Newly discovered documents show that America's Founding Fathers celebrated the nation's independence in a surprisingly forward-looking way—by organizing the first ever "Firecracker 5K."
A housecleaner found the trove of letters and other papers late Friday in a desk drawer at the National Historical Society Association Institution in Aspen, Colorado.
Among the more mundane documents and correspondence were two that stood out—a handwritten race waiver and a letter from John Adams to his wife Abigail in which the patriot and future president described plans for a "spirited ‘fun run’ of five kilometers in length, followed by much ale and merrymaking."
"Also burgers," he added.
The finding is all the more remarkable when you consider that it predates the arrival of the metric system by several years.
"Our Founding Fathers truly were visionaries," said Ian Anderson, a professor of American history at Tull University in Omaha, Nebraska and author of the book U.S. Presidents: Huh, I Did Not Know That.
"Imagine being at the meeting of the Second Continental Congress," he said, "just having crafted this document that would change the world, and having the presence of mind to say, 'Hey, guys, you know what? Let's do a 5K to celebrate.'"
"And not just any 5K," he added, "but a Firecracker 5K."
There are no photographs of the event, of course, but other documents and a handful of pencil sketches suggest that the Founders staged a remarkably modern-seeming event, complete with T-shirts, medals, and humorous spectator signs. (e.g., "Run Like a Tyrannical Monarch Is Chasing You.")
The race even managed to attract a title sponsor—John Hancock.
Trash talking, too, was evident. In one passage of his letter to wife Abigail, John Adams remarks,
"All men may be created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, but I mean to demonstrate [in the upcoming 5K] that Ben [Franklin] and Hancock are decidedly UNEQUAL to yours truly in terms of speed in general and finishing kick in particular."
Boasts aside, Adams would wind up with a DNF due to a mishap involving his powdered wig and a large pothole around the 1-mile mark.
According to the documents, the race came down the wire as Thomas Jefferson fought off a late challenge by Josiah Bartlett, a scrappy representative from New Hampshire, to win by a nose.
"Much merrymaking" did indeed ensue after the race, the documents indicate, with beer supplied by Sam Adams.
The event was not without controversy. The documents also reveal that a self-described "watchdog" named James Murphy—a forebear of marathoninvestigation.com founder Derek Murphy—flagged at least one finisher as a cheat.
"There is no record," Murphy wrote, "of Elbridge Gerry crossing the second timing rug."
Official race results show Mr. Gerry, of Massachusetts, finishing in 19 minutes 44 seconds, good for first in his age group.
"It is not my wish to cast aspersions upon Mr. Gerry's character," Murphy said. "But circumstances of his finish arouse much suspicion."
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