newspapers referred to what Mrs. Lucille Rodney had undertaken that
summer of 1893 as a "pedestrian journey" but the only thing pedestrian
about it was her mode of travel.
The 23-year-old had set out to walk from Galveston
to Chicago to take in that city's World's Fair, a colossal event formally
known as the Columbian Exposition. If she made it to the Windy City
in 76 days, she would win a $5,000 prize offered by Chicago's Elite
Athletic Club. If she did not, she at least got to keep the money
she made along the way selling souvenir photographs of herself.
"The plucky little Texan," as one newspaper labeled her, left the
Island City on May 16. Husband, G.B. Rodney and W.W. Holiday, an athletic
club representative. However, the men took turns between walking with
her and pacing her in a horse-drawn buggy-the 19th century equivalent
of a chase car.
In addition to the requirement that she complete the journey before
August 1, the athletic club stipulated that she carry 38 pounds of
baggage as far as Dallas
(after that it could be carried in the buggy) and count the number
of cross ties as she made her way to the fair.
Her departure was ignored by the Galveston News, but when she
reached Dallas, the Dallas
Morning News interviewed her. "Oh, the dreadful [railroad] trestles,"
she said. "I don't like them." On the upside, as they passed through
open country, farm families often provided them meals.
Despite the pleasures of country cooking, by the time the entourage
reached St. Louis, Mrs. Rodney had dropped from 125 pounds to 106
pounds. Her husband said he had lost 33 pounds and Holliday reported
he'd shed 25 pounds.
Another athletic club stipulation was that the lady walker had to
check in with the ticket agent of each depot she reached. After showing
up at St. Louis' Union Station at 9:40 a.m. on July 15, Mrs. Rodney
and her fellow travelers spent the night before leaving before dawn
the next day.
If she succeeded in making it to Chicago, Mrs. Rodney declared, she
would next hike from New York to San Francisco. "If you do," her husband
said, "you will go without me."
When Mrs. Rodney reached Decatur, Illinois at 5 p.m. on July 21 several
thousand people greeted her at the depot. Others had joined her outside
of town and escorted her the rest of the way in. As the trio moved
up the track toward the station, as the Chicago Inter Ocean reported
the following day, "So dense was the crowd on the railroad track that
it was difficult for the woman to proceed to the station." When someone
stood in front of her and refused to let her pass, Mrs. Rodney's husband
slugged the man in the jaw, dropping him to the roadbed. Police arrested
Rodney but he was later released, apparently with no charges having
Mrs. Rodney made it to Chicago about 10 a.m. on July 27, some 60 hours
before her deadline. She said she could have made the walk even faster,
but she lost one day to illness and 10 days to bad weather.
"There was no end of sport on the trip and I enjoyed it," she told
reporters. "I used to carry an umbrella, but one day I was walking
a very bad [train] trestle bridge and the umbrella acted as a parachute
and came near carrying me over, so I just closed it and threw it as
far…as I could."
She averaged 23 miles a day on her "tramp," a word that contemporary
newspapers used to describe the 1,346-mile journey from the Gulf of
Mexico to Lake Superior.
After the party reached Chicago, her name disappeared from the newspapers.
What became of Lucille, her husband and Holliday remain a mystery.
About all that's known of her is that she was originally from Manchester,
The Galveston News, then one of the better newspapers in Texas,
made no contemporary mention of the trip and never ran an article
on her at any time after 1893. A Howard Rodney died in the devastating
1900 Galveston hurricane, but
whether he was related to G.B. and Lucille is not known.
It's possible the walk was nothing more than a publicity stunt, the
trio's real mode of travel being by train or buggy. Indeed, on July
16, 1893, one Chicago newspaper noted, "This appears to be a bid for
some cheap advertising. Mrs. Rodney, her task, and the wager are strangers
On the other hand, reports from the various newspapers that covered
the trek offered details that seemed authentic, including pointing
out that she had worn out eight pair of $5 "English walking shoes"
along the way.