WASHINGTON, DC—In what Washington insiders are calling "one of the most impressive displays of congressional virility in U.S. history," seven people were trampled Monday in the 83rd annual Running Of The Congressmen.
Injuries ranged from minor tie-clip abrasions to full-body impact trauma.
"It was frightening," said Jonathan Davis, 22, of Alexandria, VA, who is in critical but stable condition after being gored and tossed repeatedly by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX). "I underestimated the unbridled ferocity of these magnificent animals."
At 1 p.m., thousands of spectators lined the streets as the enraged herd of senators and representatives descended Capitol Hill in a cloud of dust. Joint C-SPAN-ESPN2 coverage of the event showed a double-breasted, wing-tipped mass of elected officials bearing down on a fleeing crowd of lobbyists, congressional pages and countless other thrill-seekers who braved the danger to prove their manhood.
"I ran before the congressmen to prove my love for my fiancee Susan, to show her that I was the kind of man who would risk it all for her," said a half-conscious Brent Klarman, 28, who was nearly crushed to death by a 1,200-pound Senate subcommittee. "You wouldn't think the senators are that strong, but when you've got that much testosterone moving at such great speed, there's not much they're not going to pulverize."
This year's event began in the traditional manner, with the penned Congressmen worked into a frenzy by being made to wallow in troughs of Scotch and prodded with sharp sticks. The legislators were further worked into a lather by exposure to photographs of provocative young pages and aides, and calls from spectators for independent ethics investigations.
The senators were then herded out of their pens through a narrow wooden fence, their wails heard across the Potomac. Once unleashed, the sweaty, heaving mass of legislators erupted from their leather chairs with uncommon fury, tearing through a narrow police blockade. The screams of the thousands of spectators only egged on the legislative body, which stampeded down Capitol Hill toward the Washington Monument.
"I could tell they were highly spirited beasts this year. They rolled their eyes like mad things and hurled themselves against the gate without feeling any pain," said Christopher Lemberger, a Bethesda, MD, graphic designer who was glad to participate despite being dragged several hundred feet down Constitution Avenue when he became entangled in the tie and suspenders of a rampaging Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).
"That one truly had the Devil himself in him," Lemberger said. "Now the ladies of Washington will say of me, 'He has ridden the Devil himself and lived.'"
After running the length of the course through the city, D.C. fire-department personnel hosed down the unruly legislators with water pumped from the Potomac while trained handlers struggled to maneuver them into a holding pen where they could be safely sedated before being returned to their wives and families.
According to Robert Hannah of the D.C. Metro Zoo, despite their often feeble, aged appearance, federal legislators can be extremely dangerous.
"We tend to think of Congressmen as dull, ponderous, slow-witted beasts, and much of the time they are," Hannah said. "But you must remember: These are very, very powerful men. And if threatened, they will be sure to remind you of that fact."
The annual Running Of The Congressmen has become one of Washington's greatest traditions, a rite of passage each year for hundreds of young men looking to prove their masculinity and bravery.
Ernest Hemingway immortalized the event in his 1937 short story The Legislators: "It was good to sit and drink in the cafe that night, to drink and remember the dust as it rose from the pounding of hard black shoes and the late light on the supple hides of the briefcases, and to know that a man could face down such a force of Nature and live yet more strongly as a man."
While most of the event's participants were in their 20s or younger, some have been doing it for years.
"I first ran before the 80th Congress back in 1947, before they used to scotch them up as a safety measure," said Jack Willoughby, 71, the oldest person to run in this year's event. "In those days, you had guys like Joe McCarthy and Alben Barkley chasing you. Now, those were senators—they make today's elected officials look like aldermen."
Despite the ever-growing popularity of the Running Of The Congressmen, some activist groups are calling for the event's termination.
"We see these lawmakers portrayed on the evening news as savage animals, interested only in kowtowing to special-interest groups and deep-pocketed boosters," said People for the Ethical Treatment of Legislators director Eileen Wiggins. "But left alone, without being provoked by sexual-misconduct charges or calls for campaign finance reform, they are gentle, sweet creatures, worrying over their young and striving for reelection with almost human compassion."