CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY

The WALKATHON at CENTRAL AIRPORT
W.E. Tebbets' 1933 Walkathon

Walkathons and Dance Marathons became popular during the Depression years. Promoter W.E. Tebbets set up many of these events all over the country, bringing his own bands and entertainers along to the event. After a successful walkathon at Atlantic City in 1932, Tebbets arranged for a similar contest to be held in the Camden area early in 1933, using one of the hangars at Central Airport as his venue. 

The events were quite popular in their day. At least two other walkathons were held in Camden, one on October of 1933 and another in 1935. One of these events featured the "walkathon wedding" of Johnny Groves and Marie Broughton 

Besides Ira Coffey's Walkathonians, a band which featured at one time or another such players as trumpeter Edgar "Pudding Head" Battle, trombonist Clyde Bernhardt and drummer Red Saunders, the Camden walkathons are best remembered for the appearances of comedian Red Skelton, who went on to great fame and fortune on radio and in movies and especially television. Others of note who emceed the events included "Dud" Nelson and Dick Lord" Buckley.

Besides local talent, there were a few "professional" contestants, who went on tour, sponsored by local businessmen back home, in a similar fashion to the professional golfers of today. One such "pro" was Eddie Nichols. Nichols was a fine vocalist as well, and was known as the "Man With A Million Songs" for his ability to cover just about any request sent his way. He sang with Cecil Mackey's band in Montgomery Alabama in the summer of 1934 before going out on the road with the Walkathon. He left the tour after meeting, falling in love with, and marrying a girl from Camden, New Jersey, Beatrice Boody. The Nichols settled down in Camden, Eddie finding work with Mother's Koffee House on Broadway. They later lived in Westfield Acres in East Camden, where there friend from the walkathon days, Red Skelton, would come to visit when in town.

Thanks to Linda Nichols Fernandez for making images from her father's scrapbook available for this web-page in the spring of 2007, to Jenny Wills for sending pictures in the summer of 2007, and to Dell Moore, for identification assistance in 2009.

Eddie Nichols
"The Man with a Million Songs"

Click on Image to Enlarge

Eddie Nichols
"The Man with a Million Songs"
&
Thelma, his partner in one of 
the walkathons he participated in

1932
Atlantic City Steel Pier
Walkathon

Irving "Rajah" Bergman

Click on Image to Enlarge

From the scrapbook of
fellow contestant
Edward Marshall Nichols
aka
"Eddie Nichols - The Man with a Million Songs"

Camden Courier-Post- February 2, 1933

LOCAL APPLICANTS ENTER 'WALKATHON'
Unusual Endurance Contest to Start Tuesday at Central Airport

Applications are pouring in daily from South Jersey youths and young women who wish to enter the "walkathon," a unique marathon endurance contest which will be launched us at the Central Airport 9 p. m. next Tuesday.

More than 150 applications have been received to date, and prospective contestants may continue to submit applications until the medical examinations are concluded tomorrow or Saturday. 

One of the features of the forthcoming event will be that the personnel of the contest will be strictly local; no contestants have followed the promoters from similar walkathons in other sections of the country. The promoter will, however, have his own staff of entertainers. Among the latter are Coffee's Orchestra, a group of expert sepia players, who arrived here today for the start of the contest. 

W. E. Tebbetts, nationally known promoter, is presenting this novel form of athletic contest in the large hangar, which is now undergoing a transformation for the event. It is a scene of great activity; workmen are installing a huge ring for the contestants, while arrangements are being made to comfortably seat the anticipated capacity crowds in such a manner that they will be able to view with ease the unique contests from all points in the large building. Other equipment, including quarters for the contestants and a treadmill for the "grinds," is also being completed. 

Although the center of attraction will be the contestants themselves, and the spectators will undoubtedly become partisan and "root" for their favorites, Tebbetts has brought here a large staff of capable entertainers. Advertising programs will be presented continuously throughout the 24 hours every day. 

Five masters of ceremonies, headed by the well-known "Dud" Nelson, are retained so that there will not be one dull moment. One of the most expert clowns, "Red" Skelton, favorite of walkathon fans in many sections of the country, has formulated a new routine of hilarious performances.

Ira Coffey's Walkathonians

Drummer Red Saunders worked for five years with Ira Coffey's Walkathonians, a band that (as the name suggests) played for Walkathons; he took the drum chair during a Walkathon at the Chicago Coliseum. These were a variant on the dance marathons that became popular during the Depression; couples walked around a track in a large hall, day after day, with only short rest breaks, and the last couple standing won a prize. The revenue source for the Walkathons was the substantial crowds that gathered to watch the event. The Coffey band toured extensively. 

On July 4, 1933, the Walkathonians opened at the Convention Hall in Atlantic City. At this point in its history the band consisted of Edgar "Pudding Head" Battle (trumpet, vocals); Clyde Bernhardt (trombone); Norman Mason (alto saxophone); Edmund Duff (tenor sax); Ira Coffey (piano, leader); Red Saunders (drums). It should have been a plum gig, but the all-White Musicians Union local interfered, leaning on the promoter to give two weeks' notice to everyone but Coffey (whose knowledge of the Walkathon routines was deemed too hard to replace). The other musicians found work in New York and New Jersey, and rejoined Coffey in October at the Airport Inn in Camden, NJ. But Red Saunders had hit the road with Curtis Mosby's revue Harlem Scandals; he did not return to the Walkathonians, and was replaced by Harry Dial.

Camden Courier-Post- February 7, 1933

45 COUPLES TO ENTER 'WALKATHON' CONTEST

Approximately 45 couples will compete in W. E. Tebbetts' "walkathon" endurance contest which will start 9:00 PM today at Central Airport

Nearly 200 applications were received from would-be contestants in South Jersey. Medical examinations to determine their fitness for the long grind were held Friday and Saturday, so that about 90 were approved.

The large hangar at the airport has been renovated into a stadium seating 4000 spectators, with a ring, 60 by 120 feet, for the contestants. There will be an entertaining program daily by a staff of professional performers.

Camden Courier-Post- February 8, 1933

'WALKATHON' BEGINS 4000 WATCH START
45 Couples Enter Novel Grind at Central Airport Hangar

Four thousand spectators braved rainy weather to witness the opening of Walter E. Tebbetts' "walkathon" endurance contest at the hanger at Central Airport last night. 

At the stroke of nine, 45 couples, all residents of South Jersey or Philadelphia, went out on the floor to compete in an endurance grind that may last three months or more.

 Of the ninety contestants, only eight are veteran marathoners. The others are new to endurance competition.  It is the first contest of its kind to be conducted in this vicinity.

Many Unemployed

Many of the entrants were there admittedly because of unemployment; the first prize of $1000 as well as weekly prizes and floor money attract them.

Team No. 20 is a striking example of this fact. They are Mrs. Dorothy Carnes and her 19 year-old son John, of 2831 Pleasant Street. Mrs. Carnes expects- as does every other contestant- to be the winner of the grand prize. She has to win it, she told interviewers; her husband, Charles is out of work and there is no other way in which the family can get food.

The crowd was a partisan one. Each team had rooters who called for songs or dances. Franky Wagner, third prize winner at the recent dance marathon, and Mildred Boyer, two of the eight veterans were roundly cheered, when they first made their appearance.

The contestants appear in the ring for one hour, then all rest for fifteen minutes. Meanwhile professional performers entertain the crowd. Programs are presented every rest period under the skillful direction of "Dud" Nelson, master of ceremonies, aided by Les McCullam. "Red" Skelton heads a staff of entertainers. Ira Coffey and his "Walkathonians" furnish the music.

Examined Frequently

All contestants undergo frequent medical examinations and are placed on a diet consisting of three full meals a day and four light luncheons. No pie or cake is permitted them, but they have dessert in the form of pudding, milk, and fruit.

Free admittance was given to the hundred who presented the walkathon advertisements in the Courier-Post Newspapers yesterday. The ads will be accepted again today. 

Camden Courier-Post - June 1, 1933

MAILBAG

Danger on the Boulevard 

To the Editor:

Sir- I agree with you that the driving conditions on Wilson Boulevard and Crescent Boulevard are getting worse and worse. Out by the Walkathon the drivers, many from Philly, where they don't know any better, turn left in the middle of traffic, and spin about to make a complete turn.

Of course, I don't give a doggone what happens to such poor fools. But they tie up traffic and make trouble for other people. The airport has an entrance of its own, where you can drive in without making turns in the middle of the boulevard. It ought to be made to use that entrance or else the drivers should be made to quit turning left off the boulevard.

It is dangerous and somebody is likely to be killed before long. Then everybody will howl that it is terrible about these reckless drivers

            MOTORIST

Camden Courier-Post- June 7, 1933

BIRCHELL FALLS AGAIN, IS OUT OF WALKATHON

Melvin Birchell, one of the most popular contestants, dropped out of the Walkathon at 11:12 p. m. last night when he had his second fall during the elimination sprint.

His partner of only a few days, Lillie Kane, was dragged to the floor with him, giving her her first fall.

Jack Freeman, known as the "Simon Legree" of walkathons, has been brought from the coast to aid the other masters of ceremonies at Central Airport to arrange more strenuous rules in an effort to bring the contest to a close. 

Camden Courier-Post- June 8, 1933

TWO COUPLES AND SOLO REMAIN IN WALKATHON

Only two couples and one boy solo remain in the Walkathon, at Central Airport, as a result of Lillie Kane's collapse during a seven-hour treadmill grind last night. She fell first several nights ago and dropped out at 10:01 last night.

The remaining contestants were greatly tired by the grind and the end of the contest was believed near.

Camden Courier-Post- June 9, 1933

WALKATHON CONDUCT BRINGS FINES FOR TWO

Charged with disorderly conduct at the Walkathon, two men were fined last night by Recorder George E. Yost in Pennsauken Township. Curley Evans, 31, of 918 Serrill Avenue, Yeadon, Pa., was fined $15 and costs. He was arrested by Special Officer William Blank Jr., Ervin J. Reilly, 28, of 224 Market Street, Camden, who eluded Blank and was later arrested by Inspector Thomas Thorpe, was fined $50 and costs. An army pistol was found in his possession.

Edward Slenker, 23, of Martinsville, Virginia, was fined $15 for failing to have registration cards for his truck.

At the request of Senator Albert S. Woodruff, his counsel, J. Francis Mumford, 25, of 5957 Loretta Street, Philadelphia, was granted a postponement until June 16 of a hearing on charges of drunken driving. Mumford was released in Woodruff's custody pending the hearing. He was arrested early Thursday after an automobile accident.

Camden Courier-Post- June 20, 1933

WALKATHON ENDS; PRIZE BALL TONIGHT
Joe Welsh and Helen Stevens Win $1000; Set Record for East

Joe Welsh, of Camden, and Helen Stevens, of Philadelphia, last night won the Walkathon contest which has been in progress at Central Airport for 3175 continuous hours, setting up a new record for the East.

When Bobby Watson, partner and wife of Richey Neilson, took the third fall for that couple at 10.35 p. m., last night the contest automatically ended. 

Thunderous applause greeted the winners from thousands packed in the hangar. The two couples began a continuous elimination treadmill at 9.15 p.m., Saturday and it progressed for 49 hours and 20 minutes before the losing couple was counted out. During that period the contestants were allowed but five minutes rest every two hours. 

The management announced that 2000 fans remained in the hangar continuously during the treadmill to see that the contest was on the level. Neilson took the first fall at 9.08 p.m., Sunday. Miss Stevens fell at 12.18 p.m. yesterday. Welsh fell at 9.15 p.m. last night. Neilson slumped at 9.40 p.m. and Miss Watson toppled for the losing fall at 10.35. 

The grand ball will be held at the hangar tonight at which time the Courier-Post newspapers will present the $1000 prize to the winners. The money was posted by the management of the Walkathon with the newspapers at the beginning of the contest. 

The winning couple will also be presented with diamond rings by Herman Tull, 2581 Baird Boulevard

The contest was short of breaking a record on the West Coast by 30 hours. It was actually in progress 3172 hours and 35 minutes. It began with 45 couples.

October 31, 1933 - Walkathon Halloween Party at Central Airport
Click on Image to Enlarge

Earl Fagen, Master of Ceremonies is the gentleman directly beneath the the costumed lad in the top row below the letter R in the word hours.  Red Skelton is looking upward immediately to the left of Fagen with a top hat on. Not the guy in the glasses.  Gentleman bottom row right side in white I believe is Frank Perry, a floor judge/trainer. - Dell Moore

My grandfather was the winner of the walkathon that took place in Camden.  His name was Rudy Lavine. Rudy is the one on the 2nd row from the top all the way on the left with the pointy hat on his head, and his hands on the man's shoulders. - Ron Wranich

If you can identify anyone in this picture, please e-mail me - Phil Cohen

November 14, 1933 - A Walkathon Wedding
Ethel 'Sis' Commings & Ray Minker
at Central Airport
Click on Image to Enlarge

The gentleman at bottom left is Frankie Wagner. And I believe the third gentleman from the left side ( two down from Frankie Wagner) is Goober Wilson. - Dell Moore

Rudy is in the first row, 2nd person from the right (next to the man with the paper rip).- Ron Wranich

If you can identify anyone in this picture, please e-mail me - Phil Cohen

Fall 1933 Walkathon at Central Airport
From Left: Harry Young, unknown, unknown, Sam Gore
Click on Image to Enlarge
If you can identify anyone in this picture, please e-mail me - Phil Cohen

1935-1936
Camden
Walkathon

Otto "Ott" Mason
&
Mary Jones

They finished second!

Click on Image to Enlarge

From the scrapbook of
fellow contestant
Edward Marshall Nichols
aka
"Eddie Nichols - The Man with a Million Songs"


1935-1936
Camden
Walkathon

"Pops" Miller
The Oldest Walkathoner
Age 65

Click on Image to Enlarge

From the scrapbook of
fellow contestant
Edward Marshall Nichols
aka
"Eddie Nichols - The Man with a Million Songs"


1935-1936
Camden
Walkathon

Artie & Estelle
sponsored by
Mike the Tailor, 2063 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia PA

Click on Image to Enlarge

From the scrapbook of
fellow contestant
Edward Marshall Nichols
aka
"Eddie Nichols - The Man with a Million Songs"


1935-1936
Camden
Walkathon

Winnie and Al

Click on Image to Enlarge

From the scrapbook of
fellow contestant
Edward Marshall Nichols
aka
"Eddie Nichols - The Man with a Million Songs"

Winnie Farnie

Click on Image to Enlarge


1935-1936
Camden
Walkathon

Mom and Sammy
Mother and Son Team

Click on Image to Enlarge

From the scrapbook of
fellow contestant
Edward Marshall Nichols
aka
"Eddie Nichols - The Man with a Million Songs"


1935-1936
Camden
Walkathon

Skippie & Lucille

Click on Image to Enlarge

From the scrapbook of
fellow contestant
Edward Marshall Nichols
aka
"Eddie Nichols - The Man with a Million Songs"


1935-1936
Camden
Walkathon

Joane Mason & Joe Welsh

Click on Image to Enlarge

From the scrapbook of
fellow contestant
Edward Marshall Nichols
aka
"Eddie Nichols - The Man with a Million Songs"

 


1935-1936
Camden
Walkathon

Mr. & Mrs. 
Johnny & Marie Groves
sponsored by
Mike the Tailor, 2063 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia PA

Click on Image to Enlarge

From the scrapbook of
fellow contestant
Edward Marshall Nichols
aka
"Eddie Nichols - The Man with a Million Songs"


Another Walkathon Wedding

Eddie Nichols, 2nd from right

From the scrapbook of fellow contestant Edward Marshall Nichols
aka
"Eddie Nichols - The Man with a Million Songs"

Camden Courier-Post- February 8, 1936

Couple Announced Winners As Camden Walkathon Ends
Estelle White and Harold Wallace Will Be Presented with 
$1000 Prize atĚ Victory Ball In Convention Hall Tonight

The Camden Walkathon ended last night in Convention Hall annex with Estelle White, Philadelphia, and Harold Wallace, 6147 Highland Avenue, Pennsauken, being declared the winners.

They will be presented with the cash prize of $1000 tonight at a "victory" ball in the main auditorium of the Camden Convention Hall by W. E. Tebbetts, who conducted the walkathon, which lasted 122 days or 2928 hours. The contest began October 8 and continued for four months all but a day.

Forty-eight contestants were in the contest, at the beginning. The race was narrowed down to two, Miss White. and Wallace, and Miss Mary Jones, of Vineland, and Otto Mason, 423 Lansdowne Avenue, Camden, on Wednesday night. Miss Jones and Mason finished second and receive no prize money. The contest ended at 11.30 p. m. yesterday.

Johnny Lue and Joseph Purcell, judges, ordered a match race for the contesting girls on Wednesday night. The lights were turned off long enough to make the contestants sleepy. Then they were required to make 11 laps within a minute which the girls accomplished. On Thursday night another race was held for the girls and Miss White won.

Last night the judges ordered the same kind of a match between Wallace and Mason. If this had failed the judges announced that grind without rest or privileges would be staged to end the contest. Wallace made the 11 laps and Mason failed. Wallace is a former featherweight boxer.

Walkathon "Girls of the Bijou"

Ira Coffey's Walkathonians can be seen behind the "girls"

Click on Image to Enlarge

Looking North on Crescent Boulevard mid-1930s

1957
Looking North on Route 130 towards the Airport Circle
Still standing are the old hangers, soon to be abandoned

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