A Medal from the First Boston Marathon Race in 1897

Here's how the Boston Marathon began.


Photograph by Toan Trinh

The first Boston Marathon, in 1897, was a mere afterthought, a novelty that the Boston Athletic Association tacked on to its annual spring games to appease members who had competed in the previous year’s Olympics in Greece.

No official distance defined a marathon back then, so the BAA originally wanted to have competitors plod from Concord to Boston, following the route of Paul Revere’s ride—a patriotic nod on Flag Day.

But that never happened: Even 120 years ago construction was a problem in Boston, according to the BAA’s Jack Fleming, and work on the Harvard Bridge over the Charles River forced organizers to reroute. They moved the start from Concord to Ashland and charted a 24.5-mile-long course into the city, with a finish line not far from Copley Square.

A mere 15 men signed up for that first race, and only 10 managed to go the distance, including Cambridge’s Lawrence Brignolia, who came in eighth and was given this medal to commemorate the achievement. Today, it’s one of only two physical artifacts the BAA has from its inaugural marathon.