Good Morning
Good Morning
Long IslandSuffolk

Suffolk County Historical Society revives idea to bring 'Mile-a-Minute' Murphy's bicycle back to Long Island

Charles, "Mile-a-Minute" Murphy, is shown as he practices

Charles, "Mile-a-Minute" Murphy, is shown as he practices for his record breaking ride behind a locomotive. Credit: Suffolk County Historical Society

He was known as "Mile-a-Minute" Murphy, but the bicycle he rode into history in 1899 while chasing a Long Island Rail Road train has languished for the last eight years in museum storage in Massachusetts and never was put on display.

Five years ago, an effort to bring the bike back to Long Island stalled when the Springfield Museums, the cycle's custodian, balked at a sale after competition arose between then-Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone and the Suffolk County Historical Society. The society had made a $15,000 offer, and Bellone, now Suffolk County executive, followed with a $20,000 bid.

On Monday, Kathryn Curran, the historical society's executive director who took over long after the controversy, revived the idea of bringing the iconic bike home. She suggested a joint effort in which the society, the town and the county would make a united pitch.

The bike would be a centerpiece of a museum-office-art complex in the old Town Hall in Babylon Village.

"Mile-a-Minute Murphy's bicycle belongs on Long Island," said Bellone, a Democrat. "It will be a great thing for us to bring it home."

Charles Murphy, a champion cyclist, earned his moniker by speeding at 60 mph behind an LIRR train. The story made the front page of The New York Times and was covered in the journal Scientific American.

Murphy, who was 29 at the time, had boasted that if he could closely follow a train, reducing wind resistance, no locomotive could get away from him.

LIRR marketing impresario Hal Fullerton devised the stunt to promote the railroad and attract more passengers to Long Island. Boards were laid over the tracks between Farmingdale and Babylon to smooth the way for Murphy, and a shell was put over the train's last car to lessen drag. In the end, Murphy covered the mile in 57.8 seconds.

Murphy was renowned in biking circles before his famous ride.

He held seven world and 17 American records in 1895. He also won the American Tandem championship in 1891. Murphy later became New York City's first motorcycle cop. He died in 1950 and was named to the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1991.

Springfield Museums acquired his bicycle as part of a collection from the former private Indian Motorcycle Museum, which closed in 2007. While the Indian Motorcycles, which were manufactured in Springfield, have been prominently displayed at the Springfield Museums, Murphy's bike has remained in storage.

The bike had gone 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.

Springfield Museums officials said they were unaware of the renewed interest in Suffolk, but they appeared receptive to a new proposal.

"I know there were very strong feelings down there, and we're very glad to hear that everyone is on the same page now," said Heather Haskell, director of Springfield's art museum and collections. "I think we'd be more than happy to open that discussion again and bring it forward" to the museum's board of directors, she said.

Curran suggested that the bike could be purchased and put on "permanent loan to the town." She made the proposal at a legislative budget hearing with Bellone fiscal aides. Her proposal also is in line with what she sees as the society's overarching mission to create closer ties with Suffolk's dozens of local historical groups to better tell the story of Long Island's heritage.

Latest Long Island News