The Time Capsule | Roy Marshall
Good reminder of a great one on Alix
By Roy Marshall
Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at 11:14 am
I drove by Good Samaritan on Red Oak’s Alix Avenue to see the mailbox recently painted with the likeness of a horse. It’s nicely done. I applaud those responsible, and if John Hervey was still living he could have written something appropriate. Hervey, one of the most respected sportswriters and editors of his day, was once a young man who covered racing and watched Alix in her prime. The impression she made was lasting; so lasting that 50 years after one of her performances he wrote an article that’s worthy of another look.
After a few preliminary paragraphs about the 1893 event he gets to this:
It is generally known, by hearsay and tradition, that in many ways this was the greatest contest in the entire reach of harness racing history. That, take it for all in all, there was never another to compare with its heroic, epic character, its intensity of drama, its continuity of breathless excitement heat after heat and day after day of the three days required to complete it, and its tremendous conclusion in which, after a single-handed fight against what appeared to be overwhelming odds, it was won by one of the greatest animals that the Standard breed ever produced, whose name will stand forever as symbolical of everything that the red-blooded horseman admires and loves in the supreme members of that breed. It is for these reasons that this story is being retold this Christmas.
The year now closing has marked the 50th anniversary of that contest; the only race of mile heats of which the record remained unbeaten for this length of time.
I don’t know that her name stands as “forever symbolical,” but we can add that the records Hervey referred to still haven’t been matched.
At the time the above lines were published, Hervey was retired but remained active, doing occasional magazine articles. That year he was asked to write one for the 1943 Christmas edition of a nationally circulated monthly. With a world war dominating the news, Berlin being bombed, and the battle for the Solomon Islands underway, Hervey looked back to a happier time and an event he had reported so many years before.
The setting was the World’s Fair; the Columbian Exposition considered to be the grandest of them all. Chicago went all out – preparations were so costly and elaborate the opening was delayed for a year. At a time when harness racing was among the nation’s most popular sports Washington Park, a track not far from the Midway offered an appropriate slate of races for the summer schedule. The culmination, the grand finale, brought together the best in the country for what was billed the “Columbian Exposition Free-for-All.” The term meant there were no restrictions or classifications; it was open to any horse of any age or either sex. Those selected would be the ones determined by a panel of officials to be the fastest in the land. The fame and prestige for the winner was as valuable as the purse.
Hervey’s article spans 21 single-spaced pages in which he describes the race, horse-by-horse, driver-by-driver (some of which had been bribed), heat-by-heat, day-by-day. The story is a great one. Hervey tells it skillfully and with the perspective of a knowledgeable journalist who was there, interviewed the principal players, and gave Alix a pat on the nose after she found the reserve on day three to leave an exhausted field in the dust. He also testified in the trial of those accused of using illegal means to keep her from winning.
The statue we lobbied for in previous columns would still be nice, but the mailbox painting is a good reminder of a great one who once made her home base at Pactolus Park, a track across the street.
Roy Marshall is a local historian and columnist for the Red Oak Express. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.