Date May 1, 1906
Distance 26 miles
Time 2 hours, 51 minutes
Sherring stopped to walk a couple of times
Sherring won by 1 1/4 miles
Sherring took the lead at 20 miles
Sherring’s Age 27
Sherring’s weight 122
Sherring’s height 5’6″
Temperature 80 1/2 degrees
Date April 19, 1907
Distance 25 miles
Time 2 hrs., 24 min., 20 4/5 sec.
Longboat never let up
Longboat won by 3/4 mile
Longboat took the lead at 17th mile
Longboat’s Age 19
Longboat’s weight 145
Longboat’s height 5’9”
Temperature 40 degrees
This chart, published in several Canadian newspaper, differs in some instances with other records of the two marathons.
That summer Longboat left the YMCA. He was expelled for a curfew violation but glad in leaving to escape the institution’s strict rules against alcohol and women. The place reminded him of an Anglican boarding school in Brantford where an unnatural order had been imposed on the natural ways of his Indian upbringing. In May he had written a terse letter to Tom Flanagan of the Irish Canadian Athletic Club.
Mr. Flanagan: Dear Sir — I want to join
the Irish Canadian Athletic Club. Enclosed find a dollar.
Initially, Flanagan said no, his objection echoing the prejudiuce of the times. “The YMCA is the best place for him. We could not handle them (sic) as well as they can. He is a hard man to handle and we could not give him the attention he requires. I told him plainly today we would have nothing to do with him.” Flanagan relented, however, when Longboat was tossed out of the Y, and Longboat moved into a room in Flanagan’s Grand Central Hotel, competing thereafter in the orange and green colors of Flanagan’s Irish Canadians.
Unlike the Y, Flanagan did not oppose moderate drinking — he thought beer could be good for an athlete — nor did he object to Longboat spending time with women. (18) Longboat thrived on the new arrangement. Under Flanagan’s management he ran a series of spectacular races, including a Canadian five-mile record of 25:55 in Ottawa and a second easy triumph in the Ward Marathon, lengthened in 1907 to twenty miles.
Flanagan was an entrepreneur at heart and would have steered Longboat quickly into professional ranks except for one consideration. The 1908 London Olympics were less than a year away and Longboat towered over all runners of the day as the most likely to win the Olympic marathon. So Flanagan bided his time. Yet while Longboat remained an amateur he was soon accused of acting like a professional, living without a job at Flanagan’s hotel, and even racing like one, since many of the contests Flanagan arranged were the show-business, betting-oriented match races common to professionals of the day. No one could be certain of the arrangement between Flanagan and Longboat, and whether amateur restrictions were violated, but Longboat was disqualified by the New England Amateur Athletic Union after a controversial race in Boston. The ban, declaring him a professional, prevented him from running the 1908 Boston Marathon and caused a swirl of controversy in Canada.
Sensing the danger to Longboat’s Olympic eligibility Flanagan hastily installed his protégé as proprietor of a cigar store to demonstrate that he could earn a living. The store, featuring Longboat’s name in oversize letters on the front window, was located in the Princess Theatre Building. Longboat sold cigars from tins with his photo on the lid at a price of four for a quarter. He also hawked pictures of himself in running clothes but the venture was short-lived. Longboat had little aptitude for business, the joke circulating in running circles that he smoked most of the stock personally, and eventually the store passed into the hands of a businessman named Charlie Ross. Ross removed Longboat’s name from the window leaving only the printed underline that read, ”Athletic Cigar Store.”
Although Longboat went to London amid extravagant press fanfare over his prospects in the marathon, the race was destined to be his greatest disappointment as an athlete and one that tainted him with scandal. The outcome was spectacular enough on its own, with Dorando Pietri of Italy collapsing repeatedly in the final yards and being disqualified, but for Canadians it had another dimension. Longboat ran well in the race, held July 24, 1908, in hot humid weather over a 26-mile, 385-yard course between Windsor Castle and the Olympic Stadium, but he collapsed without warning at nineteen miles while in second place. Removed from the race by doctors, he finished the course by car. His handlers were speechless and Canadians reacted with shock and disbelief when they learned of the news by transatlantic cable.
Rumors flew that Flanagan, operator that he was, drugged Longboat and threw the race deliberately, collecting one hundred thousand dollars in crooked bets for himself and his cronies. (19) The charge was not substantiated and no evidence was cited to implicate Longboat personally, but a disturbing footnote was contained later in the Olympic report turned in by J. Howard Crocker, manager of the Canadian team.
“I consider it my duty to state that my experience in racing leads me to believe that Longboat should have won the race,” Crocker wrote. “His sudden collapse and the symptoms shown to me indicate that some form of stimulant was used contrary to the rules of the game. l think that any medical man knowing the facts of the case will assure you that the presence of a drug in an overdose was the cause of the runner’s failure.” (20)
Flanagan did not deny administering drugs but swore they were given only to revive Longboat after his collapse. Doubts remained but there were those who came to Flanagan’s defence, including, indirectly, Crocker, who shied away from any suggestion that corruption influenced the outcome of the race. The Hamilton Spectator examined the race in a dispatch from London August 5, 1908, and concluded that Longboat was a victim of the heat.
”Longboat ran a good race,” the article said. ”Always up with the leaders he went along with his Onondaga stride for seventeen miles. His bronze countenance was bedecked with a nonchalant grin. Then came an open space with no trees to shade the runners. Longboat could not stand the glare and heat. There was nothing to it . . . just one more incident in an athletic event that ran the gladitorial games of ancient Rome a good second.”
So disappointed was Longboat at losing that he announced his retirement, certain his days as a runner had come to a humiliating end. But Flanagan quickly convinced him to change his mind, and once home in Canada, entered Longboat in a string of taxing races that stretched through the fall of 1908 and included a new Canadian five-mile record (25:06) as well as a third straight victory in the Ward Marathon.
The flurry of victories redeemed Longboat. in his own eyes as well as those of others, and led to a decision that had been urged upon him for more than a year. In November, 1908, Tom Longboat became a professional runner. The lure of professional racing, with huge purses featuring the best runners of the day, had become irresistible. Longboat entered professional ranks with the almost unanimous blessing of friends and admirers. Newspapers forecast that his fleet legs would carry him to a fortune of twenty thousand dollars.
Yet his new career started not with a race but with a row over management. Flanagan expected to handle Longboat’s affairs as a professional in the same autocratic manner he had as an amateur, at last cashing in on spoils to which he felt entitled, but Longboat was not altogether comfortable with the prospect. Although a committee had already been established to handle Longboat’s winnings, (c) the assumption being that he would squander the wealth on his own, Longboat considered leaving Flanagan and turning his affairs over to Tom Claus, a Mohawk friend from Deseronto, Ontario. The deal came so close to being made that Claus announced it to the press. Such was the interest in Longboat’s professional career that the news caused a furore. Sports columns bristled with bitter criticism, the angriest coming from those who felt they had lost a deserving stake in Longboat’s career.
Said Flanagan: ”There has appeared as if by magic a number of individuals who are hard at work endeavoring to secure control over him for their own purposes. Some of them, in the belief that I was his manager, have made proposals to me with regard to crooked deals, which have thoroughly disgusted me with the men and their methods. Others have been earnestly at work, and with some success, in undermining my influence with Longboat by the use of debasing influences. These men have sufficiently degraded the Indian by pandering to his weaknesses to render it very doubtful that he could again be brought under a system of discipline that would guarantee a fair showing.”
Added Rev. John D. Morrow, one of the miffed Longboat trustees: “I can safely say that no other man or number of men could have managed Tom Longboat but Flanagan because the physical and mental make-up of the Indian is so foreign to any other athlete’s, and his disposition so hard at times to understand that it took a man with invincible resolution, and sometimes pugilistic ability, to gain the desired end, and Flanagan is that man. “
Others joined the chorus.
Tim O’Rourke of the Irish Canadian Athletic Club: ”Longboat, unless he is handled properly, will not last three months as a professional runner. He does not know when he is in condition to run, and will not train unless he is driven to it. The way he is going on now he would be pie for any decent runner.”
Harry Rosenthal, his first manager: ‘`If he could be handled like a white man, don’t you think I would have stuck to him? You bet I would. I told Flanagan when I left him what he was, and now Flanagan knows. He is a terror. He has got to be very carefully handled to get his speed out. Any man who takes him and thinks he has a gold mine has a gold brick. He would be worth ten thousand dollars if he would behave himself.” (21)
Flanagan and Longboat patched up their differences, however, and the wrangle ended with the news that Longboat would launch his new career by challenging a three-man relay team in a five-mile race November I I, 1908, at Kingston. Tom Claus was unhappy at Longboat’s change of heart but the two remained friends and Longboat visited Claus’s reservation in Deseronto before the race, travelling on to Kingston behind a team of greys with a young Indian woman as a companion. Twelve hundred people watched Longboat take the lead within half a mile, circling a skating rink at thirteen laps to the mile, and hold it to the end. His time was recorded as “about 26 minutes.”
Longboat’s true initiation as a professional did not occur until a month later at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The race was a storied encounter with Dorando Pietri of Italy, the tragic Olympic figure who was helped across the marathon finish line only to be disqualified. Dorando, as Americans called him, and Johnny Hayes, the man who became Olympic champion in Dorando’s place, both joined professional ranks after the 1908 games and were signed by New York promoters to begin a series of elimination races leading to what was billed as the world professional marathon championship. Dorando and Hayes raced November 25, 1908, before delirious Madison Square Garden throngs, the contest highlighted by ten-dollar ticket prices, heavy betting and a near riot in the final laps. Dorando, in the triumph he was denied at London, won by eighty yards in 2:44:20.
Longboat, invited to challenge Dorando next, accepted gladly, and the race was scheduled for December 15, 1908. The build-up was such that on race day the Garden was packed well in advance and police strained at the gates to control an unruly mob that refused to be turned away. They failed, unable to draw nightsticks and swing them in the crush, and barriers nearly gave way. Only the last-minute arrival of a squad of reinforcements — ”Pinkertons” — saved the day.
Gate receipts totalled fifteen thousand dollars with Dorando and Longboat each guaranteed twenty-five per cent or shares of three thousand, seven hundred and fifty dollars. (22) Dorando took to the track in the same red suit he had worn in London and Longboat, shunning a new outfit provided by his trainers, wore the familiar orange and green colors of the Irish Canadians. Race conditions within the Garden were stifling, the air blue with tobacco smoke, and the track required ten laps for each of the twenty-six miles to be run.
Longboat was accompanied by Flanagan and a coterie of Canadians that included Lou Marsh, who acted as an adviser to Longboat as well as a journalist. A furniture retailer offered Longboat a bedroom suite if he could build up a mile lead over Dorando by the sixteenth mile but Marsh advised another strategy, recalling Dorando’s late-race collapse in London and noting that a scant three weeks had passed since the Italian’s race against Hayes. The insight proved shrewd.
Crowds cheered themselves hoarse as the two men ran close together for virtually the entire race, Dorando often a few paces in front but Longboat also surging now and then into the lead. But the real drama was confined to the closing minutes. Just past twenty-five miles, Longboat made his bid, his legs still fresh enough to sprint, and the outcome was clear. Dorando tried for three searing laps to hold stride and failed, his body so drained that he staggered and fell unconscious. Handlers carried him from the track while Longboat coasted to victory in 2:45:05. It was as thrilling a triumph as he would ever know.
Among those who watched in the noisy arena that night was a striking Mohawk woman named Lauretta Maracle. Two weeks later, on December 28, 1908, she and Longboat were married in Toronto. The wedding and reception that followed at Massey Hall brought considerable interest to bear on the woman who had married the hero. The Globe noted with approval that she was an educated woman and took heart that she seemed more like a white than an Indian.
”She does not like to talk of feathers, war paint or other Indian paraphernalia. She is ambitious for Tom and if anybody can make a reliable man and a good citizen out of that elusive human being . . . it will be his wife.” (23)
The wedding took place just five days before the second of Longboat’s big professional races, leaving little time for the couple to celebrate. Instead they travelled to Buffalo, New York, where Longboat raced Dorando Pietri for a second time on January 2, 1909, at the 74th Armory. A rematch was not planned when the two raced in New York City but the drama generated by the encounter made one irresistible, so much so that neither allowed a prudent amount of recovery time before it was scheduled. This was especially true for Dorando who was running his third marathon in five weeks. (d) The Armory’s normal seating capacity of eight thousand was increased to nearly fifteen thousand for the race, with the addition of extra seats and the sale of standing room tickets, but New York speculators snapped up such huge blocks and resold them at such prohibitive prices that actual attendance totalled roughly eleven thousand including twenty-five hundred Canadians.
Longboat wanted to run the same race he had at Madison Square Garden, a waiting game capped by a rousing finish, but Dorando set out at so fierce a pace, covering the first mile in 5:03, that it was all Longboat could do to hold on. So determined was Dorando to prove his speed that he took Longboat through the first fifteen miles of the race in 1:26:34 2/5, nineteen seconds under Longboat’s existing Canadian fifteen-mile record.
”Fifteen in 1:26:34 2/5 in a twenty-five-mile race is not an exhibition by an extra lively tortoise,” Lou Marsh wrote later. “It is drilling from the drop of the hat.”
Yet Dorando was the runner headed for trouble. Despite his frequent use of what Marsh described as ”the little brown dope bottle,” the race ended suddenly at nineteen miles when Dorando veered off the track and collapsed into the arms of his brother, Ulpiano. Frenzied Canadians surged forward to congratulate Longboat as Dorando was helped staggering up a flight of stairs.
But the Canadian was also in difficulty when the turn of events occurred, his feet aflame with angry red blisters and a knee still bleeding from a spill in the second mile. He might have been forced out himself had Dorando been able to continue. Nonetheless, Longboat continued alone through the remaining miles, walking painfully most of the way, to prevent disputes over the payment of winning bets to his Canadian backers.
The triumph elevated still further Longboat’s already towering public status but it seemed only to worsen his strained relationship with Flanagan. Before the month was out, complaining that Longboat would no longer adhere to the most basic of training regimens, Flanagan sold Longboat’s contract for two thousand dollars to Pat Powers, a New York promoter who helped arrange the Longboat-Dorando races. Longboat, jolted by the suddenness of the move, told Lauretta bitterly, “He sold me just like a race horse to make money.” (24)
Powers arranged the finale of the world professional marathon championship, a race February 5, 1909, at Madison Square Garden between Longboat and Alf Shrubb, the British distance champion who had been a professional since 1906 and had run some of the world’s fastest times between ten and twenty miles. As the ranking professional of the day Shrubb was considered the essential runner to defeat for anyone aspiring to the title of professional champion, even though he had never actually competed at the full marathon distance. Longboat suspected this lack of experience with the marathon’s unpredictability might prove Shrubb’s undoing and he ended up proving the point in the race, held before twelve thousand screaming spectators. But the outcome may have been different had Shrubb not started the race at so fast a pace that he eventually became the victim of his own speed. just as Dorando had done.
Shrubb built up such a huge lead over Longboat in the first sixteen miles, the margin once approaching a mile. that the crowd turned on the Canadian and booed. Consternation spread among Longboat’s backers and gloom reigned at the end of telegraph wires back in Toronto where hordes had gathered to await the news. Then the tide began to turn.
Longboat’s legendary endurance gradually prevailed over the fading Englishman. One by one Longboat won back the laps he had lost until, with less than two miles remaining, he caught and swept past Shrubb on a crescendo of acclaim, the excitement akin to that of a great prize fight decided in the final round. Shrubb, his energy spent and his will broken, quit the race. Longboat, at the pinnacle of his sport, now the champion of all marathoners, coasted to victory in 2:53:40.
Subsequently, Longboat ran and lost a so-called Marathon Derby that pitted him against five of the top marathoners of the day, Shrubb, Hayes, Dorando, Matthew Maloney and a waiter from France named Henri St. Yves. To the amazement of the twenty-five thousand who paid to see the race, held April 3, 1909, on a five-lap outdoor track at the New York Polo Grounds, both Longboat and Shrubb dropped out while victory went to St. Yves, the most unheralded runner of the lot, in 2:40:50. Longboat was disappointed but he had one consolation.
Powers’ his new manager, whom he resented as much as Flanagan, had agreed to sell his contract to a buyer acceptable to Longboat if Longboat ran the derby without a guaranteed purse, the only pay-off being what he might win. Longboat came away from the race without a cent but wound up with a new manager. Sol Mintz of Hamilton bought Longboat’s contract from Powers for seven hundred dollars. (25)
The price reflected the swift decline in the public’s estimation of Longboat after his break with Flanagan, whom the Toronto press lionized, and his defeat in the derby so soon after having beaten Shrubb. Scandal rumors followed the derby. St. Yves having been a forty to one longshot, but no convincing evidence was produced, as none had been after the Olympic marathon.
“Get this into your head,” wrote Lou Marsh. “Longboat lost both races fairly. Pat Powers is on the level. That is his reputation from New York to Chicago. The Marathon Derby was won and lost on its merits. Longboat did not lie down.”
Marsh attributed the defeat to inadequate training, as did Flanagan and others, reinforcing the belief that Longboat relied on his talent alone. But time has provided another view. Bruce Kidd summarized Longboat s training habits this way:
Longboat definitely disliked having a trainer crack the whip, and on several occasions took time off to celebrate a heady victory. But there is no evidence that he refused to train. In fact, he seems to have had a particularly good idea of the type of training he needed. The basis for his endurance was always regular long-distance walking, usually twenty miles a day. He also spent an hour each day in vigorous activity, such as weightlifting or playing handball, which he loved. His running was limited to two long runs at varied speeds each week and frequent time trials. Longboat’s training displayed early forms of long slow distance and fartlek (speedplay) which are both considered successful training formulae.” (26)
Professional races remained common for several years, in Great Britain and South Africa as well as North America, but few contests matched the sheer spectacle of those that occurred in Longboat’s fabulous year of 1909.
Longboat raced successfully until 1913, winning many of his races and rarely finishing worse than second. Racing took him throughout the continent to cities where the sport flourished and across the Atlantic to perform before crowds in Britain. On January 2, 1912, he competed in the last of three world marathon competitions at Powderhall Stadium in Edinburgh, leading for fifteen miles before dropping out with a bad knee, and he set a world professional fifteen-mile record of 1:20:04 2/5 on Febnuary 5, 1912, also at Edinburgh.
In his three best seasons as a professional Longboat earned an estimated seventeen thousand dollars, a lifetime of earnings in many jobs of the day. Promoters and handlers took some of the money but Longboat retained a significant share and spent it freely on family and friends. He dressed expensively, entertained, and bought a house for his mother, eventually seeing his money slip away. Some of it was lost on unsound investments, a reflection of Longboat’s lack of business acumen, but he rarely complained. When his fortune was gone he simply returned to a lifestyle he already knew.
What vestiges of professional racing remained were extinguished with the arrival of World War I in 1914 and the recruitment of Canadians to serve overseas. Longboat volunteered in 1916 and served three years in England and France, assigned to various regiments including the 180th Sportsmen’s Battalion. Popular as both a soldier and an athlete, Longboat competed in military races and was once assigned the dangerous job of carrying messages from one battlefield post to another in France. He was wounded and reported dead, leading to a jolting personal experience on his return to Canada in 1919.
His wife Lauretta had remarried. The development was wrenching for both of them but, happy as she was to see Longboat alive, Lauretta decided to remain in her new marriage. Longboat accepted the loss and not long afterward married Martha Silversmith, a woman from his own Six Nations reserve. They had four children.
Unemployed after the war, Longboat sought work where he could find it. He held several mill and factory jobs in southern Ontario and once travelled west in hopes of establishing himself as a farmer. He found work as a farm hand but it turned out to be an unhappy period for Longboat and his family. Times turned so bleak in Alberta that he pawned his racing medals to make ends meet. Moe Lieberman, an Edmonton lawyer and sportsman who bought the mementoes, kept them for a number of years, hoping someone would care enough to redeem them on Longboat’s behalf. No one did and most were reported to have been melted down for their gold. (27) Eventually, Longboat returned to Ontario where he found permanent work with the City of Toronto. He drove horses and swept leaves but for the most part collected garbage.
Longboat remained an employee of the city for nearly twenty years, a dependable man who worked quietly, owned a car, provided for his family and had a circle of close friends. But in the eyes of the public, white society as mirrored in the newspapers, he had fallen to the bottom. Collecting garbage was an ignominious end for someone who had risen to such fame and glory, even an Indian. A writer once described him as “a rubbish man, a particularly nice rubbish man, an Indian rubbish man” whom young boys no longer looked up to. The unmaking of Longboat the hero began on his return from the war when he tried and failed, in the face of lapsed public interest, to revive his old racing days. Stripped of the one asset society valued, he was reduced in many respects to being simply a lowly native Canadian. An insight into the attitudes Longboat encountered was contained in an article by Lou Marsh.
Interviewing Big Indian A Tough Job
Tom Longhoal More Taciturn Than Ever
— Two Years in France
By Lou E. Marsh
In my time I’ve interviewed everything from a circus lion to an Eskimo chief, but when it comes down to being the original dummy, Tom Longboat is it. Interviewing a Chinese Joss or a mooley cow is pie compared to the task of digging anything out of Heap Big Chief T. Longboat.
I pried a cross-question like the late E. F.B. Johnston in his palmy days but about all I got out of Thomas after two years in France was a ‘close-up’ of a set of magnificent teeth and a pair of beady brown eyes.
Here is about how the alleged interview went.
“How’d you like soldiering, Tom?”
“Sall right,” and a wide smile.
“Didja get hit’?”
“Nope,” and an expansive smile.
“They said you were buried up a couple of times?”
“Nope! Just splattered with mud and knocked down'” — and another half-acre smile.
“What were you doing all the time over there?”
“Oh anything — carrying messages, running despatch riding and digging ditches” — and still more smiles.
“How did you like the whine and the crump of the big fellows?”
Tom showed life instantly. He ducked and grinned some more. “I dodged them,” he said, and then thought a minute. “By Gingoes, I thought I’d never see Canada again the first time.”
“Did you get a chance to bag a Boche.”
Just a wide grin and a nod.
What in blazes is the use of trying to interview a man like that …. He brought with him a souvenir of C’ Company, 1st Canadian Engineers Battalion, Christmas dinner at Kalk-Koin, Germany. Here is the unique menu:
Canada and U.S.A. trimmings
Rhine apple pie
Santa Claus pudding
Beer! Beer! Beer!
Music supplied by Gemman Band
God Save the King (28)
Longboat was dogged throughout his life, and his memory after it, by the widespread belief that he lost his fame to alcohol and spent much of his life as a drunk. The seeds of the myth probably were sown when he was evicted from the West End YMCA in 1907 or in 1911 when he was charged with intoxication and given a much-publicized suspended sentence.
Years later he had another brush with the law. Driving home on July 7, 1935, to the Six Nations Reserve for a holiday, he was stopped by police near Caledonia. Charged with driving while under the influence, he pleaded guilty and spent a week in the Cayuga Jail, sleeping by night in a cell and swinging a scythe for the county by day with other prisoners because he happened to be convicted during weed-cutting week.
But there is no evidence, much as Longboat enjoyed a drink, that he became an alcoholic. His athletic record while professional races lasted, and his victories in the military, not to mention his long steady years of employment with the City of Toronto, belie the image.
In retrospect, the explanation for his tarnished reputation seems to rest to a significant degree with imposters who exploited his famous name, a not uncommon occurrence in the age before television when public figures often were known better by name than face. While Longboat was overseas he was impersonated by a man on the West Coast and several similar incidents happened at other points in his life. The most damaging involved a dark-haired vagrant who wandered about southern Ontario sponging drinks in Longboat’s name. Stung by the damage to his name, Longboat wrote to the Hamilton Spectator shortly before his death in an effort to set the record straight. The newspaper ran this story on April 9, 1947.
Tom Longboat Protests
Thirsty Imposter Arouses
Anger of Veteran Runner
The real Tom Longboat, a temperate silver-haired gentleman from Ohsweken, declared war today on a thirsty black-haired impostor, toasted often in district beverage rooms as the veteran Indian marathoner. Enclosing his own photograph in a letter to the Spectator, the real Mr. Longboat called the bibulous pretender “a cheap two-bit impostor.”
Mr. Longboat, himself described as a “perfect gentleman and the soul of honor” by another great marathoner today, has long been identified by some Hamiltonians who know no better, as a tall youthful fellow with black hair.
”This, of course, is not so, as Mr. Longboat’s picture shows.”
In his letter Mr. Longboat writes that, ”This man has been capitalizing on my famous name for the last fifteen to twenty years and I think it’s high time I put an end to it once and for all.”
According to some prominent old athletes here the imposter does not present himself among them, but rather among younger men in beverage rooms.
”Tom Longboat is a perfect gentleman,” Billy Sherring said today, ”and the soul of honor. You can depend that Tom Longboat wouldn’t be looking for drinks in a beverage room. Not even if he were broke.”
When Tom Longboat wrote to the Spectator he had left his job with the city and, in declining health, retired to his beloved Six Nations Reserve. Less than a year later, on January 9, 1948, Longboat died there of pneumonia. The headlines occasioned by his death were reminiscent of those in his heyday. The funeral took place two days later in the tribal Long House, his body prepared for the service by the women of the reserve in the traditional way, cloaked in handstitched burial garments without pins or buttons. The building was heated by two wood stoves.
Mourners streamed to the reserve to pay their respects, honored and ordinary, Indian and white, old and young, cars threading over frozen roads to fill the scene outside the Long House. Billy Sherring was there as was Sol Minz, the last of Longboat’s managers, and Bobby Kerr, the sprinter who triumphed in London where Longboat failed.
The service was conducted in Longboat’s Onondaga tongue, his deeds recalled and homage paid. It was a simple and dignified end, burial following in the quiet confines of the Long House burial ground. A flag draped his coffin and near its head, in Onondaga tradition, a notch was cut in the shape of a V — allowing his spirit to escape and join his ancestors.
(a) Lewis Edwin Marsh was born in 1878 at Campbellford, Ontario, and joined The Toronto star as a copy boy in 1893. His interest spanned the world of sport. An athlete and promoter as well as a celebrated writer and editor, he once defeated Olympic sprinting champion Bobby Kerr of Hamilton in a one-hundred-yard race. Marsh also became widely known as a hockey and boxing referee. His writing was colorful and direct, mirroring his life and manner of speech. “He invested sport with a kind of gleam,” The Star said at the time of his death. For many years Marsh wrote a freewheeling column called Pick and Shovel, its unpredictable contents infuriating and delighting Star readers. Marsh died of a stroke March 4, 1936, after forty-three years with the newspaper. The Lou Marsh Trophy has been awarded annually ever since to the individual judged by the newspaper to be the outstanding Canadian athlete of the year.
(b) Longboat never received the money although he tried several times over the years to collect it. It went unpaid until Bruce Kidd, researching his biography of Longboat, discovered it was still outstanding more than seven decades later. Kidd calculated that the grant would have grown with compound interest in the meantime to ten thousand dollars and brought the matter to the attention of Toronto City Council. A debate ensued on how best to make amends and a cheque was issued in 1980 to Longboat’s heirs.
(c) The trustees included Rev. J. D. Morrow, a former sprinter and close Flanagan associate; J. J. Ward of the Ward Marathon and W. J. Little of the Montreal Star.
(d) Between November 25, 1908, and January 22, 1909, Dorando ran five full-length professional marathons, defeating Johnny Hayes, Percy Smallwood and Albeit Corey, and losing twice to Longboat.