Monday, July 13, 2015

The Pedestriennes: America's Forgotten Superstars by Harry Hall

Rating: WORTHY!

"May Marshall could now lay claim to the world's to pedestrienne." (p81) I don't know what was meant here.
"In June, in she quit in the middle...leaving her manager in arreareages." (p82) The first part of the sentence makes no sense, and the last word should be arrearage or better, simply 'arrears'
"Von HIllern" (p85) Inappropriate capitalization in 'Von' (should be 'von') and with the 'I' in Hillern.
"When the man persited" (p93) should be 'persisted'
" leg..." (p154) should be "gammy leg"
"Madame Vestras" should be Madame Vestris - Lucia Elizabeth Vestris.
Laura Keene's name is misspelled as "Keane" at one point.
"...letting loose with a torrid of cursing..." should be "torrent"
"Fueding" should be "feuding" (p190)
"Seheduled" should be "Scheduled" (p227)

The description of "Madame" Ada Anderson's feat in Mozart Garden New York covers several chapters and not a bit of it is boring. It's really quite emotional and made me feel I was very nearly there. Her achievement was incredible. It was even more incredible that within a few months of her achievement, her record would be exceeded by May Marshall, and pretty much in tandem with it, Exilda LaChappelle would exceed Marshall's new record.

If there is one thing I do love it's quirky - as long as it's not endlessly, excessively, or mindlessly so. I especially like quirky when it comes to women and things they get up to that we may, rightly or wrongly, never have imagined them doing. One thing I freely confess never did cross my transom was "...a handful of late 19th century female athletes who dazzled America with their remarkable performances in endurance walking."

The blurb continues: "Frequently performing in front of large raucous crowds, pedestriennes walked on makeshift tracks set up in reconfigured theatres and opera houses. Top pedestriennes often earned more money in one week than the average American took home in a year." Female superstars in Victorian times? Quirky that's also pedestrian? How can a body not want to read that? So off we go!

These names will be unknown to you more than likely. They were to me, but back then, they were household names making newspapers headlines. Now at least they have a web site!:

  • Ada Anderson
  • Alice Donley
  • Sadie Donley
  • Fannie Edwards
  • Helene Freeman
  • Lillie Hoffman
  • Amy Howard
  • Exilda la Chappelle
  • Bertie LeFranc
  • Tryphena Lipsey (aka May Marshall)
  • Kate Lorence
  • Carrie Ross
  • Emma Sharp
  • May Bell Sherman
  • Bertha von Berg (aka Maggie von Gross)
  • Bertha von Hillern

These women were from a variety of backgrounds and an assortment of ages from their mid fifties to as young as seventeen years old in the case of Lillie Hoffman, yet whereas Captain Barclay walking 1000 miles in 1000 hours for 1000 guineas in 1809, and falling asleep literally on his feet gets a page in Wikipedia, virtually none of the women do. Some of these endurance walkers met or exceeded his feat, such as for example, Emma Sharp. Perhaps these women faded too quickly into obscurity. perhaps genderism played a part. And not all of the men merit a page either, it would seem. William Gale, who achieved several pedestrian feats (which were not at all pedestrian!) of his own, gets no mention either, and he was instrumental in aiding and abetting female endurance walking.

A man named O'Leary kick-started the women's pedestrian competitive sport by staging a six-day marathon between two willing competitors: Bertha von Hillern and May Marshall. From then on it was a roller-caster bi-coastal ride coasting to a standstill in the 1880's and thereafter fading into complete forgetfulness until this author raised heir profile tow here it should be.

This book isn't quite ready for prime time: I found numerous spelling errors, which a good spell-checker would have cured (apart from a couple of misspelled names, that is). I know this was an advance review copy, but spelling errors should never get through even to that stage in this day and age. That aside, the book was well written, exhaustively researched, and pleasantly enlightening. It comes with extensive end notes, a bibliography, and an index. It's a fast read despite being close to three hundred pages. I recommend it.

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