Asheville Month Long Walkathon-Marathon 1934

The Asheville Citizen, 11/16/1934, reported that “Nearly 40 teams of men and women began a walkathon-marathon at an arena at 63 Biltmore Avenue shortly after 9 o’clock last night that is scheduled to continue 24 hours a day for two to three weeks – until there is only one team remaining on the floor.” The endurance contest actually lasted for an entire month.


We were inspired to learn about Asheville’s depression era Walkathon by this intriguing photo, one of a group of black and white prints donated recently by patron Michael Reid. The caption printed on the photo is “Wedding of Evelyn Cooper & Frankie Sharabba / Couple no 25 / Harry H. Cowl Walkathon / Asheville, N. C. / Dec. 10, 1934.”

Walkathons were popular during the Depression but were outlawed in some places. Articles in The Asheville Citizen on December 7, 11 and 14 show that Asheville City Council deliberated several times about taking action to stop the Walkathon-marathon due to concerns about “immorality” and possible danger to the health of the participants. Asheville Mayor Wickes Wamboldt was a deciding vote in defeating attempts to halt the contest. In newspaper coverage on December 11, Wamboldt was quoted as being “unable to find anything seriously wrong” with the Walkathon. Although he called it “a low order of entertainment,” the mayor added, “If our people can get a little entertainment they should have it. There’s propaganda behind this, not the people.”

An Asheville Citizen article of 12/03/1934, with the caption “Walkathon has Great Thrill,” describes contestant Bob Scott’s unsuccessful attempt to break the world’s record of staying enclosed in ice for 21 minutes. An “ice cave” was built on the stage out of 16 three hundred pound blocks of ice. The article noted, “Every night there is some new feature put on to entertain the audience.” Popular square dance teams from the area were slated to perform later in the week. Some contestants were local volunteers, but seasoned “professional” teams were the backbone of successful shows. The bride and groom who staged the wedding shown in the photograph above were both from Atlanta.

Robert Fortune’s slide collection for his “Asheville of Yesteryear” presentations included a few slides about Asheville’s Marathon. This Robert Fortune image shows Miss Illene Reed, a local participant who later married Hilliard Daniel, an employee of American Enka. In 1974, in a photo by newspaper staff photographer Malcolm Gamble, Mrs. Daniel imitated her pose of forty years earlier.


Robert Fortunes’s slides also include the clipping below which states that “Miss Reed suffered no ill effects from participation” in the Walkathon-marathon.


 Posted by Betsy Murray

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