Only One Hill – Chapter 1

In 2006 mountain & trail running legend Dave Dunham published “Only One Hill! A History of the Mt. Washington Road Race”. Each Friday for the next several weeks Dave will be publishing a chapter of his book on this website and on his blog. To purchase a hard copy of this book visit the Infinity Publishing website. Here is a link to the introduction published last week:

In these early days of the race the road was 100% dirt but still followed the same course – 7.6 miles, 4200′ of climb…….and Only One Hill!  The 2016 Northeast Delta Dental Mt. Washington Road Race is scheduled for Saturday, June 18th, 2016.

Only One Hill! – Chapter 1

1st Mt Washington Road Race

August 8, 1936, Saturday 10:00 AM, 9 Finishers.

The Manchester Union Leader, which cost three cents and had no Sunday edition, carried the headline “Steamship fired on brings English warning” as an English ship was “accidentally” fired upon by Spanish forces near Gibraltar. Other news included the annual meeting of the New England Automobile Club of America, which was scheduled for August 10 on the summit of Mt Washington. Representatives from the Association of Hotel Keepers of New Hampshire were on hand “intent upon showing those who direct travelers to the White Mountains… its wide variety of attractiveness.” There was also an advertisement for the Grand Finals “to select the official Miss New Hampshire” which would take place on August 8 in Bedford Grove, and would include a “Big bathing beauty parade.” The paper also had a small blurb on a mountain race.

The article stated that runners were gathered at the Madison house and would be attempting to better Dr. George Foster’s 1900 record of 1:42. Favored runners included Cecil Hill, Johnny Semple, Honore St Jean, George Durgin, and Francis Darrah who had “finished in a recent 10 mile grind”. Hill was a marathoner who finished twelfth in both the 1935 and 1936 Boston Athletic Association Marathon (later known as the Boston Marathon). Semple was a top miler in college and an excellent steeplechaser. Darrah was known for his mountain running abilities having recently raced at high altitude in Colorado. The Union Leader told that the duo of Semple and Hill were “well known to Manchester followers of marathons. Hill and Semple have raced in the city several times particularly in the grueling Knights of Columbus marathon.”

The Union Leader for August 10 had a sports section headline of “Five break mark in Mountain run.” The article excitedly proclaimed, “A record of 36 years standing was shattered on the Mt Washington automobile road on Saturday when a field of nine determined marathon runners went after the mark set in 1900.” Dr. Foster sponsored the race and hoped to “make the Mt Washington Marathon an annual affair.” Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) legend Joe Dodge set up a special short wave radio to synchronize the watches at the base and summit.

Darrah ran alone from the start, hitting the four-mile mark in 33 minutes and winning by more than 12 minutes over Honore St. Jean. Nine runners finished including Robert Demar, brother of legendary marathoner Clarence, in just under two hours. Fourth place finisher Oliver Pelkey was also listed as Oliver Pedkey.

Later in 1936 the state of New Hampshire incorporated the summit weather station as the Mount Washington Observatory.

Race Results:
1 – Francis Darrah – 1:15:50 – Manchester, NH (CR)
2 – Honore St. Jean – 1:28:00 – Manchester, NH
3 – Paul Kanaly – 1:30:05 – Belmont, MA
4 – Oliver Pelkey – 1:36:00 – Concord, NH
5 – Cecil H. Hill – 1:37:21 – Beverly, MA
6 – Edward Duhamel – 1:50:08 – Manchester, NH
7 – David Harrow – 1:50:28 – Melrose, MA
8 – Robert Demar – 1:56:20 – Melrose, MA
9 – Henry Bridges – 2:17:00 – Summit House, NH

Mt Washington summit hotel circa 1900.

Mt Washington summit hotel circa 1900.

2nd Mt Washington Road Race

August 14, 1937, Saturday 2:00 PM, 27 Finishers.

The banner headline in the Union Leader read, “Japs renew attack on Shanghai”. Also dominating the front page was a large photo of Paul Donato with the title “Winner plodding up Mt. Washington.” The event was sponsored by the “Mount Washington Run Association.” and sanctioned by the New England Amateur Athletic Association. The sponsors were quoted as hoping “that within a few years this most unique of footraces will become a classic in American sports history.” Over a thousand spectators were expected. Race safety included the Red Cross Berlin, New Hampshire chapter at the halfway house and summit, along with water stops every mile. In addition the Berlin boy scouts would patrol the course and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) would provide assistance at halfway. “Respirators and inhalators were available at halfway and the summit.” The list of officials included four judges, three timers, three scorers, a referee, starter and honorary starter, three clerks of the course, and three doctors as medical advisors. The Union Leader described the racecourse as, “eight miles and twenty yards” and the Carriage road “constructed of gravel, presented an uneven running surface with loose gravel and small stones.”

Forty-nine runners entered what turned out to be an exciting race. The action was captured by WBZ radio, which broadcast live from the finish line from 3-3:30 PM. Newsreel companies came to film the race, which was then shown to more than 40 million people in 30,000 theatres in the United States and Canada. The starting command was given at 2 PM and the runners took off from the tollhouse (opposite the Glen house). Over 600 people watched the start with Gov. Francis P Murphy sending the runners on the way (and handing out trophies afterwards).

Pre-race favorites were Francis Darrah, Paul Donato, Fred Brown and Frank Scimone of the North Medford Club (NMC). Johnny Kelley was a late scratch, but the field included many of the best runners in New England. Darrah, the 1936 winner, moved to an early lead. He had a lead of 1,000 feet over the chase pack at the halfway house and came through four miles in 32:15. This put him nearly a minute faster than in 1936. With one mile to go his lead had shrunk to 300 feet. Stomach cramps caused him to walk. Over 400 spectators were delivered to the finish via a special cog railway train where they saw 21-year old Paul Donato of Roxbury, Massachusetts take the victory in 1:16:24. Donato, a 21-year-old Italian instrument maker who had only been living in the US for five years, was described by the Union Leader as “the chunky distance plodder.”

Ten runners passed Darrah as he walked, finishing in 1:30:33, a time that would have been good enough for fourth place the previous year. Donato would go on to place sixth at the 1939 Boston Marathon and fifth in the 1940 edition. Both races were US Olympic trials selection races and he barely missed the team ranking fifth. He said of Darrah at the finish “He is a swell runner and a fine sport, I’m sorry his stomach slowed him up”.

Joseph W Plouffe, who finished in fifth place, had placed eight in the BAA marathon earlier that year. Edmund Bennet finished in twelfth place running his first race ever. He trained for three weeks prior to the race by running seven miles a day on the Daniel Webster Highway. He had to train in the dark at 10 PM as he worked as a soda clerk and couldn’t run until the shop closed. Eight place finisher Johnny (Jock) Semple would go on to make his mark as not only an excellent runner, but also coach and director of the BAA and director of the Mt Washington Road Race and the Boston Marathon.

At the award ceremony, held on the summit, Dr Foster told the contestants that, “their performance was a splendid example of faith, character, and courage.” Only three runners failed to finish the race. Dr John Bartlett one of the three official race physicians stated to the Union Leader “their general condition at the finish was an excellent tribute to the endurance of the group.”

Other news that year included a new facility being built on the summit, which was described in Into the Mountain as constructed with “9×10 inch timber bolted…into bedrock…it was insulated with seaweed.”

Race Results:
Place – Name – Time – Age – City and State
1 – Paul Donato – 1:16:24 – 21 – Roxbury, MA
2 – Italo Angioli – 1:19:25 – Boston, MA
3 – William Honeywell – 1:19:41 – Madison, ME
4 – George Durgin – 1:21:06 – Beverly, MA
5 – J W Plouffe – 1:23:34 – Worcester, MA
6 – John Sinkonis – 1:24:21 – Worcester, MA
7 – Louis Young – 1:24:36 – Cambridge, MA
8 – Johnny “Jock” Semple – 1:25:15 – 34 – Beverly, MA
9 – SW Bowley – 1:25:39 – Windsor, VT
10 – Cecil R. Hill – 1:26:02 – Beverly, MA
11 – Francis Darrah – 1:30:33 – Manchester, NH
12 – Edmund Bennett – 1:31:15 – 21 – Lancaster, MA
13 – Honore St. Jean – 1:37:45 – Manchester, NH
14 – Theodore Gunaris – 1:39:23 – Wellesley, MA
15 – Manuel Mederius – 1:39:39 – Arlington, MA
16 – Dana Hutchinson – 1:41:16 – N Easton, MA
17 – Graham Brown – 1:41:20 – Medford, MA
18 – Alfred Fredericks – 1:42:22 – Methuen, MA
19 – Ed Durham – 1:43:04 – Manchester, NH
20 – Robert H. Delong – 1:45:28 – Amesbury, MA
21 – Bernie O’Hara – 1:49:50 – Brockton, MA
22 – William Walker Sr. – 1:50:23 – Medford, MA
23 – Edward Ladd – 1:50:53 – Lancaster, MA
24 – Paul Martin – 1:56:00 – Medford, MA
25 – John F. Garland – 1:56:42 – Portsmouth, NH
26 – George Dodge – 1:56:49 – Cambridge, MA
27 – Pasquale Poletta – 2:09:00 – Amesbury, MA

Darrah (center) and Donato (right) competing at the Vertical Mile in Colorado

Darrah (center) and Donato (right) competing at the Vertical Mile in Colorado

3rd Mt Washington Road race

August 13, 1938, Saturday 1:00 PM, 38 Finishers.

The sports headline in the Union Leader on August 13 was “Brilliant field of 57 distance runners to race up Mt Washington.” The favorites heading into the race were Francis Darrah and Paul Donato and “Such well known marathon stars as Mel Porter of Millrose AC, Andrew Zamperelli of Medford, and Johnny Semple of Beverly” according to the Union Leader newspaper. Darrah and Donato both raced on July fourth on the Pikes Peak Highway in a race that climbed 5,280 feet. According to the Pikes Peak Website “The race was won by Francis Darrah, 119 lbs, …in a time of 2h8m 14 and ‘6/10s. Jogging along as easily as at his native sea level.” Donato finished six minutes later in second place. Donato would finish sixth the following year in the BAA Marathon, running 2:34:36.

At Mt Washington the weather was a bit harsh compared to previous years, as sunny and warm conditions greeted the contestants at the base of the Auto Road. The temperature dropped 35 degrees during the climb and the summit had 40-60 MPH winds and was cloaked in fog and clouds. Newsreel cameramen led the race to the summit. The race was again broadcast live on radio. Over one thousand spectators were expected and New Hampshire Governor Frank Murphy invited all of the New England governors to be his guest at the finish line and post-race banquet.

Darrah pulled away from Donato and a pack that included Amicangioli, Mann, Durgin, and St Jean. He rebounded from his disappointing finish of 1937 and took the win in 1:15:27, 23 seconds under his course record. Seventeen runners broke 1:30 as a record 38 finished. The Union Leader called Donato “the stocky little Paul Donato of Roxbury.” Nicholas Shultz (age 55) and Warren Shultz (age 17) became the first father and son team to finish. They are also the first recorded finishers in the 50+ and 00-19 age groups. The field of 38 finishers was also a record. It was also noted in the Union Leader that, “several others finished but their names were not recorded.”

A victory banquet was held on the summit hosted by the Mt Washington Association along with Dr. Foster and Col. Henry Teague. Col. Teague was the owner of the Cog Railway. Executive councilor Virgil White presented the winner’s trophy to Darrah. A team prize was awarded for the first time with the Norfolk Young Men’s Association taking the victory with 9 points. Second place went to the United Shoe Machinery Club of Boston. It is not clear who were the members of the teams, or how the scoring was tallied.

The third place overall finisher Italo Amicangioli may have been the same person as the 1937 second place finisher Halo Amicanquioli. Results were handwritten and misspelling of names was a common occurrence. Amicangioli running for the BAA would place nineteenth at the 1940 BAA marathon, running a 2:51:02.  A few months later Toni Matt earned his place in history as the first person to ski down the face of the Tuckerman Ravine headwall.


Race Results:
Place – Name – Time – Age – City & State
1 – Francis M. Darrah – 1:15:27 – Roxbury, MA (Course Record)
2 – Paul Donato – 1:19:10 – 22 – Roxbury, MA
3 – Italo Amicangioli – 1:20:17 – Newton, MA
4 – Frank Mann – 1:20:35 – Roxbury, MA
5 – George L. Durgin – 1:20:58 – Beverly, MA
6 – Ralph Holland – 1:22:21 – Dorchester, MA
7 – Clarence Bowley – 1:23:39 – Windsor, VT
8 – Armand Moring – 1:23:40 – Jeerson, MA
9 – Walter H. Emery – 1:24:45 – Lynn, MA
10 – John Semple – 1:24:45 – 35 – Beverly, MA
11 – William Simons – 1:25:03 – Needham Heights, MA
12 – Howard McClarity – 1:25:22 – Roxbury, MA
13 – Roy E. Kimball – 1:26:30 – Beverly, MA
14 – Lindy Dempster – 1:26:49 – Roxbury, MA
15 – Warren H. Dupree – 1:27:25 – Foxboro, MA
16 – Joseph W. Plouffe – 1:27:48 – Worcester, MA
17 – Girard Lemieux – 1:29:33 – Central Falls, RI
18 – Roy Abare – 1:30:10 – Worcester, MA
19 – J C Welch – 1:30:24 – Roxbury, MA
20 – Walter O’Hara – 1:30:44 – Lynn, MA
21 – John Fitzgerald – 1:32:30 – Lynn, MA
22 – Richard Fortier – 1:33:14 – Chocura, NH
23 – Graham Brown – 1:33:15 – Medford, MA
24 – Raymond Wilcox – 1:34:12 – Kingston, RI
25 – Edmund D. Bennett – 1:34:22 – Lancaster, MA
26 – Warren H. Schultz – 1:35:14 – 17 – Williamsville, VT
27 – Joseph Kelinerman – Not recorded – New York, NY
28 – Frank Brown – Not recorded – Medford, MA
29 – Edward A. Page – Not recorded – Woonsocket, RI
30 – Harold Ernesi – Not recorded – Boston, MA
31 – Pasquale Poletta – Not recorded – Amesbury, MA
32 – Herbert Woods – Not recorded – Greenfield, NH
33 – Lionel Paquette – Not recorded – Haverhill, MA
34 – Nicholas Schultz – Not recorded – Williamsville, VT
35 – Daniel Hoffman – Not recorded – New York, NY
36 – Walter H. Childs – Not recorded – Springfield, MA
37 – Paul Martin – Not recorded – N Medford, MA
38 – Grant Brown – Not recorded – Medford, MA

Dave with his parents after his induction into the Mt Washington Hall of Fame.

Dave with his parents after his induction into the Mt Washington Hall of Fame.