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Babylon bids $20,000 to bring historic bicycle home

The century-old bicycle that "Mile-a-Minute Murphy" rode into the history books behind a Long Island Rail Road train, may soon be on its way home.

Babylon Town has offered the Springfield Museums Association in Massachusetts $20,000 to buy the long missing piece of Long Island's past. The bike has been out of sight and in storage for the past three years, just the latest twist in the bike's checkered history. The association's board is scheduled to make a final decision on the sale Feb. 17.

Charles M. Murphy's 1899 extraordinary feat - speeding 60 mph in an era of buggies decades before cars and highways made it routine - made him world renowned, garnering both the front page of The New York Times and coverage in Scientific American. He even became a vaudeville star and endorsed Schick razors.

"The important thing is to bring it back to Long Island," said Babylon Supervisor Steve Bellone. "It's a big part of our history because it happened here." The bike would be a centerpiece of museum-office-art complex in the old town hall in Babylon Village set to open in June, Bellone said.

Babylon outbid the Suffolk County Historical Society, which in December offered $15,000. But Wally Broege, society executive director, said his board of directors decided Monday to defer to Babylon.

"In this world where you can't control many things, we felt two museums should be able to agree on something," he said.

Bellone said he has offered a written agreement to let the society display the bike each year and take the bike if the town can no longer show it.

A turn-of-the-century cycling star, Murphy became the first and only man to ride a mile in less than a minute - he did it in 57.8 seconds. He did it with the aid of the LIRR's chief promoter Hal Fullerton, who put down a carpet of boards on the track from Farmingdale to Babylon and built side wings and a roof over the last train car to take advantage of the slipstream.

Murphy, named to the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1991, also won the American Tandem championship in 1891, and held seven world and 17 American records in 1895 and later became New York City's first motorcycle cop.

The Museum of Springfield History in Massachusetts got the bike as part of collection from the private Indian Motorcycle Museum after it closed three years ago. But it was never displayed because Murphy's bike has no connection to the area.

Earlier, the bike also went missing for 38 years after Murphy's son lost it in 1901. It was recovered from a New Jersey bike shop in 1939 when Murphy identified its serial numbers. Experts say records to prove authenticity are scant, but there's no competing claim for any other bike.

"We try to be conscientious about any object leaving our collection," said Guy McLain, director of the Museum of Springfield History. "But it makes it easier when institutions are working together." With Bill Bleyer

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