1924: Motorcycle races come to Monroe County

PHOTO: Motorcycle racing champion Eugene Walker, who rode for the Indian Motorcycle Co. (Photo courtesy Don Emde Collection)

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

The weekend of June 6-8, 1924 was full of two-wheeled excitement for Monroe County residents. The borough of Stroudsburg hosted a weekend of professional and amateur motorcycle races. The Saturday, June 7 races were held at the Stroudsburg Fairgrounds, and a hill climb was held on Cherry Lane from the Pines at Analomink on Sunday, June 8. A dance at the armory was held Saturday evening with music provided by the Middletown Harmony Orchestra.

The Morning Press newspaper covered the motorcycle event extensively and had daily articles sharing the highlights of the weekend with readers who were not able to see the races in person.

Mr. F.J. Forrie, who represented the Tristate Motorcycle Division, was the promoter for the weekend’s events. He organized the program, secured the location, and invited motorcycle professionals from around the country to attend.

Many professional motorcycle racers did travel to Monroe County to participate. Some had their motorcycles shipped by train while others, such as Paul Anderson of Milwaukee, Wis., rode their motorcycles into town. Other participants included John Seymour of Springfield, Mass.; John Minnich of Wilmington, Del.; Paul Anderson of Chicago; “Dynamite” Scott of Bath, N.Y.; and Orrie Steele of Patterson, N.J.

The most famous was Eugene “Gene” Walker of Birmingham, Ala. Walker was the crowd favorite because he held numerous world championship records. In addition, representatives from the various motorcycle manufacturers attended the festivities.

Most of the riders rode Indian motorcycles, some rode Harley-Davidson, and there were a few of the English Norton-type motorcycles. World-record holder Gene Walker rode an Indian. The professional motorcycle riders stayed at the Penn Stroud Hotel on Stroudsburg’s Main Street.

A few professional motorcycle riders arrived early to test out the half-mile dirt track and to get updates on the weather forecast. Anderson from Chicago rode the track on June 6 to the delight and astonishment of the spectators. Anderson was a “slight, almost frail fair-haired youth” who startled the crowds with his stunts. According to reports, the crowd turned away, horrified, as Anderson “took curves at breakneck and ever increasing speeds” and completed the half mile in 32 seconds. Anderson then approached the crowd, removed his leather helmet and said, “I’m sorry I didn’t go very fast, but I didn’t want to take any chances.”

The races began at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 7, and cash prizes were awarded for the various contests. Professional races ranged from a five- and a 10-mile solo competition to a five- and a 10-mile race with side cars. Prizes were awarded for first, second, and third places and ranged from $100 to $20. Amateur races were also held with top prize of $10.

No records were broken; riders blamed the poor condition of the track. The fastest time around the half-mile track was Seymour with a time of 31½ seconds. Minnich won both the five- and 10-mile sidecar race and Seymour took first place in both the professional solo five- and 10-mile race. Charles Bush of Shenandoah won the amateur race.

Interestingly, the professional drivers for the sidecar races chose local boys to be the passengers in their sidecars. George Smith of East Stroudsburg rode with Minnich, the first-place winner, and the youth became a bit of a celebrity for his part in Minnich’s win.

Theodore Westbrook rode in “Dynamite” Scott’s sidecar but the team did not finish the race. The two narrowly escaped injury when Scott’s motorcycle and sidecar struck a rut in the track, and the rider was thrown from the motorcycle. Scott got up and stepped into the path of an oncoming motorcycle. The force of the impact broke Scott’s left leg and fractured his right foot. Luckily, young Theodore Westbrook was not injured.

But the day was marked by tragedy.

During the 1 p.m. practice laps on June 6, Gene Walker, the world record holder and crowd favorite, attempted to run “the treacherous thrill turn above the grandstand” but lost control and “landed in a gully sloping down from the track.”

Walker’s motorcycle hit a tree and threw him 20 feet; the impact crushed his side and abdomen. Local physician Dr. W.E. Andrew of Stroudsburg immediately came to Walker’s aid and applied splints. Walker was taken to the Rosenkrans Hospital in East Stroudsburg by in H.J. Wyckoff’s Packard Touring car.

Three days after the accident, Walker’s wife arrived from Birmingham to Rosenkrans Hospital to be by her husband’s side. Doctors reported that Walker’s chances of surviving were good, but that it was “doubted that he [would] ever be able to race again.” Many of the other professional motorcycle racers stopped by the hospital to visit Gene Walker and “Dymanite” Scott. Mr. W.E. Freeman, a factory representative of the Indian Motorcycle Company, stayed with Walker.

Two weeks following his accident at the Stroudsburg Fairgrounds, Eugene Walker died from the injuries he had sustained. Walker’s wife had returned home to Alabama the previous week when it appeared that her husband was going to make a full recovery. Freeman witnessed Walker suddenly “gripped with a cough that racked his maimed body which caused a hemorrhage.” The local newspaper cited Walker was 28 years old, but his headstone in Elmwood Cemetery, Birmingham, Alabama reads he was 31 years old.

Eugene Walker died racing an Indian motorcycle in Stroudsburg in 1924, was inducted into the American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame in 1998. (Photo courtesy Don Emde Collection)

Newspaper headlines locally and across the country announced the death of motorcycling champion Eugene Walker. J.H. Lanterman and Son Funeral Home in East Stroudsburg was in charge of Walker’s body and prepared the body to be returned by train to Birmingham for burial. Accompanying the casket was C.R. Webber, district manager of the New York City office of the Indian Company, who arrived in East Stroudsburg to relieve Mr. Freeman.

Eugene Walker was survived by his wife, and two young children, ages 3 years and 6 months old. The Morning Press newspaper learned that Walker’s family was “destitute” following Gene’s death, and the paper began the Gene Walker Fund to accept donations for the family. Mr. F.J. Forrie, promoter of the weekend event in Stroudsburg, made the first donation of $50. The Indian Motorcycle Company, distraught over Walker’s death, pulled out of all motorcycle races for the remainder of 1924.

The hill climb originally scheduled for Sunday, June 8 was postponed due to poor weather and was rescheduled for July 15. Following Walker’s death, it was proposed that the money raised from the delayed hill climb be donated to Walker’s survivors. Unfortunately, the newspaper records of the motorcycle activities end in June; July papers are missing from the historical record. There is no additional information whether or not the hill climb went on scheduled as planned and how much money was raised. The edition of the Morning Press on June 24, 1924 reported that a total of $63 has been raised and more was expected.

Since 1924, motorcycles have become more popular and are often seen on country backroads and highways. As the weather warms and days lengthen, please remember to share the roads with motorcycles. And all you riders — stay safe.