Where did the first Boston Marathon winner go?

John J. McDermott, winner of the first Boston Marathon. Boston Sunday Journal, 1 May 1898.
John J. McDermott, winner of the first Boston Marathon. Boston Sunday Journal, 1 May 1898.

As a lifetime Bostonian who has seen her share of snowstorms (especially this year), I always look forward to Patriot’s Day (April 20 this year). It’s the official anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord—which is re-enacted very early in the morning—but it’s also the unofficial first day of spring, signaled by the running of the Boston Marathon.

In honor of my favorite state holiday, I decided to research the life and family history of the first Boston Marathon winner, John J. McDermott. I assumed it would be easy— he won the first Boston Marathon, for goodness’ sake; there must be tons of literature about his life, right? Wrong! After he won that first Boston Marathon in 1897, John J. McDermott seemed to disappear from records. I searched newspapers and obituaries, read histories of marathon runners, and contacted local libraries, but I could not uncover evidence of what happened to him.

According to period newspapers, McDermott was an avid long-distance runner from the Pastime Athletic Club of New York City. He won the first marathon ever run on American soil, the New York City Marathon, in 1896, the year before he won the Boston Marathon. An Irish Immigrant, he was born about 1880, and worked as a lithographer in New York. While McDermott should have been a celebrity at the time, newspapers and marathon histories did not include any information about his personal life: no date of birth, date of death, names of wife, children, or other family members. In fact, newspapers did not even specify the New York borough where he lived.

Complicating this lack of information in official marathon coverage were a few other problems:

  1. John J. McDermott is a very common name.
  2. New York City is a big place.
  3. If I were to locate a particular John J. McDermott, how would I then tie him to the John J. McDermott who won the Boston Marathon?

I tried to narrow down the possibilities through city directories and census records, as John J. McDermott, lithographer, was an easier target. And, while I found a possible entry in the 1910 U.S. Census (John J. McDermott, 113 East 12th Street, born Ireland about 1876, occupation printer),[1] I was unable to locate any other identifiable information.

Detail of 1910 census showing John J. McDermott (No. 81)—but is it the Marathon winner? Click to enlarge.
Detail of 1910 census showing John J. McDermott (No. 81)—but is it the Marathon winner? Click to enlarge.

My search for John J. McDermott has revealed two painful truths about genealogy. (1) Sometimes people cannot be found using traditional records. Whether they died in poverty, without family, or came from a disenfranchised group, records of their lives did not survive. We can use only the records we do have to make a reasonable assumption about their lives or locate descendants with more information. (2) Even well-known people can be forgotten. This is a truth that genealogists know well. One of the great rewards of genealogical research is the ability to save a person from obscurity, to resurrect their forgotten life and accomplishments.

I am following up on a few leads with John J. McDermott, one with the Rockefeller Institute and the other with a person on Facebook who claims to be a descendant, so perhaps one day I will have more information about him. Until then, let’s all remember his first-place finish this Marathon Monday and save him from being forgotten.


[1] Mary Nixon household, 1910 U.S. Census, Ward 17, Manhattan, New York County, N.Y., roll 1034, ED 931, p. 12B.

About Lindsay Fulton

Lindsay Fulton joined the Society in 2012, first a member of the Research Services team, and then a Genealogist in the Library. She has been the Director of Research Services since 2016. In addition to helping constituents with their research, Lindsay has also authored a Portable Genealogists on the topics of Applying to Lineage Societies, the United States Federal Census, 1790-1840 and the United States Federal Census, 1850-1940. She is a frequent contributor to the NEHGS blog, Vita-Brevis, and has appeared as a guest on the Extreme Genes radio program. Before, NEHGS, Lindsay worked at the National Archives and Records Administration in Waltham, Massachusetts, where she designed and implemented an original curriculum program exploring the Chinese Exclusion Era for elementary school students. She holds a B.A. from Merrimack College and M.A. from the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

50 thoughts on “Where did the first Boston Marathon winner go?

  1. A lithographer could easily be called a printer. A lithographer prepares plates for printing, thus is basically in the printing business. My father was a lithographer, who sometimes worked for a printer. Also, printer is a lot easier to spell than lithographer and takes less space.

  2. This should be your clue to his obscurity. As you report, “An Irish Immigrant, he was born about 1880, and worked as a lithographer in New York. ” While the Irish have been in Boston since at least that time in the 1700’s when John Adams used them to incite his infamous Boston riot, leading up to the American Rebellion …. the Irish were still fundamentally outcasts and no “proper” newspaper or source would have mentioned his victory…..not in New York and definitely not in Boston.

    1. Viola- that may be, but John J. McDermott’s victory was included in many newspapers at the time (and for years afterwards). Personal details of his life were not printed. Most newspapers identified him only as an Irishman from New York.

  3. My first thought was that he may have followed the marathons. I don’t know how many there were back then, but what if there was going to be a well-publicized one in San Francisco? He could have easily followed marathons and picked up jobs with printers as he went around the country. He also could have become a traveling photographer if he knew that much about the craft. At that time, photographers traveled to county fairs and took photos. Some had studios in their homes. I would have broadened my search to include the entire country.

  4. You may already have done some of this but you don’t say so.

    (1) New York newspapers for the 1896 marathon, any and all, need to be reviewed. I’d start with the NYT online with a key phrase search “Pastime Athletic”. Stretch search to 1st appearance of the club, and then go 75 years on as there might be a memory article on some anniversary. Also, once you have names of club leaders, do obituary searches. Mr. McDermott might show up as a pallbearer or club representative.

    Did he run in any of the subsequent marathons, both there and in Boston?

    (2) NYPL re anything under Pastime Atheltic. Perhaps the club records wound up there or there’s an unpublished memoir in their files.

    (3) What do the Boston papers have for the 1897 win, and what if any follow up for 1898 as that’s the date on the accompanying picture to this article.

    (4) Was there a professional association of lithographers in greater NYC or nationally? I don’t know but assume that at one point there was;


    (5) keep Googling.

  5. An article on page 6 of the April 17, 1927 edition of the Boston Herald states. “John J. McDermott of the Pastime A.C. New York died several years ago of lung trouble. He had tuberculosis, however, when he won the race.”

      1. Following up on the Boston Herald article — an article in the April 19, 1914 edition of the Boston Daily Globe (p. 42) stated that McDermott died of an inherited pulmonary disease several years after he took up long distance running. That’s consistent with the Herald article, but brings the death date back to before 1914.

  6. Re Ms Lyons & KTs’ posts – Bingo & BINGO! Thought #1: the riches of newspapers are yet untapped, but we are getting there. Thought #2: If crowd-sourcing can work for the CIA, it can work for genealogy too.

    Give us an update when you can, Lindsay, and then “leak” the results to the Globe & Herald and Runner’s World to boot. Good PR is Best PR for the Society.


    1. Robert- You read my mind! I was hoping that other tenacious genealogists would get on the trail and help me locate Mr. McDermott. Hopefully, we can document his story more completely with a little more research.

      1. I think I have the answer to your search for John J. McDermott. I have pictures of him from @ 1899 at age @ 30, and others @ age 50, and 70 and the picture of the first Boston winner has a lot of similarities. Please get in touch with me on email or by phone @ 734-697-8710.

  7. Great post! Just checked the Boston Globe archives for the following year. Your man came in 4th in Boston. On page 7 of April 20th, 1898.

  8. I have also been on the trail of John J. McDermott – primarily due to a Mercury Marathon Medal (Yonkers, NY) from 1908 that has the name J.J.McDermott engraved on it. I acquired it back in 2006 and I have been on a similar search that you have embarked upon. I have run into the same dead-ends and lack of information you have experienced. I would be interested in exchanging notes with you. Thanks and Cheers.

  9. Latest Finding: From the Boston Post – April 19, 1909. John J. McDermott, New York City is Entry #96 in the 1909 Boston Marathon. I could only find the top 35 finishers of the 1909 race listed in the Boston Newspapers- it was a very hot day and a lot of runners did not complete the race. This still follows up the possibility that John J. McDermott was inspired by the 1908 London Marathon held in July- a race which captivated the world and he would follow-up his renewed interest in marathoning by entering in the Mercury Marathon in Yonkers, New York in November 1908- of which I have a John J. McDermott finishers medal. What are the chances of more than one John J. McDermott from New York City running marathons – when marathon running was such a obscure sport?

    1. Marathon running was NOT an obscure sport in 1909. The Pietri-Hayes drama at the previous Olympics generated a marathon boom. The Association of Road Racing Statisticians’ database has a list of 67 marathons that year in the US (though some were professional races with small fields). And John J. McDemott would be a fairly common name — the J. was probably Joseph, which many Irish Catholic families automatically added to their children’s names.

      My main issue is that if the John J. McDermott that ran Boston is 1909 is the same as the one that had previously won, he was flying under the radar. The only previous winners identified in the news reports were Sammy Mellor (1902) and Tom Morrissey (1908).

      But yes, it’s worth following up on.

      1. A followup on my post yesterday. An article in the Boston Daily Globe, April 11, 1909, p.44, on marathon victors, states that McDermott “has since passed to his reward.” So it appears that the John J. McDermott who ran Yonkers in ’08 and Boston in ’09 was a different person.

        1. Interesting post! For years- researchers have been looking for birth and death records on JJ McDermott. This is one of the few death mentions ever noted. It is worth following up and verifying. As you mentioned there was an Boston Herald article that mentioned his death in the 1920s- so I believe you are on the right track!

      2. Yes Neal, using “obscure” was probably a poor choice of words on my part. My point was more that from 1896-1908/1908 very few runners participated in marathons – and while the public interest did explode after the 1908 London Olympic Marathon- marathoners were still a small sliver of the population. SO if a name reoccurs – like JJ McDermott- its logical but not a done deal- that this is the same person! Thanks for your observations!

  10. Hello! I believe my family may be related to him! We have an award of his that hung in our family home for years. My maternal grandmother’s last name is McDermott. We have also been trying to find more information!

    1. Thank you for adding to this post Roberta! I think we are in for a major breakthrough!

    2. Hi, What race and year was the award from, and was it a plaque or medal? My grand father was John J. McDermott born in 1868 in Cape Breton, NovaScotia. He left Boston after the second Boston Marathon and returned to Cape Breton, married Catherine MacRae and raised a family of 2 boys and a girl on a farm on Boularderie. He was a farmer, blacksmith, and carpenter and worked at times in the Boston area and had a sister in Boston. His parents came from the Isle of Harris, Scotland, and the name was MacDaiimaid, changed to MacDermid in Canada. In the 1901 Census the name was spelled McDermott. I ran Boston in 1983, and bought a newspaper that I thought was a reprint from the first Boston that had a story that he was Irish, and had a family in New York. I later found out this was just a story. I don’t believe that Grandpa run Marathons after the second Boston, but it could be possible.The picture of the first Boston winner looks compatible with pictures I have of Grandpa @ 1899, and @ ages 50 and @70. I would be interested in your story also!

      1. I am from cape breton and have been brought up believing he was my great grand father. My grandmother margaret macdermid was the last to live on the land/farm in bulandaire. I have alot of wonderful memories from the farm as a child. Margaret was married to Daniel macdermi my grandfather.
        I would love to go up to the farm and start hunting for that medal bUT the house is way to dangerous to do it now. I go up their at least once a year
        Would love to see some of your pictures. I’ve seen some lol maybe the same ones. My aunt has alot of info on him I believe. Would love to hear more of what you know!

        1. Hi Elizabeth, I’m sorry I didn’t reply sooner. I just found out that you are one of my Uncle Danny and Aunt Margaret’s grand daughters! I just finished talking to Paul MacDougall, from the Cape Briton post about John J. MacDermid and the Boston Marathon. He is going to write an article for the Post about the winner of the First New York and Boston Marathons. Our stories about learning of this are remarkably similar. My dad was Norman MacDermid, Dan’s older brother, and a Tool and Die maker for Ford Motor Co in Dearborn, Michigan. We visited my grandparents, John J., and Katherine MacDermid on Boularderie @ 1937, 1939, and 1940. I learned from my dad about grandpa winning a big race in Boston, and the
          names of several of the runners that he beat. During the last visit I told my grandpa what a fast runner I was, and ran down to the mailbox and back. He thought I was pretty fast!
          I learned of the Boston Marathon in my first year of collage, one of our distance runners was from Boston, and ran the Marathon that spring. He brought back a copy of the 1898 Boston and asked if that was my grandfather! I ran Boston in 1983 at age 49 in 3: 08.
          My e-mail is jmacdermid@aol.com. Phone 734-697-8710

        2. Hi Elizabeth, The information with respect to your great grandfather is amazing; he was an exceptional athlete. I am just commencing with some geneology research on the MacRae side of my family and we are related to your grandfather. Daniel and Margaret were good friends with my parents, . Donald and Evelyn MacDonald, Northside Boularderie. Daniel and my father were second cousins. Their grandmothers’ were sisters. Danny and Margaret were lovely people. My father’s mother’s maiden name was Catherine MacRae, dau. of D.J. and Willena (MacRae) MacRae. Willena’s niece, Catherine (MacRae) was married to Long John MacDermid. I am wondering if you know of anyone who has done any research on the MacRae side of your family. My grandparents and great grandparents were both MacRae and it is getting complex…I had attended high school with possibly your Mom and some of her sisters.

          1. Hello, I am following this site in respect to Long John MacDermid and his achievements. He was married to my MacRae relatives, Boularderie. Currently I am working on some geneology on the MacRae family. If anyone has any information about their ancestral history, I would appreciate hearing from you. Thanking you, Donalda e-mail: breac@bellaliant.net

      2. Hi John,

        I apologize for not answering sooner!

        There has been.quite a bit of research done recently and it seems that there were two John McDermott’s that ran various races for the NYC Pastime Athletic Club!

        Of course it was a very common name! I also found the golfer and a jockey and a bicyclist with the same name all within the same lifespan.

        My great-great uncle was born in 1874 in NYC. We don’t know yet when he died.

        Quite a.mystery to say the least!



          1. Thanks for the update Paul! I didn’t make the connection with Elizabeth Kajoba right away, but when she named her grandparents it hit me that she was their grand daughter! 2 John McDermotts running for the Pastime Athletic Club is interesting. I don’t have a solid date on when my grandfather returned to NY, but believe it was @ Oct 1895. A recent call from Paul Balutis noted that John J. McDermott had won a 220 yd race earlier in 1895. Could be the other John McDermott who was @ 6 yrs younger than my grandfather.

        1. Hi Roberta, It’s very interesting that there were 2 John McDermott’s running for the Pastime Athletic Club! I had a blog from Paul Balutis that John McDermott ran for PAC as early as 1895 and had won a 220 yard race. I don’t. have a solid date on when my grandfather returned to NY, but believe it was @ Oct 1895 which was later than that race. Your great great uncle would have been @ 6 or 7 years younger than my grandfather which would be an advantage in a 220 yd race, long distance runners usually peak in their 30’s.
          I had a blog from Elizabeth Kajoba that she was from Cape Briton and had fond memories of being on the farm on Boularderie with her grand parents, Margeret and Dan MacDermid, and knowing that her great great grandfather John J. MacDermid had won the 1st Boston Marathon. My uncle Dan returned to the farm to take care of his parents, Katherine, and John J. MacDermid, and raised his family there. They had 7 girls,none named Elizabeth, who is their grand daughter!

  11. (FLASH-NEW) The February 7, 1909 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle lists a John J. McDermott (Northwestern A.C.) as an entry to the Brooklyn to Seagate Marathon – (that was run on February 12th.) No other details about him running or finishing the race is known. The race had over 160 starters and they posted the top 20 finishers only. Interesting that he is listed as Northwestern A.C. again – He was listed as Northwestern A.C. in the Mercury Marathon in Yonkers in November 1908. (Northwestern A.C. – is associated with the Bronx area) Combined with the new finding of his entry into the Boston Marathon in 1909- and the 1910 census listing John J. McDermott with the correct age and birth date and occupation: Printer- it helps tie his residence into the NYC area from 1908-1910. Thoughts anybody?

  12. Hi, my name is Dr John E MacDermid, and my grandfather was John J McDermott from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He was born in April 1868, and left Cape Breton @ 1895 to work in South Africa. He probably crewed his way there. He and a cousin left SA because of the Boor War, and he returned to the New York area where he worked, and joined the Pastime Athletic Club.He ran the first New York Marathon and won it! However he didn’t set a worlds record, and wasn’t one of the elite runners. The following Spring he ran the first Boston Marathon and won it with a time of 2:55, again not setting a record. He also ran the second Boston Marathon and finished 4th in@ 2:45. After this he returned home to his fathers farm on Boularderie, built his own home on the farm, married Catherine MacRae, and raised a family of 2 boys, and a girl. My father, Norman, was born on Nov 5, 1900. Grandpa built a number of houses and barns in the area, and was also a farmer and blacksmith.
    My dad was a Tool&Die maker at Ford Motor Co in Dearborn, MI, and told my brother, and 2 sisters about the big race in Boston that grandpa had won and naming several of the elite runners he had beat. We visited grandpa and gramma in 1939 & 40 on Boularderie. The farm overlooks Bra Dor Lake, and was beautiful, but they didn’t have electricity until after WW 2. At age 6 I ran for grandpa, and he thought I had some potential. My uncle Dan stayed on the farm, and raised 7daughters. Grandpa died at age 80 in 1948, and the girls said he ran until the end. I don’t think he participated in any marathons after 1899, but he did return to work in the Boston area at various times,and had a sister there. I ran Boston in 1983, and finished with an adjusted time of 3:08, and at age 82 I’m still jogging! The Canadian Census for 1901 listed my grandfather, grandmother, father, and great grandfather as McDermott. The census taker was a neighbor and would not have misspelled the name. My dad, uncle and aunt all spelled their names as MacDermid. I don’t know what the spelling thing was about, My email is jmacdermid@aol.com, phone# 734-697-8710

  13. I am positive my grandfather, John J McDermott was the winner of both the first New York, and Boston Marathons. He also ran the second Boston, finishing in 4 th place @ 2:45. He was born in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 1868, and returned there in 1899 to get married, and raised a family of 2 sons and a daughter. The picture from the New York/ Boston Marathon is very similar to pictures I have of him at ages @ 50, and @ 70 years of age.
    Dr John MacDermid
    41445 Riggs Rd
    Belleville, MI 48111

    1. John- I have a few questions for you. What was the name on John J’s Birth and Death Certificate? Was it John J. Macdermid? Why would he change his name once he entered the United States – and then change it back again when he went back to Nova Scotia? Also John J. McDermott started running for the Pastime Athletic Club as early as May 1895- he is listed as second place finisher in a 880 yard race. When did you say John J came to the US after his voyage to South Africa? Also when John J won Boston he is listed as a 22 year old – your birth date of 1868 put him at 28 years old in 1897. Also why doesn’t John J McDermott acknowledge he is from Nova Scotia, Canada during his interviews with the Boston or New York Newspapers? They just say he is from New York City. Does your family line have any paperwork on John J or any awards or memorabilia from his running career? I know you say you have pictures- but I would think he would have a scrapbook or momentos of some kind? I appreciate your input and passion about John J. McDermott- I am just trying to clarify a few points. Thank you.

      1. Hi Paul, The name was spelled McDiarmid in Scotland. My great, great grand father and his family immigrated from Strond, Harris, Scotland sometime after the census in 1841 to Crowdis Mountain, Cape Briton, Nova Scotia, Canada. The family consisted of his wife, 3 sons, and a daughter. My great grandfather John, settled on a farm on Boularderie and raised a family of 2 girls, and 4 boys. John J was the youngest, born on April 8, 1868.
        The name was spelled MacDermid on the 1881 and 1891 Canadian Censuses. There were a lot of MacDermids in Nova Scotia!
        JJ left Nova Scotia in 1892, sailing to either Boston or New York, and then to South Africa. I didn’t have much luck finding him on passenger lists. I think he probably crewed his way there and back.
        JJ returned to Boularderiei in 1999 and married Catherine MacRae on 9-7-1899. The name was spelled MacDermid on their Marriage certificate. On the 1901 census the name was spelled McDermott. I don’t know what the spelling difference was about. It was common for Immigration officials to write names like they sounded, and even today people often misspell names. I’ve had that happen often at races!
        The name on his death certificate was John J MacDermid. I’m not sure he had a birth certificate. My father, Norman MacDermid, born 11-5-1900 didn’t have one! When he was naturalized in the U.S. they accepted an affidavit from Victoria, Cape Briton, N.S that his birth was recorded in his mothers bible.
        He may not have identified that he was Canadian because of immigration, and working in the U.S., or because the races didn’t live up to expectations of a new world record. My aunt, Mamie, was embarrassed that her father would run road races! There wasn’t much glory in ether of these races at the time, and a wooden plaque may not of had the impact of a gold medal.Also, in the second Boston, although he significally lowered his time he finished in forth place.

        1. Paul MacDougall and I have been having an exchange about this story. We would like to share what we have found with all of you.

          Both of us being proud Atlantic Canadians, we would have liked to have found that John McDermott was one of the many Maritimers and Newfoundlanders who did well in the early days of the Boston Marathon. But we did notice several discrepancies in the story. The difference in the spelling of the surnames did not bother us too much. But the following facts did give us some pause:

          1. John J. McDermott’s age was stated as 24 when he the Stamford-to-New-York Marathon, and 25 when he ran the first Boston Marathon; these ages are consistent, and imply a birthdate in late 1871 or early 1872. On the other hand, Dr. MacDermid’s grandfather, John J. MacDermid, was born in 1867, according to Nova Scotia birth records.

          2. In his Boston registration McDermott is recorded as being 5-6 in height and 124 pounds in weight, measurements presumably taken at the medical check in Ashland before the race. So he was a small man even by marathoner standards (over the next eighty years only eight other Boston Marathon winners tipped the scales at a smaller weight). This is consistent with press reports at the time that called him “little Johnny McDermott”. On the other hand, John J. MacDermid was 6-2 and weighed 175 pounds, according to his grandson. Family photographs generously shared with us by Dr. MacDermid show him towering over people in the same photo, with a stocky build that we would expect of a person who worked as a house-builder and blacksmith. No one would have called him “little”.

          3. Try as we might, we could not detect a clear facial resemblance between John J. McDermott and the John J. MacDermid that appears in his grandson’s photographs. But neither of us are experts, so we turned to someone who is. Joelle Steele (http://www.facecomparisons.com) is an anthropometrist/biometricist who has engaged in the analysis and comparison of faces in photographs for decades, and has written a book on the subject. We sought her opinion as to whether the man in the photographs provided to us by Dr. MacDermid is the same man as the person who appears in the photo at the top of this thread (among other places). Her response was categorical: “MacDermott face does not match the McDermed (sic) faces. The proportion of the nose to the face and the chin to the face are not matches, and that goes to bone structure. Also, I didn’t measure it (because the McDermott is unclear) but I think the distance between the pupils is wider for McDermott. . . . If the bone proportions don’t match, it can’t be the same person.”

          We have to conclude, then, that in all likelihood Dr. MacDermid’s grandfather was not the same person as the John McDermott that won the first Boston Marathon. The supposition that they are so appears to be based entirely on oral family history, originating from people who are no longer alive and cannot be verified. No physical evidence (medals, race plaques, etc.) appear to exist which would support this supposition.

          So the mystery continues. We know almost nothing about McDermott outside of his running. According to Derderian’s monumental history of the Boston Marathon, he lived in New York and was a lithographer by trade. Three separate press reports state (after the fact) that he died early in the last century. No obituary has turned up.

          1. I need to clarify several points about this comment about my grandfather, John j. MacDermid. The story about winning the first Boston was passed to my dad, Norman ,uncle Dan and aunt Mamie by their father John J MacDermid. They passed it on to their children. My family lived in Detroit, Michigan, and grandpa and grandma MacDermid lived on Boularderie, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. We visited for about a week in the summers of 1937, 1939, and 1940 when I was 4, 5, and 6 years old. Uncle Dan lived on the farm in 1939 with his wife and first daughter. Grandma died in 1941,and grandpa in 1948. Dan and his wife Margaret had 7 daughters and lived with grandpa until he died, so their older children had some memories of grandpa. They all thought that their grandfather won the first Boston Marathon.Grandpa was a runner almost until he died. My dad told the me that grandpa had won a big race in Boston, beating a couple of famous runners, Hamilton Gray, and Dick Grant. Grandpa went to South Africa to work @ 1892, and was expelled because of the Boer War. I believe he was involved in Jameson’s Raid which occurred in December 1895 and resulted in the British expelling or jailing participants. This timeline could put grandpa in New York early enough to have ran for the Pastime A.C.and run the first American Marathon in New York in October 1896, and the first Boston Marathon in April 1897 and the second Boston Marathon in April 1898 when2 he knocked 3 or 4 minutes off his winning time in 1897 and finished in 4th place.
            After this he went home to Boularderie where he married Catherine MacRae, built a house, and raised his family. AGrandpa was a carpenter and a blacksmith. Boularderie didn’t have electricity until after WW 2
            I have a picture of the winner of the first Boston Marathon, and several pictures of grandpa dating from @ 1899 to 1940, and a family picture from the early 20’s. The pictures are different sizes except the family picture is close if not exactly the same size. I did measurements with a caliper of the faces, shoulders, top of the head to waist width of the waist, and intra pupilary distance of the eyes. The measurements were exactly identical except the waist was slightly wider in the family picture. Grandpa was tall, but did not have a heavy build. He was probably 6’2″ and the top of the head to the waist measurement was the same as the Marathon winners! See more in next blog.

          2. If both have the same measurements they must be the same height. I ran the Boston Marathon in 1983, and bought what I thought was a reprint of the 1897 Marathon and read the article tha said J.J. McDermott was Irish and had a wife and children in New York! That couldn’t be because grandpa was in South Africa until 1896! I later was told that this story was just made up! The weight bothered me also, but when I got back home the first patient I saw had lost 55 lb in the past month! I couldn’t believe this until I realized that my nurse hadn’t accounted for the moveable weight on the balance scale, the same type scales used at the time. Grandpa couldn’t have weighed 124lb, but he probably weighed 174lb. I don’t know about the height, but I think the measurements I took strongly suggest that my grandfather and the Marathon winner were the same height and weight!
            There are several other questions about facial features. First the hair is parted the same way in the pictures from 1899, and even in the later ones! Second there is a tilt in the shoulders of both the Winner and the family picture, and remember the Winner had just ran 25 miles, and the facial features like the chin, nose and cheeks are similar!
            My son assured me that the pictures can be enlarged to make them the same size to compare them accurately, and my Canadian Cousins have a picture of grandpa in a military uniform in South Africa. I’ll try to supply the pictures I have when they are enlarged to the same size for comparison.

    1. Michelle, this could be really important, because we have no record of a marriage or children for John J McDermott. Could you post all the information you have — particularly regarding your great-grandmother and your paternal grandparents.

    2. Hi Michelle! I believe you are Al’s daughter. If so, then John is your great-great-great uncle.

  14. I read this entire thread with great interest as my DNA just Gave me a whole new family! My half-brother, John McDermott goes by the nickname “Merk” and the moniker of “1stBostonMarathonWinner” on Ancestry.com. Everyone in his family (and my sons) are runners. Please share any updated info! My father & brother live in NYC.
    Denise (McDermott) Penna

    1. Denise, you should be in touch with Roberta, as you may share DNA. John J. McDermott was the son of James McDermott and Elizabeth Grady (Roberta’s great-great-grandparents). I’d love to hear where this clue takes us! Be in touch.

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