A MILE IN WHOSE SHOES?
Celebrated pedestrian Robert Barclay Allardice, 6th Laird of Ury, generally known simply as Captain Barclay, died on May 8, 1854. During his life he accomplished many feats in the world of walking, and is, in fact, considered the father of pedestrianism, a popular sport of the 19th century.
His first feat, at the age of fifteen, was to walk six miles in an hour ‘fair heel and toe.’ Heel and toe was a rather vague rule of pedestrianism, that the toe of one foot could not leave the ground before the heel of the other foot touched down. It was randomly enforced. In 1801, at the age of 22, Barclay walked from Ury to Boroughbridge, a distance of 300 miles in five oppressively hot days, and in that same year, he walked 90 miles in 21 and a half hours, winning 5000 guineas for his fancy footwork.
His most famous feat came in 1809 when he undertook the task of walking 1000 miles in 1000 successive hours, a mile within each hour, a challenge in which many had failed and none had succeeded. At stake was 100,000 pounds (roughly 8 million dollars today). This feat captured the imagination of the public, and 10,000 people came to watch over the course of the event, cheering him on or wishing him ill fortune depending on the direction of their own wagers. He began his course at midnight on June 1 and finished it at 3 p.m. on July 12.
Pedestrian races were popular with both the media and the public throughout the 19th century, drawing throngs of spectators, along with bookies, touts and other unsavory characters who frequent such competitions. With the coming of the automobile, however, pedestrianism became an endangered sport as pedestrians themselves became an endangered species, serving mostly as targets for mechanized sporting types. It does remain in our popular culture, however, with such paeans to pedestrianism as “The Stroll,” “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Walk This Way.”
Walking the Dogs
On May 8, 1877, 1,201 of the classiest American canines convened at the Hippodrome in New York City to compete for the the title of top dog. This was the first dog show to be held under the guidance of the Westminster Kennel Club, and it has been held annually ever since. Among the luminaries at that first event were two Staghounds from the pack of the late General George Custer and two Deerhounds bred by Queen Victoria.
Eighteen years later, on May 8, 1895, felines had their turn in the spotlight at the first cat show held in New York at Madison Square Garden. This was a more down to earth affair with prizes given in several categories including the best stray alley cat.