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June 1, 2012 Article:

Harry D. Elkes, late Nineteenth Century champion bicycle racer.

The resurgence of bicycle racing in the Lake George – Warren County region brings to mind the following champion cyclist of his era, Harry D. Elkes.

Harry D. Elkes, who lived and is buried in Glens Falls, New York, was a champion cyclist at the end of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth century. Many races in which he participated were reported in the New York Times and other newspapers of the day.

Harry was born in Port Henry, New York 28 February 1878. Commencing in 1897 he began racing bicycles in sanctioned competitive racing. He quickly established a name and reputation within the cycling world of that era. He earned his fame in the motor-paced events of the day.

June 12, 1902, Harry broke all world records of the day in a race conducted at Boston Massachusetts. His one hour total distance was nearly one mile greater than the shattered record of 41 miles 250 yards.

It seems Harry’s father, W. A. Elkes, was bit of a promoter and issued a challenge as reported by the Elmira Telegram 16 April 1899. Quoting, “On good authority it is learned that W. A. Elkes, father of Harry D. Elkes, plans to issue a challenge to the cycling world.” The challenge was for $5,000 or nearly $100,000 in 2011 dollars.

Harry raced at many venues of the day, Berkeley Oval and Manhattan Beach in New York, Woodside Park and Willow Grove in Philadelphia, and cities such as Washington D.C.

Harry was also a partner with his father, William A. Elkes, of the Elkes Hotel in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Harry returned to Glens Falls, Christmas Eve 1900, to a welcoming crowd. The Glens Falls Band with more than 1,000 attending according to the Glens Falls Morning Star of 25 December 1900. He was accompanied by his father, William, whose rheumatism reportedly was much improved, his sister Mary, his uncle and trainer Harry Elkes as well as his manager Bostonian W. F. Saunders. A parlor reception, replete with some speeches, was held at the Rockwell House (where Hudson Avenue intersects Centennial Circle today). Later, a family dinner ensued at the Rockwell House. Harry’s uncle, William Cowlbeck, was also a dinner guest along with others.

Harry’s mother was Martha Elkes (néé Sanders) who by 1920 lived in San Diego, California with her husband William. Seems William also officiated as a time keeper at races held by Hamilton College in May 1891. Years later he (William) was also referred to as “Pops” Elkes.

He (Harry) also confirmed to the Morning Star that he and his partner had received hypnotic suggestions from Professor E. Melvin Day to aid in withstanding the racing stresses during a six day race.

Harry Elkes, United States track cyclist, died after an accident May 30, 1903, when he was run over by the pacing machine at the Charles River Track in Cambridge Massachusetts.At that time he was the world record-holder for paced-cycle racing.  Harry Elkes is buried in the Glens Falls Cemetery on Bay Street.

The irony is that the fatal race was 30 May 1903; Harry had planned to retire 4 July 1903!

Following Harry’s death in May 1903, a group came together in ad-hoc fashion to provide a monument to Harry Elkes at his grave site, as reported by the New York Times 30 August 1903. The idea arose from suggestions by some of Harry’s fellow racers. It soon was supported by the National Cycling Association.


Close-up of detail on Harry’s Monument.


> Abstract from the "Boston Globe," May 31, 1903, pp. 1-2:

"HARRY ELKES KILLED IN FEARFUL BICYCLE MIXUP; Stinson Hurt Seriously. Frank A. Gately Also Thrown. Elkes' Chain Broke on 16th Mile. Fell Directly in Front of Big Pacing Machine. 15,000 Persons Saw the Tragedy. DEAD. HARRY D. ELKES, Glens Falls, NY. INJURED. WILLIAM STINSON, Cambridge. FRANK A. GATELY, Roxbury. Wonder Others Weren't Killed."<


Harry’s monument in the Glens Falls Bay Street Cemetery


Article published by the Warren County Historical Society

© May 17 2012, Warren County Historical Society
Prepared by Gary Evans for Warren County Historical Society

Photos used under fair use rule. Photograher(s) unknown





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