The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

August 1, 2013

VIDEO: Miami woman recalls 1928 ‘Bunion Derby’ to hail new Route 66

MIAMI, Okla. — Edna Polson eased back in her overstuffed chair and turned the pages of time back to 1928.

“I was about 10 years old. My brother was two years younger,” she said. “I was wearing a dress because girls didn’t wear pants back then. My brother was wearing striped overalls.

“We stood there in the middle of the street near the grocery store and drugstore in Cardin, and waved little American flags as they ran by us. We were just standing there waving flags on the street.

“These young men were wearing knee-length white shorts. It was like cross-country. They ran by us straight north into Indian land, then to Picher and Joplin (Mo.) on old Route 66.

“They were running to win $25,000 — back then that would be like a million dollars.”

Polson, who says she’s on “the downhill slide to 96” years old, was a witness to the Great American Foot Race, an international, transcontinental footrace that was created by the Route 66 Association as a publicity stunt to highlight the opening of Route 66 two years earlier.

The concept was this: If you can run across the country, why couldn’t you drive across it safely? Back then, there was no federal highway system. Route 66 was a hodgepodge of state, county and city roads that had been meshed together to create an interstate highway.

Nicknamed the “Bunion Derby,” the race stretched 3,422 miles from Los Angeles to New York. It started with 199 runners on March 4, 1928, and ended with 55 runners on May 26, 1928. The winner was Andy Payne, a 20-year-old Cherokee Indian from Foyil, who used the money to pay off the family farm. He finished the race at Madison Square Garden in 588 hours, 40 minutes and 13 seconds. He was hours ahead of the other runners.

A distinguishing feature of the race was that it was among the first integrated sporting events in U.S. history. Five African-Americans participated. The black runners endured hardships along the way that included racial slurs and death threats, according to historical accounts of the race.

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