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125 Years Ago

Every year your editor gets questions about the age and origins of The Pie Race. The footrace is a long-standing tradition to be sure, but you won’t read any commentary from this corner about this year being its 125th anniversary (and 126th running) because we don’t really know when the first pie race was run. The Hermonite does inform us that foot races which featured pies as prizes were run in the early 1890s. We date the Pie Race from 1891 because Henry Bemis who donated the money for the first medals and who gave his name to the race, recalled winning a pie in that year. Oddly enough, in the fall of 1891, Bemis was already off at college. By the early 20th century, a series of intramural cross-country races were held throughout the fall, each race longer than the one before it. The series culminated in “The Big 6-Miler” in late November. By 1903, the top three finishers were awarded medals or pins, and depending upon participation, the next 10 to 20 places won pies. In this era, inter-dormitory competition was also part of the event, with rewards going to dormitories for fastest times and highest participation. In the early 1930s, longtime athletic director Axel Forslund shortened the course to 4.5 miles, but it wasn’t until 1945 that the 33 minute “pie time,” was added as a further incentive to run. With the advent of coeducation, retired math teacher (and spouse of the former AD) Gladys Forslund contributed to the prize fund so that girls as well as boys might compete for pies. A 40 minute pie time was added in the fall of 1971, and the name of the race was changed to The Bemis-Forslund Pie Race in Gladys’ honor.

If the pie race is not quite 125 years old, so be it. Here’s an account of a race that DID take place in the fall of 1891. 

from The Hermonite, vol. V, no. 4; p. 26 (October 31, 1891).

Hares and Hounds. 

The first “hares and hounds” chase of the season took place on the afternoon of the 19th. McClure, ’93, and Horner, ’92 were the “hares,” and about a dozen fellows formed the pack of “hounds.” The start was made at the principal’s house [now Manchester Cottage] at two o’clock, and the hares were given eight minutes’ lead. The course they pursued was as follows: From the dining hall straight past the store and through the woods to the Bernardston road, down that to Hermon station, thence to the Northfield bridge, where they turned abruptly to the north, passing So. Vernon station and crossing by the Ashuelot bridge from Vermont into New Hampshire. Turning south at this point they made their way down through Northfield to the Gill station, recrossed the river at Munn’s Ferry, and so came home. Many of the “hounds” gave out in the pursuit, and the two courageous ones who followed the entire course, baffled by misleading scents, reached Crossley three-quarters of an hour later than the “hares.”