W.E. Tebbets’ 1933 Walkathon
Walkathons and Dance Marathons became popular during the Depression years. Promoter W.E. Tebbets set up many of these events all over the country, bringing his own bands and entertainers along to the event. After a successful walkathon at Atlantic City in 1932, Tebbets arranged for a similar contest to be held in the Camden area early in 1933, using one of the hangars at Central Airport as his venue.
The events were quite popular in their day. At least two other walkathons were held in Camden, one on October of 1933 and another in 1935. One of these events featured the “walkathon wedding” of Johnny Groves and Marie Broughton
Besides Ira Coffey’s Walkathonians, a band which featured at one time or another such players as trumpeter Edgar “Pudding Head” Battle, trombonist Clyde Bernhardt and drummer Red Saunders, the Camden walkathons are best remembered for the appearances of comedian Red Skelton, who went on to great fame and fortune on radio and in movies and especially television. Others of note who emceed the events included “Dud” Nelson and Dick Lord” Buckley.
Besides local talent, there were a few “professional” contestants, who went on tour, sponsored by local businessmen back home, in a similar fashion to the professional golfers of today. One such “pro” was Eddie Nichols. Nichols was a fine vocalist as well, and was known as the “Man With A Million Songs” for his ability to cover just about any request sent his way. He sang with Cecil Mackey’s band in Montgomery Alabama in the summer of 1934 before going out on the road with the Walkathon. He left the tour after meeting, falling in love with, and marrying a girl from Camden, New Jersey, Beatrice Boody. The Nichols settled down in Camden, Eddie finding work with Mother’s Koffee House on Broadway. They later lived in Westfield Acres in East Camden, where there friend from the walkathon days, Red Skelton, would come to visit when in town.