The gift of a photo (carte-de-visite) image we received in the mail from a gentleman in Michigan last week sparked what we term “a trip down the rabbit hole”—a daily occurrence at the RIHS! His statement that “as a hobby I travel around to antique shows and flea markets and purchase old photos and mail them back to their place of origin” was enough to make us his fans!
The photo is of Edward P. Weston (1839-1929) of Providence, RI—an international athletic star from 1860-1880, he is all but forgotten today. This was a publicity shot produced by Weston and sold (25 cents each) while he was walking for a “challenge” purse of $4,000 in the late summer of 1867 from Portland, ME to Chicago, IL in 30 days (it was covered by Harper’s Weekly, among other papers). In his long life (he lived to be 90) he walked over 90,000 miles for love or money (or both), in the U.S. and abroad, thrilling crowds and pioneering the corporate sponsorship of athletes (he would distribute business cards and circulars for companies along his routes for pay). In 1910, at the age of 71, he hand-carried a letter from the mayor of Los Angeles (George Alexander) to the mayor of New York City (William J. Gaynor), on the steps of City Hall in front of a cheering crowd of 25,000.
Weston’s father Silas (1809-1866) was a principal and teacher in the Providence schools from 1839-48, but when gold was discovered in California he took off for adventures. We have his published accounts, which his son had printed, and sold door-to-door, including Four Months in the Mines of California; or, Life in the Mountains (1854), Visit to a Volcano; or, What I saw at the western islands (1856), and Visit to a Burning Mountain (1859).
Weston’s mother Maria (1806-1885) was also a writer (and Edward also sold her books). We have her thinly disguised autobiography and family history (The Weldron Family; or, Vicissitudes of Fortune. A story of real life in New England (1848)) and a short story (The Fatal Excursion, 1847). Other books by Maria are available down the street at Brown University’s John Hay Library, including Luzette; or, Good brought out of evil (1847); Susan’s Visit; or, A week spent in the country (1847); Kate Felton, or A peep at realities (1859); and Bessie and Raymond; or, Incidents connected with the Civil War in the United Sates (1866).
Silas served in the Civil War (3rd R.I. Regiment), as did Edward’s brother Emmons (Navy and 1st R.I. Light Artillery) and his brother-in-law Charles (1st R.I. Light Cavalry). Silas and Charles were captured and sent to Andersonville; Silas was released in 1863, but Charles died in the prison (1864)—all three are buried in the Weston family plot at Grace Church in Providence (Edward is buried at the St. John Cemetery in Middle Village, NY).
The best source on his life is a fascinating recent biography written by Nick & Helen Harris, and Paul Marshal, entitled A Man in a Hurry: The Extraordinary Life & Times of Edward Payson Weston, the World’s Greatest Walker (London: deCoubertin Books, 2012). A significant source for that book was Weston’s own autobiographical account, The Pedestrian (1862).
For more info on Weston, see:
And here is more info from NPR on the sport/fad of Pedestrianism: