Today is the first day of track and field at O’Maley Innovation Middle School. On this 120th anniversary of the first day of the modern Olympics (thanks Google Doodle), may our student athletes be inspired by James Brendan Connolly. Before he was a Harvard spurner, a Veteran, a Gloucester Master Mariner, a sea tales chronicler and beloved writer, James Connolly was one of 14 American athletes (5 were Bostonians) to compete in the international Games of the I Olympiad in Athens, Greece, 1896.Twenty percent of the international competitors were from the United States.
Connolly medalled. Twice. On the first final of the opening day, Connolly won what is now the triple jump and came in 2nd in the high jump. He sailed home a champion, the first Olympic medal winner in 1500 years. This recognition no doubt helped his byline and he rapidly gained a reputation as a fantastic writer. The Boston Globe published his first war correspondence, “Letters from the Front in Cuba” where he served with the Irish 9th Infantry of Massachusetts. His career soars after writing about Gloucestermen from his days working in Gloucester. I’ll let Connolly take it from here, it’s so good:
“While still twenty-five pounds underweight from tropic fever, I took a job as physical director of the Gloucester Athletic Club. I played football on the Athletic Club cleven, spent the fall and winter (1899-1900) there, chucked that job in the spring, took a steerage trip to England…participated in second Olympics (second place)…returned to US again…My next move was to make fishing trips with the captains I had come to know while in Gloucester with the Athletic Club. I had no intention of writing them up, but at this stage of my development I was able to appraise men fairly well. Here were great men, and all the greater because they did not know that they were great. I began by writing of actual experiences with the Gloucestermen, continued with them as the heroic men they were in short stories. My first stories were sent to Scribner’s Magazine, and immediately accepted. And the first half dozen stories were brought out in the volume, Out of Gloucester, by Charles Scribner’s Sons.”
James Brendan Connolly’s parents were Irish immigrants and his dad was a fisherman. Connolly was born in 1868 in southie, Boston, one of 12 children. He died in 1957. You can see the first ever modern Olympic medal at Colby, which was donated by his daughter, Brenda. Several Gloucester writers and notables mention him. TS Eliot wrote the introduction to Connolly’s 1928 Fisherman of the Banks. NC Wyeth illustrated some of his books. His sailing chops were envied. Check out a Connolly book from Sawyer Free or look for vintage editions at Main Street Antiques and Dogtown Book Shop.
Read more about the Olympic anniversary celebrated by Google Doodle artist Olivia Huynh that prompted my post today and many others.
Read more about Connolly’s Southie ties in the Boston Globe (alas no Gloucester mention)
Photo caption: The memorial to Connolly, dedicated in 1987 and designed by artist Thomas Haxo. The memorial was paid for through a grant by the Edward Ingersoll Browne Trust Fund. Rosso/Boston Globe