Ellison “Tarzan” Brown

The Narragansett Indian Who Twice Won the Boston Marathon


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About the Book

Ellison “Tarzan” Brown was one of America’s premier marathon runners during the 1930s and 1940s. This volume tells the story of his life from the beginning of his budding career in the early 1930s through his untimely death in 1975.
With his unorthodox approach to the sport and his spectacular finishes, Tarzan Brown quickly became something of a legend in racing. Inevitably, he became the subject of stories that were not always entirely factual—and sometimes not very flattering. This biography seeks to present an accurate, unbiased account of Brown’s life. The reminiscences of his close friends, family and even his rivals paint a vivid picture of the man and his career. The book covers in considerable depth events such as Brown’s trip to the 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Germany and his role in the naming of the infamous Heartbreak Hill on the course of the Boston Marathon.
Completing the picture is a look at the more personal aspects of Brown’s life, such as his struggle to support his young family, and an examination of his Narragansett Indian heritage. The final chapter discusses the misconceptions surrounding Brown’s accidental death outside a bar in 1975.

About the Author(s)

Michael Ward, a musician and two-time W.C. Handy Award nominee, lives with his wife Bonnie, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Bibliographic Details

Michael Ward
Foreword by John J. Kelley
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 445
Bibliographic Info: 26 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2006
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2416-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1318-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vii
Foreword: I Remember Tarzan Brown, by John J. Kelley      1
Introduction      5
Historical Note: The Narragansett      7
Prologue: “What Kid Could Ever Run That Way from Westerly?”      11

1. “Helason Brown”—1933      13
2. “Two of Them Trying to Run with One Pair of Legs”—1934      20
3. Even Without Shoes—1935      24
4. Two National Titles in a Fortnight—1935      33
5. “This Human Powerhouse”—1936      44
6. The Pre-Marathon Buzz—1936      52
7. “A Pat on the Back”—1936      62
8. Nason and the Hill—1936      81
9. Marathon Aftermath—1936      85
10. “That Man, Presuming That He Is an American”: Olympic Team Selection—1936      95
11. Sailing to Germany: “Even Better Than Running”—1936      103
12. “Running for Uncle Sam”—1936      112
13. Tarzan Brown’s October Feat (and Feet)—1936      129
14. “Full of Real Heart”—1937      146
15. “A Running Enigma”—1938      159
16. “I Give Him a Ride and He Gives Me a Beating”—1939      177
17. “To the Welcome Relief of the Finish Line” in Record Time—1939      184
18. “This Marathon Business Is Okay But You Can’t Support a Family on It”—1939      200
19. “A Question of Fairness”—1939      220
20. “The Greatest Attraction in New England”—1939      233
21. “Tarzan Brown’s Thunder”—1939      247
22. “The Fastest Thing in Floating Foot Power America Has Ever Known”—1940      260
23. Bad Cramps, Bad Socks—1940      271
24. “Three Races to Every Two”—1940      288
25. “Winning Most of the Silverware”—1940      299
26. “He Has Everybody Guessing”—1941      312
27. Injury—1941      323
28. “Indian Comet” Along the Comeback Trail—1942      335
29. “The Prettiest Thing I Ever Saw in Action”—1943      346
30. “An Ungovernable Tear”—1944–1945      356
31. “Surprises by Finishing 12th” in Final Comeback—1946      363
32. “Time and Marathoners Fly”—The Postwar Years      370
33. Untimely Death: The Final Years      377
34. A Final Look      388

Epilogue      391
Notes      395
Bibliography      419
Index      421

Book Reviews & Awards

“painstaking research…detailed”—Providence Journal.