For about a decade, around 1880, the U.S. national pastime was a sport called pedestrianism. Pedestrians, the term for athletes who competed in the sport, would walk around a track, some to accomplish a specific distance goal, while others in a competition to see who could go the farthest distance over a specified time. Thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of spectators, would come to watch.
One of the best pedestrians was Frank Hart. Frank, an immigrant to the U.S. from Haiti, endured many challenges competing in the sport. Some athletes refused to shake his hand, people yelled at him, one spectator threw pepper at Frank mid-competition, and there were rumors that someone once tried to poison him. But he continued to compete.
On April 10th, 1880, in front of a crowd of about twenty thousand on the final day of a six-day competition, Frank set a world record, finishing the race having walked 565 miles. Frank received approximately $18,000 for the win, not including bets on himself. At the time, a good salary in the U.S. was about $600 a year.
“A snapshot biography of Frank Hart” sources: Portrait of Frank Hart taken circa 1880 – National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution / “Frank Hart the Winner – And Another Boston Negro Second in the Race – Hart Rolls Up 565 Miles Before Leaving the Track, Beating Brown’s World Record By Twelve Miles – Pegram Three Miles Ahead of the Greatest American Record – The Closing Hours of the Great Walk”. The New York Times. April 11, 1880. / Frank Hart Wikipedia