February 22, 1861
Edward Payson Weston began a 478-mile (769.3-kilometer) trip from the Massachusetts State House in Boston to Washington, D.C., to attend Abraham Lincoln’s first presidential inauguration – and he did so using only his two feet for transportation. The 21-year-old Weston undertook this ambitious trip in the first place because of a bet he lost during the previous year’s presidential election. He had wagered against Lincoln as the candidate who would be elected president. Lincoln prevailed with 180 electoral votes (152 were needed at the time to win) and just under 40 percent of the popular vote. Consequently, the terms of Weston’s bet required that he would have to walk from Boston to the nation’s capital for Inauguration Day.
During the course of this long-distance hike, Weston had to deal with snow, ice, rain, mud, more than a few stumbles, and at one point even a sprained ankle. In addition, he had to put up with several individuals who trailed him the whole time in a horse-drawn carriage. The main reason why they followed Weston was to make sure that he did indeed walk the entire route without resorting to any other means of mobility.
Weston averaged 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) a day during the trip. He generally slept just an hour here and there, with his longest uninterrupted stretch of slumber lasting only six hours. He often ate while walking.
Weston’s trek took 10 days and 10 hours altogether. He arrived in Washington, D.C., at 5:00 p.m. on March 4. While missing Lincoln’s swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol by just a few hours, Weston did attend an inaugural ball that evening. He also received a congratulatory handshake from the new president at the Executive Mansion (now known as the White House). Lincoln even offered to pay for his train fare for the return trip to Boston, but Weston flamboyantly made it known that he would walk back instead.
Weston’s long hike, which he eventually wrote about it in a pamphlet entitled The Pedestrian, earned him plenty of publicity. His 1861 journey also launched him on a walking career of more than a half-century. Weston became known far and wide as the “Father of Modern Pedestrianism.” Between and sometimes even during his extensive journeys, Weston found time to give lectures on the health benefits of walking. “Anyone can walk,” he once stated. “It’s free, like the sun by day and the stars by night. All we have to do is get on our legs, and the roads will take us everywhere.”
Edward Payson Weston’s account of his 1861 journey from Boston to Washington, D.C., is available at https://archive.org/details/thepedestrianbei00west/mode/2up
Additional information on Weston is available at http://www.riheritagehalloffame.org/inductees_detail.cfm?crit=det&iid=663