Run It's for Stew and Beer
New York Times
April 19, 1981
By Suzanne DeChillo
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the quiet of
Whippoorwill Park in this northern Westchester town
was shattered by the sound of 20 runners flashing
through the woods, shouting, On! On!
Alarmed by the hue and cry, a
biker on the straight-and-narrow path scolded the
sweaty, panting joggers as they dashed by What
on earth are you doing? You all sound like a wounded
The New York chapter of the
Hash House Harriers was on its monthly paper chase.
Undeterred, the Harriers and Harriets, as the female
members are known, continued on their five-mile run
through streams, over trenches, through mud and
fields, down winding country roads and up to
Chappaqua's version of Heartbreak Hill.
While a bowl of stew awaited
all who finished the run, this was hardly the Boston
Marathon. To clear up any confusion, they are known
as hashers. Hashers get indignant if you
call them just runners. According to one harrier,
when The Wall Street Journal labeled them beer
guzzlers, that was good ink and
accurate journalism. Some enthusiasts come for the
running, but most contend that they are there for the
drinking and the singing that follow each run.
I don't know why we grown
people go out in the mud and run around getting lost
in the rain, so we can drink beer and talk about how
stupid it was to go out and get lost, declared
Paul Janis of Croton, a charter member and secretary
of the club. You'll either love it or you think
we're all nuts.
I think the attraction is
the disorganization, the running, the camaraderie and
the dirty songs and beer afterward, explained
Kerry Bolton of Chappaqua.
We have people who run in
the New York Marathon, and then there are people who
just do it because they need a beer at the end. They
don't necessarily like to run, but they like to be
outdoors. The most important thing is that they all
like to drink and sing, except I don't think that
your editor would like the words to the songs, like
when William does his rendition of the `Monks of St
Hashing is divided into the run
and the On On the party afterward.
The run is the paper chase, hare-and-hound
fashion, only because of the antilitter laws, instead
of throwing paper on the ground, we put a paper loop
around the twig of a tree, and pick it up later, or
we lay a trail of flour, said Ian Cumming of
Lewisboro, a founding member of both the New York and
Singapore chapters of the Hash House Harriers.
For those who did not grow up
playing children's games in places where the sun
never set on the Union Jack, the paper chase is a
British game that has been around since Dicken's
time. It was organized at schools to tire British
schoolchildren and has nothing to do with Harvard Law
School, lawyers or the television program of the same
Newspapers were shredded
into small pieces, and then with a satchel full of
paper, the hare got a 10-minute head start. As he
ran, he threw the paper, leaving a trail with false
trails and gaps. The pack tried to catch him.
It was a traditional way of getting people to
exercise, said Mr. Cumming, the grandmaster of
the New York Hash.
The harriers pride themselves
on their lack of organization, so their history is
vague. Credit for founding this eccentric sports club
goes to A.S. Gispert, who may have been a British,
Scottish, or Australian accountant doing an
occasional stint in Kuala Lumpur in
Malaya during the 1930's.
Living with a group of
bachelors and men separated from their wives at a
club named the Hash House (because of the quality of
the cuisine), in 1938 or was it 1939?
Mr. Gispert gathered together kindred spirits and
began cross-country paper chases through jungles,
swamps and rubber plantations every Monday evening.
Soon, the Hash House Harriers became an institution,
interrupted only by World War II. After the war, the
harriers went at it again running, drinking
The sport was exported when Mr.
Cumming, an executive at an international company
(Don't mention the name. They don't need this
kind of advertisement, he said) was transferred
from Kuala Lumpur in 1962 to Singapore, where he
introduced hashing. Now there are more than 50
chapters in the world with the heaviest concentration
still in the Far East, but there are also hashes in
England, Australia and Europe as well as in
Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Boston. In the
Far East, many hashes still have separate runs for
men and women.
The New York chapter was
founded in 1978 by Mr. Cumming and Barbara and
Charles Woodhouse of Croton, who got hooked on
hashing during a three-month stay in Singapore. Mr.
Woodhouse, who was working for the international
division of a Boston bank, was particularly impresses
with the run through a local pig farm. When the
Woodhouses returned to Westchester, they got in touch
with Mr. Cumming who had been living here for 10
years, and the rest is hash history.
In this club, there are no
members; you just show up. Over the last three years,
hashers have trekked through two feet of snow and
sprinted through rainstorms. They have navigated
Croton Gorge and followed the hare's spoor through
the streets of New York City.
Before a recent hash, Tony
Bolton abd Peter Orenski, the voluntary hares, laid a
five-mile trail that began and ended in Mr. Bolton's
backyardin Chappaqua. Mud and water are
absolutely obligatory, said Mr. Orenski, and
finding the proper mix of the two took the men two
hours. Mr. Bolton laid out the true trail, while Mr.
Orenski did the false ones.
We deliberately have
breaks, gaps and false trails to keep the pack
together, explained Mr. Cumming. The
fastest runner alone never finds the trail; he has to
rely on other people. In this game,
competitiveness is punished, cooperation is rewarded;
there are no winners, and there are no penalties for
The harriers start out
together, but when the trail divides, the
fleet-footed runners are invariably lured down a
false trail. As they search for the true trail, the
harriers call out to one another, shouting, Are
you? which means are you on the paper trail;
checking, which means I'm checking for
the paper, or On! On! which means I've
found the trail.
In hashing, the unwritten
law is the first shall be the last, Mrs.
Woodhouse pointed out. So the when the swiftest
runner has run out of paper on a quarter mile false
trail, he alerts the others, and the slower harriers,
who have by now caught up, fan out to find the real
trail. For the moment, the fastest sprinter is last.
There is no dishonor in
taking short cuts, and competition is actually
discouraged. A well planned run brings everyone in at
the same time. It takes about an hour and half,
said Mr. Cumming. It's a run, not a race. It's
not a pleasant stroll through the countryside,
either. The hare uses steep hills, brambly bushes,
nettles and streams. It's not the type of thing road
runners like. It's very relaxing.
The run always ends at a bar or
at the hare's house. This is called the On!
On! By tradition, the hare provides beef stew,
beer, ice and cigarettes. To defray the cost, a
collection is taken up. When enough stew and beer are
consumed, then comes the singing of songs and hymns
solos, duet, and a capella renditions of
drinking songs. What this choral society lacks in bel
canto elegance, it more than makes up for in
bawdiness. For some reason, at a recent On!
On! a Scotsman, an Australian and an Englishman
excelled at this aspect of hashing. The Americans did
a commendable job with the refrain, Let's have
another verse, worse than the other verse. So waltz
me round again, Willie.
The New York chapter of the
Hash House Harriers meets once a month for a Saturday
run. Sometimes they have family events and children
are not allowed to carry bead crumbs.