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Boston Marathon

A guide to resources about the Marathon available at the BPL and beyond.


The Boston Marathon is the oldest continuously running marathon in the world and New England's most widely viewed sporting event. This guide will highlight various resources for researching the history of the Marathon as well as resources for visitors and Marathon spectators.

Map of first BAA Marathon route as published in 18 April 1897 issue of the Boston Herald

(click on image to see full-size)

The Boston Athletic Association

Established on March 15, 1887, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) was founded with the purpose of promoting physical activity and “manly” sports. Ten years after being founded, the BAA held the BAA Games, at the conclusion of which was held the 24.5 mile BAA Road Race. This race would retroactively be called the first Boston Marathon.

The BAA maintained a clubhouse next door to the BPL Central Library in Copley Square from 1888 to 1936.

Image Credit:
Excerpt from 1890 Bromley Atlas of Boston

Marathon "Prep" Races

While the Boston Marathon has endured as a Patriots Day tradition, in the first half of the Twentieth Century, there were several other races of note. At first, these races were run on Patriots Day, as the day was full of athletic competitions. After the First World War, the races morphed into races run in preparation for the Marathon, with the events taking place on the weekends before the big race. As they were originally run as team events, the races were handicapped, meaning that the person who crossed the finish line first was not necessarily the winner of the race.

The race commonly known as the Reddish Road Race in fact has had several names over its history, reflecting who put it on. The commonality is that it was run in Jamaica Plain, starting near Jackson Square and going through West Roxbury and Roslindale on its way back to the starting line. Between 1908 and 1913 it was sponsored by the Acme Athletic Association. In 1914 the William Reddish Club sponsored the race. For 1916 and 1917 the Jamaica Center AA sponsored the race. After a hiatus, the Michael J. O’Connell American Legion Post 76 sponsored the race until 1938. In 1939, William Reddish reappeared, with the Reddish AA sponsoring the race until 1948. During this time, the race distance was changed from 10 miles to 15, starting in 1947. William Reddish died 12 days after the 1948 race, which marked the end of the event.

Race Winners-

1908 ?
1909 Michael Norris, Brookline Gym
1910 Michael Norris, Brookline Gym
1911 William Brown, Sigel AC, Worcester
1912 Frederick Faller, Oakland AC, Roslindale
1913 Francis Sullivan, Brookline Gym
1914 Gerald Fleming, Weston AA, Roxbury
1915 Henry Mahoney, BAA
1916 James Henigan, Dorchester Club
1917 J. Starr, St. Alphonsus AA
1918 not run
1919 ?
1920 Frederick Faller, Dorchester Club
1921 ?
1922 Ralph Granara, Cathedral YMCA
1923 ?
1924 Frank Blechlinger, Dorchester Club
1925 Edward Brockli
1926 ?
1927 David Kneeland, Jr, Dorchester Club
1928 Eldredge Stevens, Dorchester Club
1929 Corrydon Jordan, Hebron Academy, ME
1930 William Morse, Dorchester Club
1931 Linden Dempster, Norfolk YMA
1932 John O'Brien, Norfolk YMA
1933 Robert Hickey, Lynn YMCA
1934 Andrew Brunelle, Medford
1935 Otto Essig, Springfield MA
1936 William Foster, Norfolk YMA
1937 Johnny Anderson, Roslindale
1938 Linden Dempster, Norfolk YMA
1939 A. Andrew Zamparelli, Medford
1940 A. Andrew Zamparelli, Medford
1941 Andre Brunelle, North Medford Club
1942 Joe Morgan, Norfolk YMA
1943 Ed Sheppard, Portland, ME
1944 Clayton Ferrar, US Coast Guard
1945 Charlie Robbins, US Navy
1946 John Kelley, BAA
1947 Charlie Robbins, Norfolk YMA
1948 Tom Crane, North Medford

undefinedBeginning in 1909, the Cathedral Road Race, originally put on by the Cathedral Young Men’s Catholic Association, run through the South End and South Boston for a distance of 10 miles. In 1968, its running was delayed due to the disturbances that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is a photograph of Charlie Robbins crossing the finish line first in the 1950 Cathedral Road Race. He set a course record on the day, but due to handicapping, he ended up in 17th place. This is from the Leslie Jones Collection (click on photograph for more information.)

Race Winners-

1909 A.E. Garber, North Dorchester
1910 William Weisman, South Boston AC
1911 F.J. Madden, South Boston AC
1912 Charles Blanchard, North Attleboro
1913 Albert Harrop, Fall River
1914 D.A. Miley, Roxbury
1915 James Henigan, Dorchester Club
1916 James Henigan, Dorchester Club
1917 William Kennedy, Morningside AC, NY
1918 not run?
1919 ?
1920 Tom Devereaux, Greenfield Tool & Die
1921 Tom Henigan, Dorchester Club
1922 Tom Henigan, Dorchester Club
1923 Manuel Conceison, Newton YMCA
1924 Fred Brown, Dorchester Club
1925 Edward Brockli
1926 Gus Barabto, Stoughton Civic AA
1927 Paul Kanaly, Belmont MA
1928 William Simons, Needham Heights
1929 Eino Heikkila, Norwood Yritys Club
1930 Anthony Paskell, Revere
1931 John McLeod, Dorchester Club
Cecil Ray Hill, United Shoe Machinery AA
1933 John Ingemi, Salem
1934 Robert Moylan, Tower Hill, Lawrence
1935 George Durgin, United Shoe
1936 ?
Dave Kantrovitz, St. Anselm's AC, New York
1938 Edwin "Cliff" Veysey, Waterville ME
1939 Ralph Holland, Norfolk YMA
1940 A. Andrew Zamparelli, Medford
1941 Leslie Pawson, Pawtucket, RI
1942 Dick Carpenter, Northeastern U
1943 Ted Vogel, BAA
1944 Clayton Ferrar, US Coast Guard
1945 Clayton Ferrar, US Coast Guard
1946 Theodore Wood, BAA
1947 Leo Pelkey, Norfolk YMA
1948 George Pike, BAA
1949 John J. Doherty, North Medford
1950 M.Sgt. Richard Ellis, Ft. Bragg, NC
1951 Sgt. Tad Dobroski, Ft. Bragg, NC
1952 Harrison Browning Ross, Woodbury, NJ
1953 John Holt, Millrose AA (Bronx)
1954 Marshall Rowlette, BAA
1955 Oswaldo Suarez, Argentina
1956 Rene Doiron, BAA
1957 Dick Donohue, College of the Holy Cross
1958 Dean Thackwray, BAA
1959 Ken Mueller, BAA
1960 John Booras, BAA (BPL patron!)
1961 Eric Kaunitso, Reipas AC (Finland)
1962 Ray Crothers, Central Connecticut State
1963 Fred Norris, Brockton, MA
1964 Michael Kimball, UNH
1965 Anthony Sapienza, BAA
1966 ?
1967 Johnny Kelley (Younger) BAA
1968 Ron LaFreniere, Marlboro HS

Beginning in 1932, the Presentation Athletic Association put on a 10-mile road race that ran through Brighton and Newton. Most notably, part of the course was the Commonwealth Avenue section of the Boston Marathon. When the Presentation AA’s clubhouse burned down in 1943, that spelled the end of the race. In 1947, the Brighton Road Race began following the same route. That version appears to have lasted 3 years.

Race Winners-

1932 James Lewis, Norfolk YMA
1933 Leslie Pawson, Pawtucket, RI
1934 W. Keen Frick, Colebrook, NH
1935 Walter Ray, United Shoe Machinery AA
1936 Ellison "Tarzan" Brown, Alton RI
1937 Bob Campbell
1938 Frank Brown, North Medford Club
1939 Ellison "Tarzan" Brown, Alton RI
1940 Anthony Paskell, North Medford
1941 Honore St. John, North Medford
1942 Charlie Robbins, United Aircraft
1947 Ted Vogel, BAA
1948 Ted Vogel, BAA
1949 Joe Pitts, Brighton

The North Medford Running Club dates back to 1933, when the North Medford Road Race began. At 20 miles, at the the time it was the longest of the marathon prep races. The name and sponsorship of the race changed to the Dilboy VFW Post in 1950, and the last race was run in 1951.

Race Winners-

Leslie Pawson, Pawtucket, RI
Johnny Kelley, North Medford Club
Johnny Kelley, Arlington
Johnny Kelley, Arlington
Johnny Kelley, Arlington
Johnny Kelley, Arlington
Gerard Cote, Montreal
Leslie Pawson, Pawtucket, RI
Johnny Kelley, Edison Employees Club
Johnny Coleman, BAA
Leslie Pawson, Pawtucket, RI
Clayton Ferrar, US Coast Guard
Johnny Kelley, Acton
Gerard Cote, Montreal
1947 ?
Thomas Crane, Springfield
Johnny Kelley, BAA
Jesse Van Zant, BAA

Beginning in 1949, Hyde Shoe put on a 12 mile race in Cambridge. In 1965, the sponsorship changed to the Marsh Post. This is a race we were not able to track to its conclusion, but it was still being run in 1978.

Race Winners-

1950 John Gray, BAA
1951 Bob Black, Red Diamond
1952 Dave Gatt, North Medford
1953 Alton Bradley, North Medford
1954 Johnny Kelley (Younger) BU
1955 Lee Chisolm, Malden, MA
1956 Johnny Kelley (Younger) BAA
Bob Cheeves, Syracuse (Roxbury)
1958 Johnny Kelley (Younger) BAA
1959 Al Confalone, BAA
Norman Higgins, Electric Boat, CT
1961 Edward Ouelett, Augusta ME
1962 Pete McArdle, North Medford
1963 Mamo Wolde, Ethiopia
1964 Johnny Kelley (Younger) BAA
1965 Ralph Buschmann, Spartan
1966 ?
1967 Johnny Kelley (Younger) BAA
1968 ?
1969 Dan Worthen, North Medford
1970 Norm Higgins, BAA
1971 ?
1972 Jeff Sanborn, Augusta ME
1973 Howie Scribner

Today, one must earn his or her way into the Boston Marathon with a qualifying time. The BAA’s website lists some of the top qualifying races, but there are others in the area that could be used to qualify for Boston. Some Massachusetts marathons include:

Significant Runners

Clarence DeMar holds the distinction of having won the most Boston Marathons, with seven victories to his credit spanning from 1911 to 1930. He also won the bronze medal in the marathon event at the 1924 Olympics in Paris.

A native of Ohio, DeMar moved to Keene, New Hampshire in 1929, where he taught printing and industrial history at Keene Normal School. Since 1978 the city of Keene has held the Clarence DeMar Marathon in his honor.

Image Credit:
Clarence DeMar winning BAA Marathon, 1927 or 1928
Copyright © Leslie Jones.
Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

A native of West Medford, Johnny Kelley competed in 108 marathons over the course of his career. He ran in a record 61 Boston Marathons and won in 1935 and 1945. In 1992 he completed his last full Boston Marathon at the age of 84, having become a much-beloved figure on marathon day every year. A statue depicting an elderly Kelley running with his younger self was erected in Newton in 1993.

Image Credit:
Johnny Kelley crosses the finish line, 1945
Copyright Leslie Jones.
Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

A member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island, Ellison “Tarzan” Brown won the Boston Marathon in 1936 and 1939. His victory in 1936 came after an intense duel with Johnny Kelley, and was said to break Kelley’s heart. The place where Brown passed Kelley for the final time in the Newton hills subsequently became known as Heartbreak Hill. Brown is only the second Native American to have won Boston and the only Native American to have won two.

Image Credit:
Tarzan Brown winning the 1939 Marathon
Copyright Leslie Jones.
Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Bobbi Gibb was the first woman to complete the entire Boston Marathon, a feat she first accomplished in 1966. Women were not officially allowed to compete in the marathon until 1972, because it was believed that they could not handle running long distances.  Gibb ran in the Boston Marathon unofficially in 1966, 67, and 68. In 1996 the BAA officially named her the women’s division winner for those years and awarded her a medal.

Image Credit:
Boston Marathon Memorial, Copley Square
April 2015

Sara Mae Berman was the top woman finisher of the marathon in 1969, 1970, and 1971, setting a new course record in 1970. She was honored along with Bobbi Gibb in a ceremony in 1996 and given a medal in recognition of her three victories. She and her husband Larry founded the Cambridge Sports Union in 1962, which has since become one of most prestigious athletic clubs in New England.

Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with an official bib. In 1967, she registered for the marathon under the name K.V. Switzer and was accepted as an official entrant. She is the subject of a famous series of photographs where a race official attempted to remove her from the course before being thrown off by Switzer’s then-boyfriend. She would compete in the Boston Marathon again in 1975, finishing second in the women’s division.

Bill Rodgers has competed in the Boston Marathon 17 times, winning it four times including three years consecutively in 1978, 79, and 80. He has won 22 marathons overall and is the only runner to hold titles in the Boston, New York, and Fukuoka marathons simultaneously. He was ranked #1 in the world in the marathon by Track & Field News in 1975, 1977, and 1979.

Image Credit:
Boston Marathon Memorial, Copley Square
April 2015

Joan Benoit broke a 28-year-old record at the 1979 marathon, shaving eight minutes off the previous fastest marathon finish for a woman.  At the 1983 Boston Marathon she broke the record again, shaving two minutes off the marathon record that had been set only the day before at the London Marathon. She competed in four Boston Marathons overall winning twice. Often competing while wearing a Red Sox cap, she won the first Olympic Women’s Marathon at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1984.

Image Credit:
Boston Marathon Memorial, Copley Square
April 2015

Among their many athletic endeavors Dick and Rick Hoyt participated in 72 marathons overall, including 32 Boston Marathons. Dick would push Rick, who has cerebral palsy, in a specialized wheelchair. They started competing in athletic events when Rick was 15 and Dick was 36, and competed in over 1,100 events together. A bronze statue commemorating Team Hoyt was dedicated in Hopkinton near the starting line in 2013.

Dick retired from marathon racing after completing the 2014 Boston Marathon. Hoyt family friend Bryan Lyons had been doing marathons with Rick since then. Lyons ran the 2019 Boston Marathon by himself, as Rick was unable to compete due to health issues. It was the first Boston Marathon he had missed in over 30 years. Lyons passed away suddenly in 2020; he was 50 years old.

Dick Hoyt passed away at age 80 on March 17, 2021.

Significant Events

Held on April 19, 1897, the first Boston Marathon had fifteen runners who started at Metcalf's Mill in Ashland and finished at the Irvington Street Oval in Boston. The winner was John J. McDermott of New York.

Image Credit:
Excerpt from 1895 Bromley Atlas of Boston showing approximate location of 1897 Boston Marathon finish line.

In 1918, as a way of showing support for the men fighting overseas in World War One, the BAA cancelled the marathon and instead held a military relay race. Fourteen teams of ten men competed with each man running 2.5 miles. The team from Camp Devens was victorious, completing the marathon route in 2:24:53.

The 2018 marathon featured a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of this event as part of the BAA’s Year of Service, with eight pairs of runners representing all branches of the U.S. military and the eight cities and towns on the marathon route running 3 or 4 miles each. They finished in 3:55:13.

At the 1980 marathon, Rosie Ruiz was the apparent winner in the women’s division with a time of 2:31:56. After displaying behavior atypical of a female marathon finisher, and amid growing suspicions that she had previously cheated at the New York Marathon, a BAA investigation determined that Ruiz had not in fact won and she was stripped of the title. First place was then awarded to Jacqueline Gareau who had a time of 2:34:28, a new course record.

Cuban-born and Wayland- raised Alberto Salazar won the 1982 Boston Marathon in an exciting fashion, in what has become known as the “duel in the sun.” Salazar was neck and neck with Dick Beardsley for much of the race on an unseasonably warm April day. Salazar, who was unused to the weather and severely dehydrated, sprinted ahead in the final yards to win the race with a time of 2:08:52. He finished only one tenth of a second ahead of Beardsley. He had not drunk any water for the last eight miles and required several liters of IV fluids to recover.

In celebration of the 100th running of the Boston Marathon the field was expanded to 38,708 official entrants.  35,868 finished the race, marking the largest field of finishers in the history of the race. Uta Pippig of Germany overcame severe dehydration and other physical ailments to become the first woman to officially win three consecutive Boston marathons.

At 2:49pm during the 2013 marathon on April 15, two bombs exploded near the finish line. Three spectators were killed: Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, and Martin Richard. Over one hundred others were injured including many that lost limbs or would later have limbs amputated. Three days later MIT police officer Sean Collier would be killed in a confrontation with the perpetrators of the attack, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Tamerlan would himself be killed during a shootout with police officers in Watertown in the early morning hours of April 19. An injured Dzhokhar would be apprehended later that day after an extensive manhunt put much of the Boston area in lockdown. He was found guilty of 30 charges related to the attack on April 8, 2015 and has been sentenced to death.

Boston Police Sgt. Dennis Simmonds, who suffered a head injury during the shootout in Watertown, died as a result of his injury on April 10, 2014.

In the spring of 2014, the BPL hosted an exhibit featuring items left at the temporary memorial to the victims of the bombings in Copley Square as well as messages of support sent from all over the world. The exhibit ran from April to May of 2014, and the items are now in storage at the Boston City Archives. See link below about the Our Marathon project for more information.

Image Credit:
Flowers and other objects left in tribute to victims of the bombings at the first bombing site in front of Marathon Sports.
April 24, 2013

The 2014 marathon had the second largest-field in race history with around 36,000 registered participants. Mebrahtom "Meb" Keflezighi finished the race in 2:08:37 and became the first American man to win the race since 1983, and at two weeks shy of his 39th birthday was the oldest winner since the 1930s. A refugee from Eritrea, Meb immigrated to the U.S. with his family at age 12 and became a naturalized citizen.

Image Credit:
Boston Marathon Memorial, Copley Square
April 2015

In 2018 during cold, rainy, and windy weather conditions that forced many runners to drop out, Desi Linden became the first American woman to win the marathon since 1985. She had come in second seven years earlier after falling behind by two seconds during a sprint down Boylston Street against eventual winner Caroline Kilel.

The 2018 marathon is notable for being one of the slowest on record, thanks to the weather conditions. Linden’s finishing time of 2:39:54 was the slowest winning time for the women’s race since 1978.