BEAN’S PURCHASE – For a 10th time, the Mt. Washington Auto Road on Saturday marked the start of the tourist season with a celebration that included the Father of the Country, a shell fisherman, hockey and chess players, a princess and knight and riders of one-wheeled electric mobility devices.
The inspiration for what is now known as Alton Weagle Day was a North Country resident with a penchant for climbing the oldest manmade attraction in America in colorful ways — among them, walking backward, blindfolded and pushing a wheelbarrow full of sugar.
Beginning with the 150th season in 2011 and every year since — except for 2020 — Weaglers, as they’re known, have ascended the Auto Road in a manner that allows them the claim of being the first to do it.
For example, in 2019 Michelle McElroy of Center Harbor came dressed as a giant can of Tab soda. Her husband, Ethan, was her one-person support crew, making sure she didn’t step off the Auto Road and into a steep fall.
This year, she walked up the Auto Road in casual wear, but she carried a limberjack — a loose-limbed wooden dancing doll — which made her ascent a bona fide “first.” Meanwhile, Ethan was dressed to the nines as George Washington.
Asked why apparently normal people — Michelle works at the Holderness School, Ethan is a web designer — would engage in behavior some might consider silly, she said that it was “just to be around like-minded people.”
At Alton Weagle Day, “You get out of your car dressed like George Washington and nobody bats an eye,” McElroy said.
Dylan Pearse-Theroux said he intended to ride an electric unicycle to the top of the Auto Road after he was inspired to participate by reading about the adventures of an earlier Weagler, Dan Szczesny.
Szczesny, author of “The White Mountain: Rediscovering Mount Washington’s Hidden Culture,” dressed up as poet Walt Whitman for one Alton Weagle Day and went up the Auto Road reading from Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”
Saturday marked the sixth Alton Weagle Day for Dr. Linda Hindle, a family practitioner from Georgetown, Mass.
Hindle, who became the first person to ascend the Auto Road while pushing a cart containing a giant white rabbit (“Alton”), said, “Mount Washington is my favorite place to be and when it’s time to leave the earth, I hope it’s on Mount Washington.”
Conway’s Hans Bauer has been a first ascender at nine Alton Weagle Days, including 2019, when he rode a penny farthing bicycle.
This year carrying a pizza atop his head while walking on recreational stilts, Bauer qualified that he didn’t ride the bicycle as much as straddle it and move it forward while wearing construction stilts.
He also crawled up the Auto Road, an homage to the late Otok Ben-Hvar, arguably the most colorful of Weaglers, said Howie Wemyss, the Auto Road’s former general manager.
In 2014, in a tribute to TV cartoon character Wile E. Coyote, Ben-Hvar, wearing aviator’s goggles and roller skates, sat astride a giant rocket he hoped would propel him forward and upward. Although the rocket produced a display of sparks and flame, it failed to propel upward.
In an earlier attempt, Ben-Hvar planned to ascend the Auto Road in a sit-down telephone booth carried by four helpers while he walked inside it, Wemyss said.
Come Alton Weagle Day, Ben-Hvar and the phone booth showed up, but the helpers did not.
Bauer said it was appropriate that Alton Weagle Day and Memorial Day are observed closely together.
On both days, he said, the country gives thanks “for this truly blessed freedom” made possible by American servicemen and women, which people exercise in all manner of ways.
“I like to think of us as America’s Auto-nauts,” Bauer told his fellow Weaglers.
Jesse Lyman of Conway, the physical education teacher at Lafayette Regional School and the only person to take part in all 10 Alton Weagle Days, said he participates because “I love the mountain.”
“Mount Washington is one of New Hampshire’s icons and to be able to share it with students is just cool,” he said.
Dressed as a hockey coach, Lyman and two of his fifth-graders – Charlotte Goldberg and Collin Reeder in Boston Bruins jerseys – were going to climb to the top of the Auto Road and set up a goal, where later the first hockey goal on Mount Washington would be scored.