Bricklayer Bill

The Untold Story of the Workingman's Boston Marathon

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Two weeks after the United States officially entered World War I, Irish American “Bricklayer Bill” Kennedy won the Boston Marathon wearing his stars-and-stripes bandana, rallying the crowd of patriotic spectators. Kennedy became an American hero and, with outrageous stories of his riding the rails and sleeping on pool tables, a racing legend whose name has since appeared in almost every book written on the Boston Marathon.

When journalist Patrick Kennedy and historian Lawrence Kennedy unearthed their uncle’s unpublished memoir, they discovered a colorful character who lived a tumultuous life, beyond his multiple marathons. The bricklayer survived typhoid fever, a five-story fall, auto and train accidents, World War action, Depression-era bankruptcy, decades of back-breaking work, and his own tendency to tipple. In many ways, Bill typified the colorful, newly emerging culture and working-class ethic of competitive long-distance running before it became a professionalized sport. Bricklayer Bill takes us back to another time, when bricklayers, plumbers, and printers could take the stage as star athletes.

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