Starting on August 28, 1900, Eldridge Park hosted “the greatest and most novel athletic event ever conceived” – a six-day-long ladies’ bicycle race. The management of the park contracted with promoter J.L. Keller to bring six professional lady cyclists in for the event. A special “saucer-shape” board track was constructed on the plot of land between the statue of American Girl and the deer reserve. The oblong wooden track was 86 feet wide by 154 feet long. The sides on the straightaway portions were banked at 22 degrees while the ends were set at a 45 degrees. Sixteen laps around the track equaled a mile. Seating for 8,000 people was also constructed around the track.
|Lady bicyclist in Eldridge Park near the American Girl statue, 1899|
Leading up to the event, there seemed to be some concern about the propriety of watching women race bicycles. An article in the Star-Gazette assured readers that, while professional male riders typically wore armless shirts and very abbreviated trunks, the women would all be neatly attired in sweaters, knickerbockers, and stockings. The paper also reported that when the women raced in Philadelphia, there were several clergymen in the crowd who had come specifically to see if there was anything objectionable or immodest about the race. They all went away perfectly satisfied and one promised to return the next day to see the finish.
|Women wearing casual cycling outfits, c. 1890s|
Racing began in Eldridge Park on the afternoon of August 28. The track was nearly filled with spectators. Tickets for the grandstand cost 15 cents while seats inside the track, the best place to get up close to the action, cost 25 cents. If a person rode their own bicycle to the event, they could check their wheel for 10 cents and receive a free admission ticket. Similarly, if one bought a 10 cent round-trip ticket to the park on the Maple Avenue or West Side trolleys he or she also got a free ticket to the races. It was noted that more than half the seats in the grandstand were occupied by ladies.
Races took place for two hours twice each day starting at 2:30 in the afternoon and again at 8:30 in the evening. The first day of racing was filled with excitement. Accidents were common on the track as the riders jostled for position and it seemed that every one of them was physically giving their all. Two riders fainted dead away while riding and toppled over the handlebars of their wheels onto the track. They were given restoratives and went right back to racing. Miss Gast was in the lead after the first four hours of racing with 60 miles completed. The following days of racing provided more thrills and spills as the growing crowd cheered on their favorites.
Star-Gazette, August 29, 1900
At the end of the six days of racing, Miss Margaret Gast came out the winner with 358 miles. Mrs. Bayne came in a close second with 354 miles. Miss Hatch finished in third place despite having her left arm bandaged from elbow to wrist because of several hard falls. Miss Petchard managed to get back into fourth place after taking a header over the bars of her wheel on the second to last night of racing. Miss Berry came in fifth but had to give up on the race after she fell into her trainer’s arms and was carried from the track unconscious. Miss Harvey, unfortunately, suffered a great deal of neuralgia caused by the climate in Elmira.