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Walk the Walk

Dec 7, 2011 10:32 AM | 3 comments


We have a number of prints here in the Collection, most of which come from old issues of Harper's or Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, covering all manner of Brooklyn life. Some of my favorite images come from the Sports folder, showing as they do the great diversity of early sporting activity in the borough. Here we can find young men playing handball in stripped-down handball togs, polo dandies in candy-striped jerseys wrangling their horses around the desired ball, and women in feather-caked hats drawing their bows in Prospect Park archery tournaments. But none of these pages from the illustrated papers interest me as much as the one from Leslie's dated February 1, 1879. Though correctly filed away with the other sports prints, it's not immediately evident what sport is being depicted here.  We see no mallets, balls, arrows, bows, horses, targets, teammates, or opponents. Instead, we see one woman as she appeared in five different scenes:

singing from a stage...

enjoying the adulation of a crowd...

clowning around with a sleeping man...

striking a noble pose...

and being carried away, wrapped in blankets. So what kind of sport was this?

Almost 133 years ago to the day Madame Ada Louise Anderson began the task of walking 2,700 quarter miles in 2,700 quarter hours. Or, if my math is right, 675 miles in about a month, or 28.125 days. This phenomenal feat of pedestrianism, as the sporting ways of these distance walkers was termed, took place in Brooklyn at the Mozart Garden on the corner of Fulton and Smith streets. The Eagle ran careful descriptions of both the Garden and the celebrated English pedestrienne. The auditorium of the Garden was encircled by a neatly-laid and well-rolled tan bark track about three feet wide. This oval was then enclosed by a narrow railing about eighteen inches high which separated the track from the flooring. Within the ring, several hundred chairs were set out for spectators -- prominent Brooklynites, a large contingent of women, and gamblers with a stake in the trek. The whole place was brilliantly illuminated, and on the Garden's stage, which was decorated so as to resemble an open air landscape, a brass band regularly played until midnight.

Intersection of Fulton and Smith from an 1886 Robinson's atlas.

As for the 36-year-old Madame Anderson herself, the Eagle describes her as being "robust, rosy, and hearty" with a bright and prepossesing face (though of a "slightly masculine type"). The reporter goes on to describe her form as being "exceedingly strong and muscular, but symmetrical as well." Her costume consisted of black velvet knee breeches, and a loose flowing robe of blue and scarlet cloth, embroidered in white. On her feet were stout, loose, leather shoes topped by scarlet stockings. Her strong, muscular, and altogether symmetrical legs were encased in silver tights, and on her head she wore a blue and scarlet cloth cap ornamented with a white braid and snowy feather. Not only were the Eagle reporters taken with the hale Madame Anderson, but so too were the crowds. On December 30th the Eagle reported that between the hours of 7pm and 11pm four thousand people had gone in and out of the Garden. The seats in the center of the circle were filled, and so too was nearly every available piece of ground on which a spactator could stand. People hung around at all hours of the day, with some crowds at the early hour of 3am reportedly as large as 300 people.


Though not without its own sort of drama, a long endurance walk could be a difficult event to report on with continually new and interesting material. As Madame Anderson plodded on toward her goal, most Eagle headlines offered up some variation of "Still Walking" to keep Brooklynites abreast of the pedestrian's labors. As the achievement of the 2,700th quarter mile became more and more of a reality, Madame Anderson wasn't the only one who seemed to be getting fatigued. This one word might sum up the mood in the Eagle offices.

But, as you can probably tell from the Leslie's images, walking was just one part of the spectacle created by Madame Anderson. As much as to wake herself up as to entertain the crowd, Madame Anderson would occasionally take to the stage following a quarter mile and belt out an aria from Verdi, graciously accept challenges from Hoboken pedestrienne wannabes and then vanquish them, or disappear into her dressing room after a few laps only to reappear in some new brown and silver trimmed velvet costume.

Though many doubted her when she first began, Madame Anderson proved all her disbelievers wrong. Keeping up her strength on a diet of rare beefsteak, roast beef, mutton, beef tea, port wine, and champagne, Madame Anderson completed her arduous walk on January 13th 1879. A coach awaited her at the stage door of the Mozart Garden. Several large bouquets of flowers were handed in to her as she left, and a big basket of champagne was hoisted onto the roof. As the coach began to leave, the surrounding crowd shouted out to Madame Anderson to unhitch the horses so that they might pull her to her well-deserved destination -- Dr. Charles H. Shepard's Turkish baths at 81 and 83 Columbia Heights.


10/1/2012 7:07:08 AM #


I share your fascination with Madame Anderson and the pedestriennes.  I've been reseaerching the topic for 10 years and actually came to Brooklyn for a research trip about two years ago.  While there, I met librarians Joy and Olivia.  Joy introduced me to Cezar del Valle, who was a big help during my visit.  Go to my blog and you can find out a lot more about how I've been spending my time for the last decade.  I have mountains of evidence on this topic and a documentary is being made on the women and my research.  Go to my blog and let me know what you think.

And if you have any other info on the pedestriennes, let me know.  Just be aware I have a ton of material on them.

Harry Hall
Grand Prairie, TX

PS  I'm a professional speaker and I'd like to add your name to my free e-newsletter about my profession.  It's called "View From the Lectern."  It comes out monthly and has tips and advice, anecdotes and quotes about overcoming the fear of public speaking.  If it's not for you, just 'unsubscribe.'

Harry Hall

10/1/2012 7:33:02 AM #

Like you, I'm fascinated w/the pedestriennes.  About two years ago, I visited the Brooklyn library and met Joy and Olivia.  Joy introduced me to Cezar del Ville, who gave me the scoop on the history of Brooklyn's theatre district.  His help was invaluable.  To get an idea on what I've done with regards to the pedestriennes, go to my blog at

Harry Hall
Grand Prairie, TX

Harry Hall

10/6/2012 3:50:18 PM #

Madame Anderson's walk was part of a larger craze, and women walkers or "pedestriennes" were hailed, denigrated, then forgotten.  You can find out more about the historical implications at:

Dahn Shaulis