This article first published April 19, 1984:
Long walks seemed to be the "in" thing during the summer of 1908 and some strange travelers passed through Westfield on foot.
One Joseph Mikulec started from Austria Feb. 5, 1906 on a wager that he must walk 25,000 miles in five years, leave Austria penniless and with a broken pair of shoes, must do no manual toil or beg and, above all, must return with a wife. If he fulfilled the terms of the wager he was to receive $10,000. He was to walk around the world in the interest of a newspaper of his native country.
From Sherman Collection, courtesy Patterson Library
Local Justice of the Peace, R.D. (Rolly) Powers, who “tied the knot” for ‘round the world walker, Joseph Mikulec, and the pretty blonde he met in Erie.
How exciting that he arrived in Westfield Saturday morning, June 20, 1908. Accompanying him was Miss Anna Stiopu, a native of Rumania, aged 19 years, when he met the day before in Erie. Local Justice of the Peace, R.D. (Rolly) Powers, had the honor of marrying the couple at 10:30 a.m. They spent the morning in town and were photographed (Wish I had that picture). Both were dressed in Wild West attire. They left Westfield for Buffalo and Niagara Falls and Canada. Then they were to return to the United States and head for New York. From the big city they were to take a ship for Australia.
Before reaching Westfield Mr. Mikulec had done some hiking around Europe, sailed to South America and walked up through the Isthmus of Panama to New Orleans, along the Mississippi to Saint Louis. In a restaurant at Erie he met a pretty blonde waitress. It was love at first sight and he told her about himself and his undertaking and proposed marriage. The young woman had done some walking herself, having done 900 miles on one occasion in Rumania. She joined Mikulec and they walked to Westfield together where they were made man and wife. The 30-year old Mikulec had worn out 14 pairs of heavy shoes on his hike thus far. Once he covered 55 miles in 12 hours.
A week later The Westfield Republican reported, "Dakota Bob dropped into town unheralded. Bob is a picturesque character of short stocky build, with spare locks which flow down over his shoulders in typical frontier style. He is middle-aged and is walking on a $3,000 wager between Golden Gate Athletic Club of Portland, Ore., and the Waverly Athletic Club of Yonkers, N.Y. If he gets into Portland, Me., by noon on Sept. 1 the Waverly Club will pay the Portland club $3,000. Bob is lavishly decorated with medals that would make Andrew Carnegie look sick. He does not wear a dress suit but is out for comfort. He carries only a small leather bag which is filled with newspaper clippings, seals and recommendations which he has received from the officials of various cities he has visited. Bob is tearing his way across the continent literally and figuratively. He makes all his expenses tearing paper, an art he learned from the Sioux Indians. He is a unique character and a personal friend of Buffalo Bill."
In contrast to Dakota Bob who traveled lightly, the following week "Colonial Jack" paid Westfield a visit pushing his famous Sphinx. The July 8, 1908 Republican had this to say, "Colonial Jack, who is walking and pushing his 'sphinx' around the border of the United States, a distance of 9,000 miles to be made in 400 days, at the conclusion of which he will write a book on his trip, and receive the sum of $1,000, was in town Monday, and made this office a pleasant call. The 'sphinx' is a wheelbarrow contrivance in which he carries articles of necessity. An average of 27 1/2 miles a day must be made in order to make the trip on schedule. He started from Portland, Me., June 1 going west. From here he heads west through Pennsylvania and Ohio, thence north and west, then south along the Pacific coast, east to Florida and north along the Atlantic coast, concluding at Portland, Me, on or before Sept. 9, 1909, thus making one of the greatest walking trips ever attempted."
In 1984 there are many hikers and runners in Westfield. They cover the same few blocks almost daily. I wonder if some of them have traveled miles enough to take them across the United States.