English translation of a French article Richard Russell had obtained – Harry Elkes: From Boston to Glens Falls; from Glens Falls to Boston. Given to me at The Hub, 27 Market Street, Brant Lake, New York 12815 before the 6th Annual Harry Elkes Ride, this Saturday, September 14th, 2019.
If I am to recount the Harry Elke’s Journey, I am going to be obliged to take some precautions because, if I were to let myself go, I would run the risk of diving into the theatre of melodrama. Indeed, this story is filled with melodrama of the saddest kind.
It begins this way: “He was young, handsome, wealthy and famous”. . .He is number one when on the world stage an upcoming rival, driven by ambition, dislodges him from his pedestal!. . . He had made up his mind to no longer compete , marry and embrace a prosperous career . . . However, before setting off in a new direction, he is going to put the upstart in his place and retire at the peak of fame. . . Too good looking, too much of a cliche, you say?. . . Indeed, the only thing missing in this account is the element of absurd tragedy which will force this wonderful story to be crushed into many small pieces.
You have the impression that I have gone overboard in my description; that the strings are too large?. . . In an American TV show with a sophomoric script Rocky-style, at the limit, you would accept to buy into this plot, but in “real life”, “You would not buy such a storyline”. Unfortunately, I am going to be obliged to make you buy into this Tale because the melodrama is there, tangible, precise, fine-tuned as if it were a diabolical machine. Hence, let’s get out our hankerchiefs and let us prepare to render homage to one of the greatest cyclists to set foot into the bicycle arena, the American Harry Elkes.
In 1903, our protagonist is 25 and at the peak of his Fame. no one in the cycling world what’s the Atlantic knows of Harry’s decision to halt his career at the end of the current season and marry his childhood friend thus, undertaking a new direction in life. At the same time, no one could ignore the fact that, for the last year, a blond bulldog possessing the manners of a bounty hunter, had taken away Harry’s rank a mid-distance champion of the U.S. He, the fair-skinned Yankee could have retired from racing as planned: his fortune was made; his future plans are quite clear. After all, what weight, whatsoever, should be ambitions of the newcomer have upon Harry’s choice to put an end to his cycling career and turn a new page?
Harry D. Elkes what’s America’s first Super Cycling champ in both short distance and long distance events at the end of the 19th century at the beginning of the 20th century. Harry shared his aura with his alter ego, the legendary Major Taylor during this magical period of time (something which is unthinkable today) when a champion cyclist earn five times more than a professional baseball player. Track cycling, King of Sports in the home of the dollar, who would find this fact likely at the present time? Nevertheless, in the indoor tracks of Manhattan Beach , New York, Boston’s Charles’ River track and Jersey’s Vabbury track people were turned away from the gates who had come to see champions compete in this golden age of cycling.
Harry D. Elkes was born in Port Henry , New York on February 28th, 1878. Harry got his first bike as early as March, 1893 and, under the watchful eye of his father who had been an athlete, got his feet wet in cycling by climbing and descending twenty times the Greer Street Hill in his beloved Glens Falls. Harry was nicknamed “Lanky” and took part in his first professional race in Saratoga Springs, New York where he finished second. In 1894, behind the trio led by J.S. Stinson, Murphy and Callaghan. Harry completed a mile in 2 minutes in seven seconds in Syracuse New York and, in so doing, Harry entered elite American cyclists. Criss-crossing the region, Harry accumulated one victory after another imposing his household brand, that of leaving his competitors behind by ever-increasing margins.
In 1896 Harry turn pro at the age of 18. Very quickly this handsome Sportsman of 5 feet 8 inches and 130 pounds made name for himself amongst the pro ranks. In time Harry’s winnings surpassed his father’s earnings; a man who was a successful businessman.
In 1998, the great French champion, Lucien Lensa, who was himself stunned by Harry’s physical prowess, advise Harry to take part in the Charles River Bike Race. It was in Boston, Harry had his first encounter with Destiny when he smashed the record the 25 Mi event well beating faces such as the Welshman Tom Linton and the Frenchman Edouard Taylor who one day would also have a tragic end to his life. through a strange quirk, the paths of Harry Elkes and Edouard Taylor , the best mid-distance racer of the day, crossed one another on so many occasions that it seemed free ordained. In the Heat of competition Harry was to defeat all his rivals before beating on August 6th, 1898 the world record of the day held by Taylor at Philadelphia’s Willow Grove track. Fate was never far in the backdrop.
Harry was the leading record man of that period and soon his reputation spread beyond American Soil and, thanks to the Press, Harry was able to challenge the top rated mid-distance racers of that epoch: the Hurets, Cordangs & Riviere. Riviere, moreover, who had just come back from the U,S. told the French press: “I saw an outstanding racer. If this guy is groomed well and trains hard, he will become somebody”. Invited to go to Europe, Harry Elkes took down the best European mid-distance racers of the time: The Welshman Linton, France’s Taylor and Bouhours And Germany’s Robl; As well as England’s Walthers who one day would win the “Bol D’ Or” Race. 1899 found Harry back in the States where he outclassed his rivals Pierce and Walthers 50 mile distance in 1 hour and 24 minutes and 31 and 3/5 seconds. Harry’s dad was quite sure of his sons worth to the point that he put up a $5,000 purse ($100,000 in today’s money!) for those who wish to challenge Harry during any long-distance race.
During a two-year period, Harry’s victories continue to increase and his feline riding style was known to racing fans. Harry set record after record in the mile distance. The 1900 and 1901 seasons where the apex of Harry’s glory and he’s hometown, Glens Falls, honored its hero with a massive celebration which saw 1,000 people in attendance. Let us take a short break and concentrate on Harry’s family portrait on that day when Glens Falls honored him. On the day of the festivities Harry is surrounded by his sister, Mary, his Uncle-Coach who bears the same name Harry Elkes, W.F. Saunders Harry’s manager is there alongside Harry’s parents William (Pop) and Martha. It is clear to all, that Harry, at age 21, makes everyone forget the wonderful “Mighty Midget” Jimmy Michael who to date is the dominant before Harry. From this point forward, Harry is the kingpin in this elite discipline which continues to draw huge crowds and financial rewards for its principal protagonists.
The Chicago Tribune sing to be under the spell of Harry Elkes, a cyclist of one meter 77 cm ( not bad for that time period!) and weighing 60 kg declaring: “He is a physical marvel!” Soon afterwards, lanky Harry what’s to add to his prestige by winning in December of 1900 a renowned race called Six days of New York (Sixty thousand spectators attended!) alongside of his mean teammate Floyd McFarland. Harry also hired a hypnotist in order to deal with the pre-race angst and to get through each competition “feeling like a rose”. McFarland, the tough guy and terror of the tracks, paid homage to Harry stating: “Without Harry, I would have never finished the race”. 1900 it’s also the year during which Harry honored France with his first visit where he defeated that nation’s champion of the day Edouard Taylor.
American champion of mid-distance races in both 1900 and 1901 Harry’s dominance was recognized by his competitors and it admiring press. “The Little Prodigy” Jimmy Michael who had just returned from an unfortunate foray into the world of horse racing, had to admit: “The best racer is now Harry Elkes”. Later, Lucien Petit-Breton Who was the record man of the hour and twice champion of the Tour de France stated: “Harry Elkes is the racer who stood out for me.”
By the end of 1901 Harry Elkes had no rival to match him in America and no one in Europe could claim to be in his class. Harry was the king of mid distance cycling and on his “Cleveland Bike”, a bike that was required by his sponsors. One shadow hung over this great portrait. the press sang Harry’s praises yet at the same time, underlined the champ’s tendency to be plagued by bad luck. Proof of this fact were his multiple falls which took place on September 5th, 1900 at Madison Square Garden where Harry barely avoided disaster. One journalist wrote: “This sport is getting dangerous with the insertion of the large pace motorcycles. The chances of getting out of a race alive have become narrower.” The harbingers of bad luck needed no more fodder. Harry came close to losing his life in Paris’s Parc des Princes when the American cyclist fell headfirst going 70 km per hour into the back of a pace cycle which had blown a tire. On the 19th of October on the very same track Harry beat out Jimmy Michael and Henri Contenet.
However, was Harry the same after these events? No, because during the entire season Harry had trouble defeating another American rival. Harry had all the class and distinction that his Yankee upbringing I’d given him. His blond rival was quite the opposite. This rival had the look of steel. He was rough and ornery. he was from Atlanta, Georgia and his name was Robert Walthour.
Is the heart of the indoor tracks Harry encountered an excellent competitor who could stand up to him or so it seemed. Harry whispered that his new departure for Europe could very well be motivated due to the peril that this new rival represented for Harry. Robert “Bobby” Walthour, rising star, had indeed taken the title of best U.S. cyclist of that day.
1903 should have been for Harry Elkes the year during which Harry put an end to his mid distance cycling career. Harry had made that decision. 4th of July was to be today that his cycling career would come to its close. Harry wished to take up the study of medicine in order to become a doctor and, at the same time, marry Edith Garrett who was herself a physician’s daughter. Harry believed he had enough money to pay for his studies in medicine. However, before setting out into the field medicine, why not try to reign in Bull Dog Walthour? Harry planned to race all summer an on Labor Day, retire. Perhaps the title of America’s Champion of mid-distance cycling would return to Harry’s “pouch”? Harry had the chance to let a marvelous rival eat some dust and then leave cycling at the summit of his career. Hence, Harry could leave cycling and face a radiant future having made his fortune. Harry’s father, William, was an astute businessman and along with his in-laws, who saw long-term and wished to cultivate our Hero’s future as an illustrious retiree from cycling. In July of 1903, Harry was to move to Chelsea, Massachusetts with the expressed of goal starting his career as a doctor.
In 1903 racing season begin with New York’s Six-Day Race in which Harry was introduced in a head-to-head matchup against Jimmy Michael. Then Harry went South to Virginia, an area dear to the heart of Walthour. Walthour was known for not conceding ground on his home turf. For three epic matchups Harry was to leave a lasting mark in the minds of cycle racing fans. Always the gentleman, Harry stopped his race when Walthour fell (Walthour’s back tire burst) in a huge pile-up which occurred at 70 km per hour. Harry crossed the infield to inquire about his rival’s well being. This gesture earned Harry the admiration of the Southern fans. Harry picked up Walthour and signal to all that Walthour was fine. Walthour was stunned and he doubled-up in pain, he then got back up and won that race to a standing ovation. Harry’s sporting gesture was recognized by the crowd. A short time later a “grudge match” took place on the same track of the Piedmont Coliseum but, the verdict was the same. Walthour was first. Harry came in second place. Had a new Champion stepped to the foreground? Perhaps. However, Harry intended to even the score once north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Harry marked on his calendar the prestigious Charles River Race which was also slated to be an important lap in the new racing season. Harry thought it would be the moment for payback. the prizes offered to the winner of the Charles River Race were substantial and Harry hoped they would add to his outstanding earnings and help him personally in light of his impending marriage.
On Saturday, May 30th, 1903, Harry Elkes had another rendezvous with his rival Robert Walthour and at the same time, with fate. Was present there on the starting line. The current U.S. champion, that young wolf with long teeth and the transparent eyes of a hired killer was brimming with confidence after his wins in Atlanta. A few days prior to this race, as if to better challenge one another, Elkes and Walthour took turns beating the record on the Charles River track: 1’ 13” for the mile. In Cambridge, Harry felt at home. The Glens Falls lad mocked the stopwatch. Harry no longer feared Walthour. Harry was confident to the point that he believed he could beat the Jimmy Morans, William C. Stinsons and the others he would face. Harry’s intention was to strike hard and Mark out his territory in an indisputable fashion during the Memorial Day Race on the very Charles River Track. 14,000 spectators had no intention of missing a drop of the action.
What’s the weather mild on that Saturday? Was it a beautiful day? It was to be apocalyptic! The start of the twenty mile race was given amidst the din of the lead motorcycles and the roar of an excited crowd. From the very start, Harry rode hard. He rounded the track at an hallucinating pace. Moran and Stinson were quickly overcome then, they were left in the dust. Each rival must have wondered why Harry’s pace was so diabolic? Walthour? Where was he? In all honesty, he tried to keep pace with Harry but quickly, just like the rest, Walthour was outclassed. Walthour was powerless to put a halt to the New Yorker’s “furia”! Walthour quickly stopped following the pace motorcycle driven by his friend Jessie Lawson. Atlanta’s champion could never close the gap dictated by Harry Elkes. Harry was on another planet, the planet of unbridled, magnificent pride!
World records for 5 miles than 10 miles and finally 15 miles were broken. The race was that of unreasonable, unreal folly! “Lanky” appeared to be incensed! After all, was not Harry the true number one ? Harry’s lead over his rivals was unbeatable. Despite his advantage, Harry seemed to be unsatisfied. He yelled to his pace rider, the German Fritz Hoffman: “Speed up! Speed up!” 5 miles from the finish line the Glens Falls native had a three-lap lead over Walthour, Moran and Stinson. The crowd was in a trance. It’s Champion, Harry, had brought the impudent man from the south under his thumb. The “unbeatable” Walthour was crushed! However at the 16 mile marker, Harry called out to Hoffman to speed up again. Hoffman look back and told Harry that he was going fast enough and then there was a horrible snap as if someone had cracked a whip. Harry’s chain had broken with a sharp noise. The German saw Harry zigzag on the track before losing sight of him. Hoffman continue around the track and upon returning to the scene he could not believe his eyes. . .What had taken place during Hoffman’s absence from the site of the incident was the fact that Harry had gone into a free fall towards the lower portion of the track. The chain on Harry’s bike was caught up in the back wheel’s spokes forcing him to go down directly in the path of Frank Gately, Stinson’s coach and pace rider. At a speed of nearly 80 kilometers per hour the motorbike ran into Harry . The violence of the impact would remain for a long time in the memories of those who were present.
Elkes, Gately, and Stinson were on the ground lying amid the debris of bikes, motorcycles, gasoline, and blood. The limp bodies of these men were brought to the track’s infield. Harry Elkes was lying unconscious, his head had been horribly crushed during the accident. A doctor was summoned and the crowd assisted the men while waiting for an ambulance to transport them to Mass General Hospital. Harry Elkes passed on during this trip. He never regained consciousness. The remains of this wonderful champion were sent by train to Glens Falls. William “Pop” Elkes was destroyed by his grief and unable to travel to Boston.
Harry Elkes was buried in the Bay Street Cemetery in Glens Falls. A monument was erected in Harry’s memory. A meeting was organized at the cursed Charles River Track where the accident had taken place. The press dubbed the accident as the “Baptism of Blood”! During the meeting $800 were raised and these funds allow the placing of the monument in Harry Elkes’ memory. On the monument were engraved a winged tire ( symbol of Harry’s cycling club, The Old Boston) and the words “Champion Cyclist of the World, born 1878 – died 1903. Erected in his memory by his Boston and New York Admirers”.
From today’s event. . .& it hardly rained at all!