all arts

experiences

menu

In Newburyport, They Race Beds In The Streets—Because They Can

The Newburyport police team closes on the finish line. (Greg Cook)

experiences

They go faster than you’d expect, a wise friend advised me about Newburyport’s annual Bed Race.

Teams of up to five people push the beds—made up to resemble sailing ships and fire trucks and churches—as fast as they can down a quarter-mile stretch of Federal Street. Well, of course, some groups do meander down the street, approaching it more as a costume parade.

“People are timed and we race them one at a time for safety reasons,” says race chairman Chad McDonald.

The rules require at least one person to ride the bed during the competition. Crowds line the street. And during each run, a young man stands in the foyer of the Old South Church and pulls the rope that makes the church bell ring and ring.

“It’s just something entertaining,” McDonald says.

The race occurs during Newburyport’s annual Yankee Homecoming, but it’s not technically part of festival. Instead it’s put on independently by the Newburyport Lions Club.

The Prince of Whales team. (Greg Cook)

The Prince of Whales team. (Greg Cook)

Bed races have been know to occur from San Francisco and Ogunquit, Maine, to Pattaya, Thailand, and Kogarah, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. The, ahem, sport seems relatively popular in Florida and Indiana, where a number of communities host competitions. One of the oldest continuing races is the Great Knaresborough Bed Race in Britain, which was founded in 1966, and is proudly described as “part fancy dress pageant and part grueling time trial over a 2.4-mile course, ending with a swim through the icy waters of the River Nidd.”

The origins of Newburyport’s Bed Race are shrouded in mystery. Or at least, McDonald says, “I don’t know who exactly started the Bed Race.” He thinks the tradition goes back at least to the 1980s.

“I’ve been chairman for 13 years. The Bed Race had been defunct for six, seven, eight years before I took over,” he says. Previously, “I think it was the American Legion that was the charity group that did the Bed Race.”

However, to call them beds may be somewhat misleading. While some retain the appearance of beds, with headboards and all, most are actually wheeled carts designed with large handles for pushing and just a rudimentary mattress slapped on top for the spirit of the thing. In fact, the rules have stated: “Mattresses are not necessary but may be used (riders will appreciate the comfort, it’s a bumpy ride).”

Last night, Old South Church’s “Whitefield Racers” won with a time of one minute and six seconds. The Newburyport Police team took second at 1:08 and the Fire Departent third at 1:09.

The Raybeam team’s bed made up to look like the house from the movie “Up,” complete with a bundle of helium balloons, was awarded the prize for “most original entry.” And Institution For Savings group’s sailing ship-bed won for “Best in Show.”

What’s the fastest bed to ever make a bumpy ride through Newburyport? “I want to say six or seven years ago, it was a team called the Pirates of the Pont. And they did it in one minute and three seconds or one minute and four seconds,” McDonald says. “And to date that’s still the fastest anybody has done it.”

What was the team’s secret? Did they have an especially aerodynamic bed? “They had a normal bed,” McDonald days. “They just had five pretty athletic guys.”

Greg Cook is co-founder of ARTery. Follow him on Twitter @AestheticResear and discuss the things he does with his bed on Facebook.

The Chococa Baking Company team dashes down Federal Street. (Greg Cook)

The Chococa Baking Company team dashes down Federal Street. (Greg Cook)

A school desk topped the bed from Mrs. Murray's Nursery School. (Greg Cook)

A school desk topped the bed from Mrs. Murray’s Nursery School. (Greg Cook)

The Angels at Home Healthcare team adopted a "Game of Thrones" theme. (Greg Cook)

The Angels at Home Healthcare team adopted a “Game of Thrones” theme. (Greg Cook)

Elmo rides with the Samarra Painting team. (Greg Cook)

Elmo rides with the Samarra Painting team. (Greg Cook)

Newburyport firefighters take off from the starting line. (Greg Cook)

Newburyport firefighters take off from the starting line. (Greg Cook)

The Raybeam team, dashing past the Old South Church, made their bed up to look like the house from the movie "Up." (Greg Cook)

The Raybeam team, dashing past the Old South Church, made their bed up to look like the house from the movie “Up.” (Greg Cook)

Newburyport Mayor Donna D. Holaday steers her ship across the finish line. (Greg Cook)

Newburyport Mayor Donna D. Holaday steers her ship across the finish line. (Greg Cook)

Olive Oyl rides with the Port City Pappys lacrosse team. (Greg Cook)

Olive Oyl rides with the Port City Pappys lacrosse team. (Greg Cook)

The Actors Studio Team crosses the finish line. (Greg Cook)

The Actors Studio Team crosses the finish line. (Greg Cook)

The Elements Massage team. (Greg Cook)

The Elements Massage team. (Greg Cook)

State representative candidate Ed Cameron adopted a Blue Man Group theme. (Greg Cook)

State representative candidate Ed Cameron adopted a Blue Man Group theme. (Greg Cook)

The Institution for Savings team celebrates Newburyport's 250th birthday. (Greg Cook)

The Institution for Savings team celebrates Newburyport’s 250th birthday. (Greg Cook)

One of the fastest beds was this team from the Old South Church. (Greg Cook)

One of the fastest beds was this team from the Old South Church. (Greg Cook)

The Anchor Pizza crew jogs down Federal Street. (Greg Cook)

The Anchor Pizza crew jogs down Federal Street. (Greg Cook)

The final group to race was Theater in the Open and its stilters. (Greg Cook)

The final group to race was Theater in the Open and its stilters. (Greg Cook)

 

Comments

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.

About ARTERY

Welcome to the ARTery. The ARTery offers the best of Art news, reviews and features in sounds, words, sights, stages, screens and experiences in and of Boston. The ARTery, presented by WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station, is powered by critic-at-large Ed Siegel and reporter and critic Greg Cook.

CONTACT