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Lake Mendota Shoreline

Lake Mendota and Wisconsin State Capitol (1875 ca.)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-27124

Triathlon: Historic Swims, Bike Rides and Walks

The recent Ironman Triathalon in Madison brings to mind that participating in long distance swims, bicycle rides, and walks have a long history in our city.

On September 1, 1920, Annette Salderman of Nakoma and Florette DeConnell of Portage swam from the foot of North Henry Street to Pheasant Branch in three hours, a distance of 3 ¼ miles. They broke by 15 minutes a record set by a young man in 1908.

Benjamin Park (1865 – 1944) was Madison’s most famous wheelman of the 19th century. He often rode 100 miles per day in the era before there were paved roads in Dane County, and once rode 200. He was the recognized endurance rider of Madison. His father William was a book and music store pioneer on King Street. They jointly ran a bicycle store on State Street during the boom of the 1890s.

James Davies Butler (1815 – 1905) popularized a twenty-five mile walk around Lake Mendota that became a craze among citizens in the mid-1870s. Butler argued that Americans walked too little and rode horses too much.

A world traveler and writer, he was professor of Greek and humanities at the UW. He graduated from Middlebury College in 1836; after a year at Yale he returned to tutor at Middlebury. In 1842 he accompanied his professor on a European tour, acting as foreign correspondent for the New York Observer. He later gave 300 lectures about his trip in towns throughout New England. For a time he occupied the pulpits of Congregational churches in West Newbury, Massachusetts and Burlington, Vermont. In 1845 he became professor at Norwich University, and acted as president until 1847. From then until 1854 he was pastor of churches in Massachusetts and Cincinnati. In 1854 he became professor of Greek at Wabash College. In 1858 he came to the UW, serving until 1867. A prolific author, he wrote over a thousand articles, frequently preached in churches throughout the city, and was in demand to deliver eulogies at funerals. In 1890, at the age of 75, he took a trip around the world alone. He helped and encouraged numerous students and maintained a lifelong correspondence with many. One of these was John Muir, who recalled that it was Butler who was responsible for his first appearance in print.

Mark Gajewski