Walking Used To Be A Top Spectator Sport

“Grand Female Walking Match,” announced the ad for Kernan’s theater in the Washington Star. “Six days, 12 hours daily. From 12 noon to 12 midnight. Admission to all 25 cts.” It may sound as boring as a congressional committee meeting, but in the spring of 1889, Washington was entranced by a series of “pedestrian tournaments” at Kernan’s, a theater on the northeast corner of 11th and C streets NW, where Federal Triangle stands today.

The races were the brainchild of James Lawrence Kernan, a Confederate soldier who became an entertainment mogul after the Civil War. Kernan hoped to capitalize on a craze that had begun a decade earlier. At the original Madison Square Garden in New York, endurance walking matches were wildly popular beginning in the late 1870s. Crowds of 10,000 or more regularly packed the rickety arena to watch men and women circle a one-sixth-mile track for days at a time. For a while, pedestrianism, as it came to be known, was the most popular spectator sport in the United States.

Want to know more? Got the drop at the Washington Post . . .

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