Walking Matches: A nineteenth century competitive sport

We have written about the competitive spirit of early residents of Scott County, Iowa in the past. From an early running bet to bike races, the residents of Scott County were always game to try new things. So it’s no surprise a new competitive sport of the past caught our attention this week.

Walking Matches, also known as Pedestrian Matches, became a fad during the 1860s (starting about 1861, but interest only picked up in the United States after the Civil War) through the mid-1880s. Competitive walking was an international obsession with large competitions being held in major cities across Europe. Thousands of onlookers in larger cities paid to watch walkers compete in one of two ways:  a set number of miles in the shortest time or the longest distance in a set amount of time.

Davenport, and Scott County, quickly took up the Walking Match fad. A notice in the Davenport Daily Gazette, from May 5, 1868 proclaimed a Walking Match would be held on May 9th at the Scott County Fairgrounds with the distance set at 10 miles. (Pg. 4) Who won, you ask? As the match was postponed due to rain, we aren’t sure who the winner turned out to be- or if the match was held at all.

Davenport Daily Gazette, May 5, 1868. Pg. 4

By 1876, the Davenport Daily Gazette advertised on the front page on November 4, 1876 that the German Theatre in Davenport would be the site of a great walking match between John J. Geraghty of St. Louis and John Oddy of Philadelphia. The men were competing in a 14-mile walking race. 

Davenport Daily Gazette, November 4, 1876. Pg. 1

Mr. Geraghty and Mr. Oddy were most likely professionals on the Walking Match circuit and traveled from city to city competing. Most professional winners took home money put up by the sponsors and also received part of the gate receipts.

Amateur competitions also abounded in Davenport and other local cities. The Davenport Daily Gazette posted on March 25, 1879 that an amateur walking match was to be held at the German Theatre, starting at midnight the following night, with John Bowlsby, of Tipton, Iowa, and William B. Logan and C. E. Muhl, both of Davenport. (Pg. 4)

According to the follow up story on March 27, 1879, a professional walker, Prof. E. E. Miller, walked with the three amateurs:  Mr. Bowlsby, Mr. Logan, and Mr. Muhl. The three amateur competitors vied for a silver hunting watch, while Prof. Miller earned a portion of the ticket sales if he completed his agreed upon 100 miles in 22 hours. At midnight on March 27th  300 hundred spectators watched the start of the race. (Pg. 4)

Great detail in the news article described Prof. Miller: he was 23 years old, about 5’10” tall, and 150 pounds. He wore a stripped woolen shirt, blue knee breeches, stockings, and light shoes. It was noted he wore no hat.

The length of the sawdust covered indoor track was 176 feet, and one mile equaled 30 times around. The competition continued until 10:00 p.m. the following night. The Davenport Daily Gazette on March 28, 1879 reported that, during the event, lively music was played as attendance grew smaller in the afternoon but picked up again at night.

Prof. Miller walked from midnight until 4:14 a.m. when he rested for one hour, and by 3:43 p.m. he was on his 72nd mile. He finished his 100 miles in 21 hours, 57 minutes, and 30 seconds after resting for only 2 hours and 59 minutes during the entire event. He accomplished the task with 2 minutes and 30 seconds to spare!

As for the amateurs, Mr. Bowlsby walked from midnight until 6:30 p.m, when he left the race. He walked the entire time with only one 15-minute rest and completed 76 miles and two laps. Mr. Muhl retired about 6:15 p.m. having achieved 74 miles. Mr. Logan completed his 50th mile – and the competition- at about 1:30 p.m.. He retired from the event and did not return. Consequently, Mr. Bowlsby received the silver hunting watch in the amateur division. 

After the conclusion of the race, Prof. Miller challenged Madame DuPree, a professional Pedestrienne as the women were called, to a race. She later accepted and the two took part in a four day event held in Rock Island, Illinois in late April 1879. (Pg. 4)

Walking Matches continued into the early 1880s in Davenport and surrounding areas. Slowly, as the international crowd drifted away from the sport, local interest followed suit. But once upon a time, individuals could gain local fame simply by walking – and walking some more.

(posted by Amy D.)

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Irish Resources for your St. Patrick’s Day Perusing Pleasure

Today being St. Patrick’s Day, we thought we would share some Irish resources.

Special limited time offers for FREE access to genealogy websites pertaining to Irish Research:



AmericanAncestors.org     (all Irish resources FREE March 15-22!)

Irish Genealogy Tool Kit


Irish Genealogy.ie



Have you ever wanted to take a closer look at the Book of Kells? Check out the digitized book from Trinity College Dublin. 



In our Collections: 

Local Ancient Order of Hibernians



Can you believe the Grand Parade has been going on for 32 years?! The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center has a number of early posters for the parade in our Ephemera collection.

Image courtesy of Our Quad Cities


Interested in local Irish-American stories? The 2007-2008 Iowa Stories 2000 topic brought out local individuals with great stories to tell. Their oral histories are archived here as well.



The Celtic Heritage Trail of the Quad-Cities was an active local organization in the early 2000’s. Their records contain a good deal of Irish history and lore. Available from our Archive & Manuscript Collection. 


Come visit us for all of your Irish genealogy and history research needs!


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An Exciting Find: Iowa death records, 1921 – 1940

One of the roadblocks we frequently run into while helping patrons with genealogy and local history research is a gap in Scott County death records from 1921 – 1940.

During that time, death records were maintained by the State of Iowa and no copy kept by Scott County. We are still able to locate individuals from obituaries, cemetery records, and other sources most of the time. Death records, though, tend to have important names and dates. Many times patrons wrote to the State to receive a copy of their ancestor’s death certificate- for a small fee.

We were surprised, and extremely excited, to find this week that FamilySearch now has the missing death certificates from 1921 – 1940 on their website in digital form!

To find the information, go to FamilySearch.org

and look under Iowa records…

for Iowa, Death Records, 1921 – 1940.

You still need to contact the Iowa Department of Public Health to receive a certified death certificate, but for general research, the digitized version is incredibly useful.

Even more useful, FamilySearch.org is a free website!

(posted by Amy D.) 



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Digital Learning Day in the Archives

In honor of Digital Learning Day, the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center is highlighting HeritageQuest, one of the Davenport Public Library’s research databases. There’s a wealth of genealogical information to explore and you can access it from home, for free, with your library card!

How to get there:

From the library’s home page (davenportlibrary.com), click on ‘Research Tools’ and select ‘Online Resources’ from the drop-down menu.


Next, select ‘Genealogy and Local History’ from the ‘View by Subject’ list in the drop-down menu under ‘All Online Databases.’


Choose the ‘HeritageQuest Online’ link.


Just click on the green ‘Begin Searching’ button to start discovering family history documents!


You can search or browse U.S. Census Records, city directories, the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules, U.S. Indian Census Rolls, and more!


Check it out! Learn what online digitial treasures the Davenport Public Library has for you on Digital Learning Day 2017!

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Presidents’ Day

On “Presidents’ Day” George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are usually the first to be recognized, and quite logically so, since both were born in February. However, the spirit of the day can be broadened to include more “Presidents” of the past.


In November 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt made a visit to Davenport’s VanderVeer Park. The Music Pavilion was crowded with onlookers as Roosevelt addressed his constituents from the stage.


Image Source:  Archive & Manuscript Collection #2003-09    Photograph by J.B. Hostetler


President Woodrow Wilson was saluted by the boys from Battery B as he rolled into Iowa on the train across the Government Bridge in early 1916.


Image Source:  Archive & Manuscript Collection #2001-24               Photographer unknown


Speaking of trains, a pair of Roosevelts addressed a Davenport crowd from one in a 1936 campaign stop. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor earned a second term in the White House, defeating Republican nominee Kansas Governor Alfred Landon in that election.


Image Source:  Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center Davenport Public Library Photograph Collection VM89-000844


President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn arrived in Davenport August 21, 1979 aboard a different type of transportation – the Delta Queen Riverboat! Speaking of Riverboats, (and coming full circle) who remembers “The President”?


Image Source:  Archive & Manuscript Collection #2009-19           Copyright Karen Deneve Clevenger Moline, IL


For these and many other interesting items, drop by the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center! But don’t come on Presidents’ Day. . . We will be closed for the holiday!

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An Unfortunate Valentine’s Day Blog

While researching recently, we came across what looked like a wonderful Valentine’s Day blog about love. It was only while doing further research we found it was more a case of love gone wrong.

On February 6, 1920 The Davenport Daily Times ran a lovely article about a local wounded soldier from the Great War who married his nurse.

Mckay Wedding

The Davenport Daily Times, February 6, 1920. Pg. 2

Young William McKay had left Davenport after enlisting in the United States Army on April 5, 1918. In July of that year, he was sent overseas to the battlefront as a member of the Transportation Corp 308. He was injured a short time later when the truck he was driving overturned and trapped him beneath it.

Mr. McKay was badly wounded and transported to the military hospital in Brest, France for recovery. His most serious injury being a crushed right leg that would never regain mobility. He also developed a leaking heart problem after the accident.

It was at this hospital he met a nurse named Mary Ward who had been caring for soldiers in Brest since July of 1918. Coincidentally, her parents had relocated to Davenport from Wisconsin while she was overseas caring for wounded patients.    

According to the article, as Mr. McKay was transferred to different hospitals during his recovery, Miss Ward managed to be transferred with him.

Mr. McKay was officially discharged from the U. S. Army on April 30, 1919 while recovering at Mercy Hospital in Davenport.

On January 31, 1920 the couple took out a marriage license in Scott County, Iowa. William McKay, 28 years old, and Mary Ward, 35 years old, were married February 2, 1920 at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Davenport. Their marriage license indicated it was the first marriage for both.

McKay Wedding License 1

SC Microfilm 977.769 Marriage. #1479413

McKay Wedding License 2

SC Microfilm 977.769 Marriage. #1479413

They were expected to reside after the wedding with her parents in Davenport.

We all thought it was a wonderful story and the next step was to look into records to track the couple over the years. We quickly realized something was wrong. In the 1920 census, taken in late spring of that year, William McKay is listed as single and living with his mother in Davenport. There was no trace of the Ward family.

Our first thought was his new bride had died in the influenza epidemic that had occurred in late winter/early spring in Davenport. But no death was found in the records.

What we did locate was a petition for divorce filed by William McKay on March 6, 1920 in the local newspaper. The reason for the divorce being Mr. McKay had found out on March 4th that his wife was still married and that husband was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

We turned to Ancestry.com for further information and found that Mary Ward had married a George McNitt in 1897 in the state of Wisconsin. We were able to locate the couple living together in Beloit, Wisconsin with her parents in the 1900 United States Census.

We then found Mr. McNitt in the 1910 United States census in Beloit with a new wife named Emma. They married in 1906.

Could this all have been a misunderstanding we wondered?

Then we located a marriage record from Kane County, Illinois. Mary Ward had married a William J. Borsdorf on June 16, 1910.

We are unable to find Mary or William J. Borsdorf in the 1910 census, but we did find William’s WWI Draft Registration card from 1917, which lists his wife’s name as Mary. Mr. Borsdorf was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the time.

We then find Mr. Borsdorf in the 1920 United States census listed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as a boarder in a house. He is listed as married, but no wife is listed with him.

We believe William J. Borsdorf is the husband that William McKay learned of on March 4, 1920.

We did not find a final divorce record for William and Mary McKay. We did find a case number and District Court docket number. We believe, based on other cases we have read about, that the marriage was considered void (or “set aside” using a term we find in newspaper accounts of the period) as the divorce petition was filed just over 30 days after the marriage vows were taken and that she was married to someone else.

A search of local police records find no charges were filed against Mary for bigamy.

To make things even more unusual, we find in the 1930 United States census that Mary had returned to William Borsdorf and they were living together as husband and wife in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

They remained together in Milwaukee until Mr. Borsdorf died on March 30, 1948. Mary died on September 9, 1956. They were buried next to each other in Holy Cross Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

As for William McKay, he never remarried. In another twist, after Mr. McKay’s mother passed away he moved to a Veterans Hospital probably due to his injury and heart problem. We find him living there in the 1930 and 1940 United States census records.

Where was the hospital located? Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Mr. McKay passed away on August 31, 1948. His body was returned to Davenport where he was buried in Holy Family Cemetery.

His obituary in The Davenport Democrat and Leader stated he was never married.


  • The Davenport Daily Times, February 6, 1920. Pg. 2
  • SC Microfilm 977.769 Marriage – #1479413
  • The Davenport Daily Times, March 9, 1920. Pg. 8
  • The Davenport Democrat and Leader, September 1, 1948. Pg. 13
  • Ancestry.com

(posted by Amy D.)


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In Memoriam: Dudley Bell Priester

Dudley Bell Priester was born January 18, 1923 in Davenport, Iowa to Oscar and Helen (Bell) Priester. According to the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, his father was vice-President of Priester Construction Company and his mother owned a gift shop.

The family lived at 2745 Wood Lane in the McClellan Heights neighborhood in East Davenport. Dudley attended Davenport High School and, later, Lawrenceville Prep School in New Jersey from 1939-1941, where he was captain of the wrestling team. He then went to Princeton University in the fall of 1941.

NameDudley Bell Priester School Lawrenceville School Year 1941 Ancestry.com. U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Various school yearbooks from across the United States.

Name Dudley Bell Priester
School Lawrenceville School
Year 1941
Ancestry.com. U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Various school yearbooks from across the United States.

He graduated in 2 years so he could go into the Civil Engineering Corps of the Navy. He served in the 111th and 56th U.S. Naval Construction Battalions stationed in the South Pacific during WWII.

After leaving the Navy, he started working at his father’s company, Priester Construction, but his first construction job was the administration building at the Rock Island Arsenal in 1939. Priester was in charge of the construction of the Davenport Public Library building designed by architect Edward Durell Stone that was completed in 1968. He was also responsible for the Modern Woodmen of America office in Rock Island, the foundation construction at Alcoa, and many other local projects.

Priester married Jean Elizabeth Hansen in March 1947 and had 5 children: Bill, Nancy, Ted, Charlie and Mary. They lived in a mansion at 49 Hillcrest Avenue from 1954 – 2012, before downsizing to a condominium at the Carriage Club.

Priester served on the board of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, Davenport Museum of Art, and Putnam Museum, was a member of the Master Builders of Iowa, and served as President of the Outing Club and the Town Club. He was a stamp collector and loved to wear a bow tie, preferring the Churchill (blue with white polka dots)

Dudley Bell Priester passed away January 23, 2017 at home.

posted by Cristina

Works Cited

Davenport, Scott, Iowa, United States; county district courts, Iowa. “Dudley Bell Priester.” 20 January 1923. “Iowa, County Births, 1880-1935,” database, FamilySearch. 20 May 2016. <https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V4X4-JPD>.

“Dudley Bell Priester.” Quad-City Times 26 January 2017: A8.

“Iowa, World War II Bonus Case Files, 1947-1954 [database on-line].” n.d. Ancestry.com. <http://interactive.ancestrylibrary.com/8825/41912_329333-02569?pid=222074>.

Jensen, Julie. “Priester constructing a pretty interesting life.” The Leader 05 December 2003: B6.

Lawrenceville School. The Lawrenceville Olla Podrida. Ed. Jr., William Howard Stoval. Lawrenceville,: Class of nineteen hundred and forty-one, 1941. 01 February 2016. <http://interactive.ancestrylibrary.com/1265/43134_b194783-00179?pid=305260181>.

Speer, Mary Louise. “Davenport library celebrates 40 years.” Quad-City Times 06 October 2008: B1.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. “Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930.” 21 April 1930. Ancestry.com. 01 February 2017. <http://interactive.ancestrylibrary.com/6224/4584438_00484?pid=31704095>.

Wundram, Bill. “Bow tie wearers bow to nobody.” Quad-City Times 25 August 2010: A2.

—. “Noted Q-C mansion yields treasures.” Quad-City Times 25 September 2012: A2.



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In Memoriam: Sgt. Major Alvis Marshal Taylor

Sgt. Major Alvis Marshal Taylor, one of only two Quad-City area survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, passed away last week on Monday, January 16, 2017.

Alvis Taylor was born on March 18, 1923 in Caldwell, Burleson County, Texas to William Marshal Taylor and Martha Elizabeth Harper. Below is his birth certificate:

Alvis Taylor Birth

The 1930 Census shows Alvis M (age 7) living in Burleson County, Texas with his parents and siblings: William (age 35), Martha E. (age 29), Willie E. (age 12), Ester M. (age 9), and Milton (age 1).

Alvis Taylor 1930 Census

Alvis enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 16. In the 1940 Census, we see young Alvis M. (age 19) stationed with the 11th Medical Regiment at Schofield Barracks in Oahu, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Alvis Taylor 1940 Census

At 11:55am on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Taylor was working alone at the Barracks Hospital when he witnessed Japanese planes circling in figure 8 formations, attacking U.S. Naval ships anchored at Pearl Harbor. The planes were flying so low he could see the Japanese pilots inside. Two rounds of bombs and torpedoes sunk 4 U.S. battleships, damaged 4 others, killed 2,402 and injured almost 1,200 American sailors and Marines. 90 percent of the people there were on shore leave.

The first sergeant and other senior NCOs were married and living elsewhere on post, so on his colonel’s order, Taylor took over. He called in doctors and coordinated dozens of ambulances to take the wounded to hospitals. At one point, he was sent to Pearl Harbor with 32 of his 67 ambulances. He was told to pick up the patients on ships and in the water.

Taylor was subjected to enemy fire when he accompanied the ambulances, but he managed to escape without injury. Thankfully, none of his ambulance drivers were killed.

After the tragedy, Taylor, who earned the Legion of Merit for meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements, returned to Schofield Barracks and to his regular duties. Later, he was sent to the Transportation Corps OCS, then continued his military career at various locations, including the Rock Island Arsenal.

First Sgt. Alvis M. Taylor married Mary Emma Garrett on December 20, 1942 in Austin, Texas. Their first son was born in Japan, where Sgt. Taylor was stationed. Mary passed away on December 18, 2005 in Coal Valley, Illinois. She is buried in the Rock Island National Cemetery.

Taylor kept his Pearl Harbor story to himself, not talking about his experience until many years later.

“You can see the pictures, but you can’t smell it and taste it. My dad can still smell that smell and taste that taste 73 years later. He remembers every minute of that day – from when he woke until he passed out from exhaustion,” said Taylor’s son Brian in a 2014 interview.

Alvis Taylor retired from the U.S. Army in 1959 as a major after 20 years of service; he retired from the U.S. Army Armament Command in 1980 after 20 additional years of civil service.

He received a Quilt of Valor in 2015, an experience he found “overwhelming.”

“This quilt is given to you, to wrap around you to give you comfort and warmth and know that you were prayed for, supported and given a heartfelt thank you.”

And a heartfelt thank you from us to you, Alvis Taylor, for your service. 

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In Memoriam: Bill Edmond

William F. “Bill” Edmond was born December 4, 1949 in Indiana, PA. His parents were Robert and Elsie (Sees) Edmond. He attended High school in Michigan and attended the University of Texas, El Paso. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Bill married Pamela Jean (Lutz) Gephard on December 2, 1995 in Las Vegas, NV. They moved to Davenport in 2005, where he worked as a salesperson for Buysse Dodge and Terry Frazer’s RV Center.

Bill Edmond was elected 2nd Ward Alderman in March 2009, filling a vacancy left by Shawn Hamerlinck, who had been elected to the Iowa Senate. During his campaign, he stated that his top priorities were infrastructure improvements and maintenance and public safety. He was also a Candidate to the Iowa House of Representatives for District 89 in November 2012.

A fiscal conservative, Mr. Edmond was Vice Chairman of the Finance Committee. He was also the Council Liaison for the Davenport Municipal Airport. His most notable contributions were planning for Veterans Memorial Park and the off-leash dog park at the foot of Marquette Street at Centennial Park.

Sadly, Bill Edmond died on Tuesday, January 10th in Davenport. He will be buried at the National Cemetery in Rock Island.

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A Moment in (Watch) Time

Once again our J. B. Hostetler glass plate negative collection has yielded another fascinating image: a young H. E. Meier posing in his World War I Doughboy uniform.

Herman Edward Meier was born to John and Christina Meier on July 21, 1896 in Nebraska. He enlisted in the United States Army on June 25, 1917, just shy of his 21st birthday. Sadly, during his time overseas his only sibling, Marie Meier, died on December 9, 1918 in Davenport during the Influenza epidemic. He was discharged on January 22, 1919, having achieved the rank of Sergeant. Herman then returned to Davenport and the family concrete block business; the next year, on November 25th, he married Leona Meyer. He died in Davenport on February 8, 1973, and was buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois.


H. E. Meier taken by J. B. Hostetler. c. 1917. dpl17572a

It is the wrist watch peeking out from under Mr. Meier’s sleeve that caught our attention.

In the late nineteenth century, the wrist watch was known as a delicate piece of jewerly worn by women. The first was created for a Hungarian countess by a Swiss company in 1868. While there are some references to the use of wrist watches by men at this time, including the German Navy in the 1880’s and during the Boer War, it was not widespread.

Even by the beginning of World War I, the wrist watch was not a common fashion accessory for American men. Our photographs show local worthies wearing pocket watches well into the early twentieth century.

The reason wrist watches became popular during World War I is simple: a military man could not be fumbling in his clothes for a pocket watch in the midst of battle. The wrist watch provided quick and easy access to the correct time.

We were very pleased to find this early example of wrist watch-wearing among our portrait photographs!

(posted by Amy D.)


  • Ancestry.com
  • The Davenport Daily Democrat and Leader, December 9, 1918. Page 11.
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