World Class Athlete, Super Star, and Local “Mystery Man”: Edward Payson Weston

When his parents purchased their farm on July 23, 1921 at the intersection of the towns of New Paltz, Esopus and Lloyd, seven-year old Louis Yess, had no idea of the once world-celebrated man living a few miles away. The neighbor, Edward Payson Weston, was a world famous perambulator (walker). He lived on “the Rifton Road” (now Weston Road) with Miss Anna O’Hagan and a young boy, Raymond Donaldson.

Weston, though colorful and world-renown in his day, is forgotten in our moment of super sports heroes and enhanced athletic prowess. Weston, the celebrated athlete, like so many who held the world stage, ended his life destitute and trying to make a comeback in his eighties.

Eventually, Louis’ father began doing things for Weston. Most often the work took the form of going to Weston’s home, hitching up Weston’s horse to his surrey (yes, with the fringe on top), and driving it to the train station at Highland Landing to meet Weston and Miss Anna. (Just after WWII, the Hudson’s west shore rail line stopped passenger service, today, it’s all freight).

Miss Anna was variously described in news articles and gossip as Weston’s niece, housekeeper, secretary, nurse, adopted daughter, and by the wagging tongues, as something less dignified. In 1988, Louis Yess said any of those voiced descriptions of Miss O’Hagan were accompanied by “air-quotes.”

The boy, Raymond Donaldson, had been Weston’s neighbor. Allegedly, Raymond and a brother were orphaned during the 1918 Flu Epidemic when their parents both died in the house across the road from Weston’s home. Donaldson was usually described as the “adopted son.” The brother may have become the “chicken boy” on the large egg farm (later a nudist colony) in Esopus at the northern end of Plutarch Road, according to Mr. Yess.

Once, Weston came to the Yess farm beside himself with misery. His horse was down and Weston did not have the heart to end its life. He convinced Mr. Yess to return with him and shoot the horse. Unfortunately, Mr. Weston’s gun was a small caliber and Mr. Yess eventually ended the horse’s agony by shooting into its ear. According to Mr. Yess, Mr. Weston stood by crying throughout the episode.

Weston, Photos from the collection of John WeissAn unabashed self-promoter, Weston had taken the world’s headlines following the Civil War. According to Weston’s biography, The Pedestrian, with the subtitle, Being a Correct Journal of “Incidents’ on a Walk from the State House, Boston, Mass., to the U.S. Capitol, At Washington, D.C., Performed in “Ten Consecutive Days” Between February 22D (sic) and March 4th, 1861.

Weston’s long walk in life starts with the Presidential campaign of 1860. According to Weston, he bet a friend that Lincoln would lose. The wager was the loser would walk from Boston to Washington for the inauguration ceremony in ten consecutive days–remember, this is winter.

Lincoln won. Weston lost. Weston walked, and Lincoln and Weston met. So, in the end, Weston won. One version has it that Lincoln was impressed with the restless young man, and offered him train fare home, to which Weston replied that he would walk. Thank you very much, Mr. President. According to Weston, he wanted to walk back to prove he could do it, because he was actually about four hours later than the time specified in the “election wager.”

At any rate, it was a great start. But Weston had one more adventure in walking that cemented his life’s work, and is also covered in The Pedestrian. Weston writes that as he was preparing for the trek back, the “Southern Rebellion” broke out and he wanted to do something for the Union. He describes his determination to deliver a sack of 117 letters to Union forces at Annapolis, MD. Ever the marketer, he even names the companies which produced his disguise: Messrs Brooks Brothers of New York, clothing; Mr. G.W. White, hatter, and the Rubber Clothing Company which produced an “enameled cloth sack” to protect the letters.

After many a close call, the letters were delivered, but Weston spent a time in the brig until they figured out he was really a Union ally. He names people who helped him, and those with whom he simply spent time. At one point he takes a plank into a tree, spans two limbs and takes a nap. Sleeping soundly, he turned over and fell. Another night he slept under a haystack in a rainstorm.

After the war, Weston’s fame spread and he was invited to enter walking contests, a big sport in that era. He also did promotional promenades, county fairs, and lectures. Weston set staggering recorded distances and times on indoor tracks, outdoor tracks, roads, and overland. Sometimes he walked backwards–in one exhibition walk he covered 200 miles looking at where he had been. In addition to this amazing steady gate, he seems to have been able to refresh with a just few hours sleep.

It is telling that Weston was so well known in his day that newspaper headlines about him often use only his last name. A June 18, 1909, New York Times article, “Weston Has A Mishap,” tells of a fall he took on his New York to San Francisco jaunt. The article is “Written exclusively for The New York Times By Edward Payson Weston.” It includes the dates and mileage of his 100-day walk of covering over 3,000 miles of progress by June 18, with a goal of 4,300. Weston was 71 years old at the time.

The Omaha Night Journal, New York Times, and other national newspaper stories provide a glimpse into the interesting life of this World Class Walker, but also what was important to the readers. His progress was covered in much detail and he filled stadiums and ampitheaters for shorter walks.

Weston, From Collection of Vivian Yess WadlinIn most of the national articles on Weston’s walks, his quotes highlight the kindness of the people who feed him (he loved egg nog and milk) for free (good advertising for them), or in other ways help or encourage him. Articles also talk about the challenges he meets, and overcomes including slippery mud-clogged roads (Youngstown, Ohio), rain storms (Topeka Kansas), chills (Wyoming), floods, lost luggage (Greenville, PA), mountainous terrain, desert heat (Nevada), swarms of mosquitoes, and unreliable help (Dwight, Illinois).

In a large spread in the June 20, 1909, New York Times, the headline reads “Weston’s Walk Across The Continent” and the subheadline states, “Following the Trail of Famous Pioneers of America Veteran Pedestrian has Gone Through a Series of Rare Experiences That Illustrate Country’s Progress.”

In an advertisement among a page of ads and announcements from the Saturday, May 20, 1876 issue of the British The Dominie, the following ad took up about sixteen square inches:


Will walk on the Middlesbrough New Cricket Ground, Linthrope Road, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, May 29th, 30th, and 31st.
R. Stainsby, W. Todd, Hon. Secs.


And from an article in an unidentified magazine of 1913:

Edward Payson Weston, the World Famous Pedestrian, starts on the Crowning Effort of His Professional Career on MONDAY, June 2nd, 1913.

Why Mr. Weston has undertaken this Herculean Task in the SEVENTY-FIFTH YEAR of his Age

The task which Mr. Edward Payson Weston has set himself of walking 1500 miles in 60 days is unique in the history of athletic effort. It is not merely the covering of so many miles in a stipulated time, but it is novel in that it is a feat never attempted before by anyone over 70 years of age. His effort in 1867 was regarded as a phenomenal performance and drew admiring multitudes along every yard of the long and tedious route.

Weston, Photo courtesy of John WeissThat he will win out, barring unforeseen accidents, Mr. Weston has not the shadow of a doubt. Those who talk with him soon share the enthusiasm which marks his contemplation of the herculean labor. He feels so sure of performing his walk programme well within the allotted time that he refuses to contemplate the possibility of failure. He may look his age, but he does not feel it or act it. He has the same buoyant step, the alert movement, the bright eye and quick nervous muscularity which he has possessed for a generation. He already has a life record which should make any man proud as an athlete or a citizen. He is a doer, not a boaster, clean cut and exact in all his business relations, he has given a dignity to a very simple exercise which places him in marked contrast to many of his would-be rivals of the past.

He believes in his work and walks for the very love of it, and under a firm conviction, confirmed by a life-long experience, that if he can but spread the gospel of walking and lead others to follow in his footsteps he will have conferred a boon on humanity.

The lessons of his boyhood more than bore out the correctness of these views and a lifetime of effort has corroborated them a thousand fold. Now, though much above the age of three score and ten, comes the exceptional chance of driving home a grand object lesson the percepts of which he has been so notable a exemplar.

From we find these statistics on Weston’s prowess:

  • 1871: 400 miles in four days, 23 hours, and 32 minutes.
  • 1879: 50 miles a day for 100 days-and gave a lecture each day
  • 1909: Age 70: 512 miles in 12 days (world record)
  • 1913: Age 74: 1500 miles in 60 days

You have to wonder how one made a living walking. Wikipedia provides the following, “In 1867, Weston walked from Portland, Maine to Chicago, Illinois, covering over 1200 miles (1900 km) in 26 days, winning a prize of $10,000.” In addition, he handed out leaflets for advertisers, sold his book, sold his photo, and endorsed socks and other items.

After Weston and his family had lived in Ulster County for while, this story appeared in the May 17, 1924 New York Times.

E.P. Weston, 86, Shot in Attack on Home: Ulster County Ruffians Beat Pedestrian.

Special To The New York Times.

Kingston, N. Y., May 16–In the Wilds of the Plutarch Mountains a gang of men attacked on Monday night the home of Edward Payson Weston, 86-year old world-famous pedestrian, who resides on a farm in that section of Ulster County, back of New Paltz.

The article goes onto report the motive of the attackers was not known, and that Ms. O’Hagan and Raymond Donaldson were not hurt. No motive was discovered. But Plutarch is described as “…wild, wooded country,” and many of the inhabitants “…as persons of questionable character…” who often cut wood on other’s property and resent the recent purchase by city people of local farms and properties. The article muses that these “…lawless residents resent the fact that they can no longer steal the wood,” or perhaps it was the result of a “drunken spree.”


Edward Payson Weston Driven From Mountain Home by Apprehension of Another Beating PLUTARCH, N. Y., May 21.–Edward Payson Weston, eighty-six year old world-famous pedestrian, has been driven from his mountain home by fear of a repetition of the attack that was made on him a week ago when he was shot and beaten. Tearfully he hobbled about the old place Monday making preparations to leave it forever. While boasting that he is afraid of no man, he admitted that the deep woods around the place are “skeery.”

“I will never sleep in this place,” he said. “But I won’t sell it, either. I am going for keep it for the boy.” The boy he referred to is Raymond Donaldson an eight-year-old adopted son.

Weston does not intend to settle down again. Instead, he is going to hit the trail “where he won his line as a walker years’ ago. As soon as the wound in his leg heals he is going to attempt to equal the walking record he set forty years ago when he tramped 120 miles in twenty-four hours. After that he wants to set the pace for men near his own age on a-1,000 mile hike.

Weston, Photo Courtesy of John WeissThe mystery surrounding the attack on him by unidentified men is growing deeper. State troopers still are combing the mountain wilds for a clew that might lead to arrests. So far, however, they have not even found a motive for the attack. Stories told by Miss Anna O’Hagen- the adopted daughter and housekeeper of the aged walker; Raymond, the boy, and Weston himself give no foundation on which to work out a well balanced theory. Rumor that carry slurs against Weston and his housekeeper were vigorously denied by them. “Daddy is a poor man for whom I care a great deal,” Miss O’Hagen said Monday. “I will always take care of him. I want him to live as long as possible and that is all there is to it. The report that I inspired the attack is ridiculous.”

Local authorities still are promising a startling revelation and an arrest.


Washington Post, May 17, 1924


Kingston, N. Y., May 16–Edward Payson Weston, 86-year-old world famous pedestrian, was shot and slightly wounded when a band of men, armed with guns, stones and sticks, attacked his farm home in Ulster county last Monday night, it became known today. A bullet struck Mr. Weston in the leg, but it is understood his condition is not serious. His housekeeper and adopted son were in the house at the time of the attack, but neither was injured. Doors were battered down and windows smashed.

State troopers said the aged pedestrian could not explain why he was attacked. It is known, however that Monday night five or six men sought admittance to Weston’s farm home at Plutarch near New Platz (sic) and that when the door was closed against them they attacked the house.

Weston, unarmed, fled to an upstairs room and locked the door. The men broke in. Weston was severely beaten.


From the Chicago Tribune, May 18, 1924


Kingston, N.Y., May 17 [Special]

–A wholesale execution of warrants was indicted today as an aftermath of the shooting last Monday of Edward Payson Weston, veteran waker, at his home in Plutarch.

District Attorney Traver of Ulster county refused to say what motive had been advanced for the attack and said that reports to the effect that the successive deaths in the family of Raymond Donaldson, adopted son of the aged hiker would again be investigated.

The version of the shooting, as told to the district attorney, is that Donaldson had gone to the barn late Monday evening. Weston was standing in the door of the shack. As Donaldson started back from the barn he saw several men advancing on the house. He shouted a warning to his father who started to close the door. Two shots were fired and lodged in the walker’s leg. he fled to an upper room and hid, but the invaders forced an entrance and administered a severe beating to Weston.

Weston has refused to discuss the affair with troopers and will not divulge his opinion as to the shooting. He has made his home in Plutarch with a housekeeper and Donaldson, whom he adopted after the youth’s family died off, supposedly “flu” victims.


New York Times, Feb 2, 1927


Edward P. Weston, 88, Walked across Continent in 76 days

Wants to be messenger


New York Times, March 13, 1927, Sunday

Anne Nichols Gives $30,000 Fund to Aid E.P. Weston, Aged Walker, Found in Poverty

Edward Payson Weston, transcontinental pedestrian, who will celebrate his eighty-ninth birthday soon and who has been living since last Summer in a poverty-stricken flat on West Thirteenth Street, received a birthday present yesterday that will enable him to live in comfort for the rest of his days.

Anne Nichols’ comedy, Abie’s Irish Rose appeard on broadway for more than 2300 performances in the 1920s. It was the story of a Catholic girl and Jewish boy getting married and their fathers’ angst. It was made into two movies and was the basis for many radio shows and one law suit.


The Kingsport Times, Kingstport, Tennessee, May 14, 1929

Edward Payson Weston Dies At Ripe Old Age of 90 Years

New York, May 14 (AP)–Edward Payson Weston, famous long distance pedestrian died yesterday. He was 90 years’ old.

The man who at the age of 70 walked 3895 miles from New York to San Francisco in 104 days and seven hours spent his last days in a wheelchair. He has been an invalid since bing struck by a taxicab two years ago.

Shortly after the taxicab accident he was found wandering about the streets of New York in a daze.

Anne Nichols, author of “Able Irish Rose” established a trust fund for him which yielded an income of $150 a month. With this money Miss Anna O’Hagen, for 21 years his secretary, cared for the aged man in his quarters in Brooklyn.

Weston began his career as a walker while serving as a spy in the Union army in the Civil war. Later his remarkable ability to cover ground enabled him to beat rival reporters when he was on the Staff of the New York Herald. He was a friend of Horace Greeley and was at the deathbed of the famous editor.

His first long walk was at the age of 22 when he trudged from Boston to Washington to attend the inauguration of President Lincoln, covering the 443 miles in 208 hours.

He began his careen as a professional walker in 1867 when he walked from Portland, Me., to Chicago, 1326 miles in 26 days. He took part a grat many contests and exhibitions in America and Europe. In 1879 he won the Astley belt in England by covering 550 miles in 141 hours and 44 minutes.

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Many photos in this story and some of the information are from the collection of John Weiss who has graciously shared them, and from my own collection of Weston photos . The Heidgerd-Elting Memorial archives in New Paltz provided newspaper articles and information. Another source of Weston information, (of course!), is

There are hundreds of articles and stories on Weston. He inspired a generation to use their best, most accessible mode of transportation. He regularly spoke against the automobile, and the irony of his being crippled by a taxi is not lost on his still considerable number of hiking fans.