Unsolved Mystery of the First Boston Marathon: This Day in Sports History

Brian Giuffra
Boston Marathon.
Boston Marathon. / Imagno/Getty Images
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The Boston Marathon is the longest continuously-run marathon in America and it started on April 19, 1887. Doing some research on that first race, I was surprised to learn it wasn't always called the Boston Marathon, and that the finish line for the original race mysteriously disappeared.

Historians agree that the 1887 race was called the "American Marathon" and only 15 people competed in it. The route started in Ashland and finished at Irvington Oval in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. Runners had to complete a lap around Irvington Oval before crossing the finish line.

The only issue is, no one knows where that was. Even the Boston Athletic Association, whose member John Graham organized the first marathon in Boston, doesn't have a record of the exact location.

According to a story in Runners World, there are two locations where the finish line might have been located: either Copley Square Plaza or the intersection of Boylston and Exeter streets. Somehow, despite its historical significance as the oldest marathon in the U.S., there's no documented proof of its exact location and therefore no one knows where the first race ended.

In that inaugural race, a New Yorker stole the show, as John J. McDermott won the race in 2:55:10. Since then, the route and length of the race have changed and the finish line is now easily located at Copley Square. This year's marathon was postponed until Sept. 14 because of coronavirus. When the winner crosses the finish line, just remember the unsolved mystery of the first race in 1887.

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