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Advertisement Ladies' Annual Pedestrian Championship awarded
by Nancy Grindle Correspondent · December 7th, 2017


On Sunday, afternoon, December 3, the first Annual Marion Pedestrian competition in nearly 140 years took place at the Marion Heritage Center and Museum. Spectators looked on with great interest as two ladies participated against each other for the championship. The winner, ultimately, was Deb Krebel, Marion's Fire Chief, participating as Hilda von Flamme. Her lone challenger was Lynette Brenzel, Heritage Museum Director, participating as Madeline de la Tour.

Race Referee for this year's event was Victor Klopfenstein and Regulations Judge was David Brenzel, who carefully explained the rules before the beginning of the race.

The course was laid out around the upper great room of the Heritage Center, with seating for spectators in the center, among a vast array of bicycles of the same era in the 1800s that pedestrian races were popular.

The standard length for a walking track back then would have been a distance of 130 feet around a room, and this track conformed to the proper dimension.

Ladies of the era raced in somewhat shorter dresses or pantaloons rather than the full-length garb they were required to wear on a daily basis. Hence, while de la Tour originally entered the room in a styish, full-length gown, she retired to a dressing room in favor of a shorter dress just prior to the race. Von Flamme's garb, as the picture shows, allowed her great freedom of movement.

A showy hat and interesting hairstyle were also part of the style for such races.

Brenzel noted that the 130-foot distance means that 140 laps equals one mile. Some races were 10 miles long and others were longer, basically whatever the contestants agreed upon beforehand. During the race on Sunday, bystanders were invited to test-circle the track with the racers, and a number of them did so.

It was decided beforehand that this race was to be a demonstration, and that future races are a possibility if this one appears successful.

In the end, Race Referee Klopfenstein proclaimed von Flamme the new reigning Champion of Marion. He presented her with the Klopfenstein Medal, which she will wear proudly. It was also determined that a next annual race is very likely.

It was noted that this race was reminiscent of another famous event which was held in November 1878. A similar 130-foot track had been chalked on the floor of Hart and Wetzel's Hall in Cedar Rapids. There, pedestrian superstar Thomas Croghan, a city policeman and volunteer fireman circled the track 4,000 times in 24 hours, covering 100 miles in total. He continued to race in the following weeks, improving his time steadily in subsequent months. Croghan appeared in races all over the state before an old Civil War bullet he still carried in his hip awakened and ended his career as a walkist.

Judge Brenzel presented a slide show after the demonstration race. It is amazing that pedestrianism was wildly popular in the 1870s and 1880s, so much so that it even crowded baseball off the pages of the local papers.

Iowa witnessed a couple of true female pedestrian superstars who raced here early in their careers. Among them were Exilda LaCapelle and Madame Dupree. Dupree, especially, found Iowa a lucrative territory. She performed weekly all over the state throughout the fall and winter of 1878-79. She often walked 100 to 300 miles during a race.

Dupree would go into a community and challenge the best local male amateur athletes to walk against her. According to Mr. Brenzel, her opponents literally had to be carried from the tracks on stretchers.

However, during this time, several Iowa walking stars came forth, and again, according to Mr. Brenzel, many applied the skills they learned in other ways, becoming leading figures in politics, newspaper publishing and the entertainment industry.

It seems that after a short few years of fame, many walkers dropped out of the public eye. In regard to that, the Brenzels, through their curiosity and investigative skills, have located some of the race stars in very interesting and unassuming situations.

For instance, they were able to trace Madame Dupree to Sparta, Wisconsin, where she was known as Mrs. Elnora Newman and owned a local hat shop.

Another interesting bit of information was that race and ethnicity did not provide barriers to stardom as a walker. In Council Bluffs, they discovered a former slave of a Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest who walked in competitions regularly. He used the name "General Forrest." His true occupation was as a porter on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad line and he worked on the Council Bluffs to Chicago section.

Another notable man, David Phelps, lived in Wyoming, Iowa. In February 1879, Phelps walked the second-fastest 50 miles recorded in America up to that time.

Three months later, W.C. Brann, who worked in Maquoketa as a cub reporter at the local newspaper, topped Phelps' time.

It is interesting to find out that Brann ended up becoming editor of a controversial newspaper called the Iconoclast in Waco, Texas, and one of his readers gunned him down.

Another famous walker, A.J. Davis, known as the Prairie City Walker, was successful in the field for four years. He eventually became a lawyer in Kansas and entered politics.

Closer to home, Cedar Rapids painter and decorator Harry Lodge was the 10-mile champion of both Iowa and Nebraska in 1884.

The Brenzels are delighted as they find more information about famous walkers. Their sleuthing shows that there is much history to be discovered and recorded yet about many of these people. They are enjoying the "hunt" for more stories of interest.

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