Adam Gunn was born about 10pm, December 24 1872 in the northern Scottish town of Golspie. He was the younger of two sons in a large family headed by its athletically minded father John Forseyth Gunn. Young Adam competed at lawn bowling and various contests of strength. In 1886 he climbed nearby Mount Vraggie (Ben Bhraggie to the Scots), with mischief on his mind and a chisel in his hand. His target was the controversial memorial built in the mid 1800’s to George Granville Leveson-Gower, the immensely wealthy and immensely despised First Duke of Sutherland.
As did many Scotsmen before him, Adam B. Gunn left his native land as a young adult, and headed for North America. In 1893 he found work at the General Electric power company in Buffalo. Soon the entire area was abuzz with tales of his athletic prowess. Boxing, Wrestling, Track and Field, the 154 pound Adam Gunn excelled at them all, and took special delight in defeating the large, hulking opponents who challenged him.
Gunn’s strong suit was the all-around competition, which later evolved into the modern decathlon. In the all-around, 10 events were held in one day with little time to rest in between. The events were; the 100 yard dash, shot put, high jump, walking race (880 yards), hammer throw, pole vault, 120 yard high hurdles, 56 pound weight throw, broad jump and one mile run. Under the auspices of the Amateur Athletic Union, Gunn took first place in the U.S. championships in 1901 and 1902. The 1901 title was won in his adopted home town of Buffalo, NY site of that year’s Pan-American exposition.
Adam Gunn headed for St Louis for the 1904 Olympic “all around” contest. His strongest challenge would come from Tom Kiely of Ireland, who would go on to win 70 championships in high level athletic competitions. Rounding out the field were; reigning U.S. all-around champion Ellery Clark, along with Truxton Hare, John Holloway and Max Emmerich. Adam Gunn had a window of opportunity for a gold medal as Keily posted poor results in the first three events, including dead last in the 100 yard dash. But wins in the 880 yard walking race, hammer throw, 120 yard high-hurdles, 56 pound weight throw and broad jump gave Keily an unbeatable score of 6,036 points. Gunn took the silver with 5,907, Truxton Hare’s 5,813 was good for a bronze medal.
For at least 39 years Gunn continued working at the power company, as a superintendent of repairs and as a “radio noise detective” using the latest equipment to find the sources of static on local radio receivers. Then the trail goes cold. I have not been able to find any information about Gunn after the early 1930’s.
Today, his hometown of Golspie, Scotland is a tourist destination, complete with historic sites, sandy beaches and legendary links golf course. And the statue to the First Duke of Sutherland? Its still there atop Mount Vraggie (er, excuse me, Ben Bhraggie) and it still causes hard feelings. Many would like to see the memorial to the Duke removed, (or even blown up), and replaced with a memorial to the small farmers whose lives he destroyed. It was the Duke, you see, who had so many farmers rudely thrown off the land during the “great highland clearance”.
So, if you ever find yourself So, if you are ever in Golspie, and you visit the aforementioned memorial, you may want to look closely at the base upon which the statue rests. Possibly, just possibly you may still see the place where, in 1886 a Scottish lad defaced the memorial by carving into it his own name...Adam Beattie Gunn.