by Joe Ward
The Louisville Bicycle Club revisited the Wheelmen’s Bench Sept. 28, 1997, and unveiled the Larry Hammers Historical Marker there. It was good.
We didn’t get the 10,000 riders they managed to turn out in 1897, and the mayor didn’t show up. But we did have Bridget Sullivan, who must be the 1997 equivalent of the 1897 president of the Board of Park Commissioners -- General John B. Castleman.
The sun shone brightly in pleasantly cool air. It was a good day for a bike ride, and as good as any to observe the 100 years or so of heritage passed along to us by kindred spirits from the heyday of cycling.
Some of us rode the whole first chunk of the 1897 bicycle carnival, from Main Street to Ruff’s bench. And if you paid attention you could pick up ghosts along there, men in full bicycle suits from Levy Brothers and women in bloomers, and the atmosphere festive and optimistic.
Or, you could see Gil Morris, bombing along on his 1898 Racycle, our living connection to those times through “Pop” Jeffries -- former owner of what is now Highland Cycle, who put Gil into the bicycle business and may well have been on that first ride. And there was Boyd Sigler. I don’t know whether there is truth to the rumor that he was on that first ride. But he was on this one for sure, and a lot of us were glad to see him.
Former club president Stewart Prather estimated the crowd at the bench at 80, which seemed right to me.
Earl Jones presided through a balky PA system. He read letters from Jefferson County Judge Executive David Armstrong -- who proclaimed it “Louisville Bicycle Club Centennial Day” -- and from Gov. Paul Patton. Gov. Patton noted that the rights of cyclists in Kentucky are about as good as they are anywhere.
Bridget Sullivan, the aforementioned director of parks, spoke of the importance of park land and how what we do as cyclists fits in to that effort. We heard also from Susan Rademacher, executive director of the Olmstead Conservancy, who did a lot of work cleaning up Wayside Park and the bench, and from other government and neighborhood dignitaries.
There were plaques for Sullivan and the parks department; for Gil Morris, who got the club going again in 1957 or so, and is therefore sort of our George Washington as well as our link to the 1890s and the legitimizer of our claim to 100 years of history; and for Larry Hammers, who did an amazing job of gathering up a lot of information and getting it condensed and cast in bronze for our historical marker.
Then they let us eat cake.
That marker, you know, will likely be there for the celebration in 2097. I say we try to turn out 10,000 riders for that one.
Cyclists heading west along River Road and
south on Mockingbird Valley Rd. on the Centennial Ride.
(Photographs courtesy of Keith Stoltz)