Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Harry W. Murphy

This morning I ran a race called Harry's Handicap,  It is named for Harry Murphy, one of the original founders of the Prospect Park Track Club.  He might of called it that when he organized it.

Harry died 20 years ago.  I joined the club 19.5 years ago.  I never met Harry.  But I never personally knew of a (real) person who had such an effect on so many people.  I went to a club meeting in 1993 and remember that the membership was torn between disbanding because they could not go on without Harry or moving on because it was what he would have wanted.  I am glad they did the latter.

At yesterday's  race we remembered Harry.  Every finisher had the choice between a special medal made for the race. (My Friend Qaptain Qwerty toook a new one )  But I too choose one of Harry's old medals.  It is photographed to the right.  The inscription on the back says

Ft Howard
15 Kilo

My kids thought it was cool, but they did not know that 4-7-48 was a date.  July 4th, 65 years ago.

I did a little Googling to see If I cold learn any more about Harry, or the Handicap race that is named for him.

Almo Ramos called Harry grandpa.

Under former Coach Harry Murphy of the Prospect Park Track Club, I got to enjoy firsthand the pleasures of Handicap Races, between the years of 1986-1992.
For those of you who didn't know Harry, he was the kindest, sweetest, most knowledgeable man in Brooklyn. He knew everyone (and everyone knew him.) He could quote your race stats, as well as stats dating back 50 years! He was a contemporary with Joe Kleinerman and Kurt Steiner, and was one of the founders of the NYRRC (serving as the VP back in the early days.) He also ran over 40 Yonkers Marathons, and numerous Boston and New York Marathons. I can attest to the grand old trophies/loving cups and medals filling a closet, and room, in his Brooklyn apartment.
Harry "adopted" me as his granddaughter (he'd never married), and I happily called him Grandpa. He'd meet me rain or shine in Prospect Park at 4:00 pm (11 am in the summer) for my daily runs. He'd be my coach, timing me, telling me what/how to run, writing down my splits, etc. I'd be alone for those workouts, but it didn't matter to Harry. He was there for all of us, any time of the day, any day of the week, for any number who chose to come. That's why we PPTCers loved him so much, and I know that they continue some of his traditions today.
So, now you know Harry. Being from the old school, a Handicap Race was a tradition. Come Race Day, Harry would be seated at a bench with his hand painted, cloth numbers for us (we always gave them back afterwards.) He knew everyone's stats, so already had our times posted on sheets, along with our starting times. Now came the excuses from those coming to sign up (no entry fee): "Aw Harry. I can't start with that time. I hurt my ankle yesterday....I twisted my knee last week...My back hurts...I have a stomachache..." It didn't matter. Harry was firm. You'd run that time before, so this was your starting time now.
He'd line us up in rows behind the starting line. Slower runners took off first, to our cheers, and the next row would move up. Harry would be on the side, with his stopwatch ready. The runner with the fastest time was "Scratch." I remember the year I was Scratch. I felt so alone back there as I waited my turn to move up to the start. It was fun, though, trying to see how many runners I could catch who'd started ahead of me.
Afterwards, the winners received Harry's medals. He sometimes recycled medals he'd won himself in former years, so they were a great honor to receive. He also gave medals in various other categories as well. Following the awards, the party began, PPTC style. We hung out in the park for a long time rehashing the race and how we'd felt.
Now, I'm a member of SIAC. Harry had passed away in 1993, just months shy of his 80th birthday, but he's alive in my heart. Whenever I run, and especially in Prospect Park, I still remember him. I even dedicated a stone to him at the Carousel for all Children in Willowbrook Park. So, Staten Island has a part of him here too.
Therefore, it seems fitting for SIAC to be holding a Handicap Race on Sat. Sept. 23. Those of you who've never experienced one, will come away with the same fond remembrance of it as I have. Unfortunately, I'll be away that weekend and will be unable to participate. So, do me a favor. Run it for me, and let me know what you thought. I'm sure you'll agree you'll want SIAC to do more of them. I know I do.
So, happy running at the SIAC Handicap. But remember - no excuses! Take your starting time & have fun with it. Scratch guy or gal, see how many you can catch! Those of you who get to start first - run fast, and run your best. Everyone wants to catch you, so don't let them. Those in the middle, use the same strategy as those in front. Remember - Scratch man/woman wants YOU!
NYRR named a race in The Bronx for him
Born in Brooklyn, Harry Murphy (1914-1993) was a founding member of NYRR in 1958 and co-founded the Prospect Park Track Club (PPTC) in 1970. A sign maker by trade, Murphy painted countless signs for NYRR events, earning the nickname "The Brush." As a runner, coach, and mentor, Murphy is remembered by PPTC members for his innovative workouts and for helping many to develop a love for running. Those runners who did not have the privilege of knowing Murphy before he passed away in 1993 can celebrate his legacy on the trails of Van Cortlandt Park at this race.
In Prospect Park there is now a place called "Harry'w Wall"

Harry’s Wall honors Harry Murphy (1914-1993), co-founder of the Prospect Park Track Club. Murphy, along with other local running enthusiasts Bob Muller, Jack Stetch, Phil Heitz, Mark Greenblatt, and Norm Feldman, established the track club in 1970. Harry’s Wall, located in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, commemorates Murphy’s influence on organized running in Brooklyn. The wall was built in 1874 as an equestrian wall used to fasten carriages. Now the wall is often used as the start and finish line for park races, ensuring that Harry Murphy will be remembered by runners for generations to come.
Harry Murphy was born and raised in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East Flatbush, and attended Erasmus High School. He and his brother Thomas grew up flying airplanes at their family’s small Farmingdale, Long Island airport, and his brother went on to become a musician in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. They often attended concerts together in the park at the Concert Grove located near this wall. 
Harry Murphy became a Postal Service printer, and was known as a renaissance man who was a skilled artist and an expert on local history. He designed the Prospect Park Track Club logo, a hand-drawn depiction of the Brooklyn Bridge. He also hand-painted the first yellow and black shirts for the club. A nationally ranked runner and one-time national champion, Murphy served as mentor and coach to club members of all abilities, and was known for his positive feedback and generous spirit. In July of 1977, the club started an annual race called “Harry’s Handicap,” and he was the subject of the popular “I Run With Harry” T-shirts. He remained committed to running and encouraging others throughout his later years. He died in January of 1993.
I know, I shoulda brought a brush or something and yes I took this photo in 2013

The Prospect Park Alliance, the New York Road Runners Club, and friends of Harry Murphy funded and designed Harry’s Wall in 1995. The Prospect Park Track Club also established the Harry Murphy Road Running Series Patch, an award established in memory of Murphy to encourage participation in New York City races.
Harry’s Wall is located along East Lake Drive, below the Concert Grove. Prospect Park planners Calvert Vaux (1824-1895) and Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) designed the Concert Grove in 1870. Vaux and Olmsted wanted a place for promenade concerts, and designed the grove with terraces and a radial arrangement of walkways, punctuated by lineally arranged trees, lavish floral beds and elaborate decorative carvings in New Brunswick sandstone. At the north end stood the Concert Grove House, demolished in 1949, and at the south end Vaux designed the Concert Grove Pavilion, along with the wall, both completed in 1874.

Anyway I ran a great race.  I wanted to break a half an hour for the loop of Prospect Park and I did that by 11 seconds.  It was extra fun because I did not look at my watch till I crossed the finish line.  I also got a good "handicap",  I passed about 3 people and was only passed by 1.  Finishing 5th out of about 75.


  1. Wow, thanks for the biographical lesson!

  2. i miss harry . was my running coach friend and mentor. thanks for the story and pics!!


You do not have to be nice!


Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin

This is not me

This is not me
Not me.

Blog Archive