Even though his Olympic race did not end as anyone had hoped, Tarzan Brown returned to the US where he was victorious in seven consecutive races, including four full marathons. Perhaps his most impressive feat occurred between October 11 and 12, 1936. During a forty-eight-hour span, Brown won a full marathon in Portchester, New York, hitchhiked to Manchester, New Hampshire, and ran another full marathon the following day.
All told, Brown traveled more than 400 miles without rest to get to the Manchester marathon. His intense schedule was not without consequences, however. In November, he was forced to take a hiatus from running to undergo surgery for a strangulated inguinal hernia. On November 27, 1936, three days after being discharged from the hospital, Brown married Ethel Mae Wilcox of Charlestown. After his wedding, Brown moved between Charlestown, Westerly, and Bradford, unable to secure permanent employment.
On April 8, 1937, Tarzan Brown reported to the Westerly Sun that he intended to begin training to run in the 1937 Boston Marathon, which was only 10 days away. Given his short training period for the race, perhaps it should not be shocking that he finished in 31st place despite being considered a popular favorite going into the event.
Brown’s health during and after the race were the biggest stories, as he was said to have lost eight pounds over the source of the 26-mile circuit and he was forced to slow his speed to a walk “a dozen times.” Still, Brown defied the odds and ran a 10-mile road race in Norwich the following month.
Brown did not enter the 1938 Boston Marathon and little is known about any races he did run throughout the year. While Tarzan Brown may not have been in the spotlight of the running world in 1938, 1939 proved to be an entirely different story.
On April 19, 1939, in front of estimated 500,000 spectators, Tarzan Brown devastated his competition in winning the Boston Marathon, setting a new record in the process. His final time was 2 hours, 28 minutes, and 51.8 seconds, three minutes ahead of the previous record. Not only did Brown finish in first, he crossed the finish line with his closest competitor nearly a quarter of a mile behind.
As with many events in Tarzan Brown’s life, his performance in the 1939 marathon is surrounded by lore, including the story that he arrived at the marathon without officially entering, forcing him to borrow the two dollar entry fee from Walter Brown. Another story, this one told by Tarzan himself, claims that Brown wrote to a Boston sportswriter before the race and told him that he would be the winner.
Once again, Tarzan Brown was revered by his hometown admirers in Westerly. In order to capitalize on Brown’s popularity in town, the Catholic Youth Organization of the Church of the Immaculate Conception sponsored a 10-mile race which terminated in downtown Westerly. It is estimated that between 7,000 and 8,000 spectators lined the course to see their hometown hero run. This marked the first time he had run an officially timed race in his birthplace.
Tarzan finished with a final time of 52 minutes and 27.6 seconds, the fastest recorded time for a 10-mile race. Brown finished more than a full minute ahead of the second place runner, Pawtucket’s Leslie Pawson, a former Boston Marathon winner and Brown’s greatest rival throughout the 1930’s. At the finish line, prizes were awarded to the first 15 runners to finish by Rhode Island Attorney General Louis V. Jackvony. There were not any runners from Westerly among the first 20 to finish the race.
Throughout the remainder of 1939, Tarzan Brown continued to participate in races across Rhode Island and Massachusetts, most of which were 10-mile courses. Throughout the year, he ran 25 races of nine miles or more, and in 20 of those races, he had the fastest recorded time. The last official race that Tarzan Brown is confirmed to have run in was a 10-mile circuit in Boston, which was said to have been his 16th straight victory (some accounts indicate that he retired in the mid-1940’s, however, information on further races could not be located).
Very little is known about Tarzan Brown’s running career after 1939, however, his life after his second Boston Marathon victory was marked by a series of personal and financial struggles. After struggling to find consistent work which would provide for his family, Brown was forced to sell many of his prizes from the races he won. The 1950’s were not kind to Brown, who found himself on the wrong side of the law several times throughout the decade.
In April 1955, a Tarzan Brown victory was in the news once again, this time, it was when the 41-year-old Brown came up victorious against 22-year-old Albert T. Jordan in an informal race in Wakefield. The race, which took place on a two and a half mile course, came about when Jordan insulted ‘old-time runners’ like Brown. In the end, it was Tarzan Brown who walked away with a win, one last time.
Brown maintained a relatively low profile in the 1960’s and in the early 1970’s, he was the recipient of several accolades, including induction into the American Indian Hall of Fame in 1973 and was an honoree of a testimonial dinner in November 1974.
On August 23, 1975, Ellison M. “Tarzan” Brown passed away after being struck by a van in the parking lot of a Misquamicut Bar. Brown had previously been seen arguing with the assailant, Philip K. Edwards of Middletown, Connecticut, who was charged with several crimes related to the incident. Although his professional career was brief, ending by the mid-1940’s, Tarzan Brown left behind a legacy of success and was once an inspiration for the entire town of Westerly.