Fast Digs: The Sideshow Bob

Beginning in late 1897 and new sporting event rose to prominence in southern California, relegating, or displacing two others that had previously been widely popular with the spectating public. The two that had been displaced were bike racing, and horse racing. What replaced them in the mind, if not the hearts, of the public? Go ahead, I will give you a minute.

While team sports were on the rise - baseball, football - the answer is not one of them, but rather another individual, or one-on-one competition. This is not to say that cycling, or even the racing of horses had suddenly become unpopular. They hadn't; but their place in the spotlight had been overshadowed by the "new" event which regularly drew crowds numbered in the thousands, and relegated the others to the category of sideshow. Well, at least some of the time.

Coursing. The running of dogs could trace its origin to hunting, chasing rabbits, but its introduction as a "sport" allowing for wagering, allowed it to grow in popularity. By 1898 cities, including both Los Angeles and San Diego, could boast their own coursing-specific fields and tracks. Even so, Los Angeles Agricultural Park held weekly coursing competitions on Sundays, and bike racing became filler between events. Take, for instance, the day of 6 February 1898. On that day Lacy, Cromwell, and Palmer raced a triplet against Prince Hooker, a horse owned by Bob Hackney. Yes, that is what things had come to - dogs chasing rabbits as the main event, cyclists racing horses as the sideshow. According to the story, beyond the friends of the cyclists, there was little enthusiasm from the crowd until the final mile when cheering finally rose in earnest, the horse drew even, and then finished ahead, by a head. 

Nor was this the first such relegation to sideshow status; a month earlier, on New Years Day to be exact, also at the Agricultural Park, Palmer of San Diego lost a five-mile race to Lottie Collins driven by Robert Hackney from the seat of a sulky.

Cycling has always followed a cyclical pattern of up and down popularity, and in the late 1800s its path was beginning a bit of a downward trend.