Thursday, November 23, 2023

Harry's Thanksgiving run

Here's an interesting find that ties nicely into Thanksgiving today. The New York Herald of November 27, 1891, ran an article covering footraces held by various New York Athletic Clubs on Thanksgiving day. Headlined OVER MUDDY HILLS, AND DALES, it reports that "roads were in wretched condition, the heavy rainfall making them so slippery that few of the contestants escaped headers in climbing up the hills on the course."

But it's the last two paragraphs that are of interest to us here:

    The annual championship run of the Olympian Athletic Club took place yesterday over the famous Mamlok-Reid course. The start was made from the Xavier Oval at 135th St. and Railroad avenue. Twenty-five men competed. After a stiff run over bad roads, ditches and hills H. Griffin won by fifteen yards over Harry Weiss, the second man. "Tom" Creed was third, "Billy" Meyer fourth and the others bunched. The distance was six and a half miles and the time 33m. 51 2-5s.
    After the run the boys repaired to Captain Smith's Jerome avenue roadhouse, where a fine turkey dinner was eaten. In the evening, the athletes attended the club's annual ball, held at Arlington Hall, where the all around championship prizes were awarded to the athletes having done the best general athletic work during the year. The awards were as follows:–M. Brever and H. Weiss each tied for the first prize with fifteen points, and on the toss, Breyer won and received the championship emblem.

I think there is an excellent chance that "Harry Weiss" is our Houdini. This was when he was a runner with New York Athletics clubs, and I'm reminded of the comment in his later show program that he was "one of the strongest cross-country runners and was looked upon as a dead sure winner on a rainy day or a muddy track." 

Unfortunately, here Harry missed first place by 15 yards and then missed out on his best athletic work emblem on a coin toss. Unlucky day! But at least he got a free Thanksgiving dinner.

Arlington Hall, where the runners held their annual ball, was located 19-23 St. Marks Place in what is now the East Village. It was a community hall and ballroom for the immigrant community of Little Germany in the Lower East Side. The photo to the right shows the hall around 1892. In 1966 it became the location of Andy Warhol's Electric Circus discotheque. So there's your Houdini-Andy Warhol connection! You can read more about the colorful history of the building HERE.

Here's wishing everyone a happy and lucky Thanksgiving.

Want more? You can see the full New York Herald article as a "Scholar" member of my Patreon below.


  1. Great stuff! It's 1891and HH is already settling into "Harry" as his first name. I wonder if Arlington Hall still there.

    1. The article I link to at the end of the last paragraph seems to imply that it is the original building. But it sure looks different. I'd love to know if the ballroom is still there.

    2. Work was done on the building. The first floor was given a new front facade for retail establishments with stairs and columns/walls. The bottom photo appears to show one and a half buildings further down the street.