Summer fun, picnicking Braidwood style

Sandy Vasko

    The word picnic has been around since the early 18th century. It originally meant a meal where everyone contributed something, but by the 19th century it had taken on a whole new meaning.
    Picnics came to mean eating outdoors. They can be private, as in a picnic for two. Or in the case of Braidwood they can come to mean an outdoor party of immense proportions.
    From the start picnics in Braidwood involved some sort of parade or event. The earliest reference to a picnic I can find is from late June 1873.
    “The Braidwood Sunday Schools are to have a picnic on next Wednesday. The procession will move from the Grove School house.”
    By August 1875 we read, “Evening picnics are becoming quite popular in the Grove, just south of town.  Dancing by moonlight is nice, but those who dance must pay the fiddler.”
    Sometimes Braidwoodites went to other towns to picnic such as in the article from August 1875 Braidwood Journal. “When our Wilmington neighbors give a picnic, and Braidwood is invited, which she is pretty sure to be after payday,  everybody turns out and helps the thing along.
    “Such was the case on Monday last when some hundred of the St. Patrick's Society of this city accompanied by the city band and some five hundred of our citizens, went per special train to that city, and participated per invitation in the procession and picnic given by the Emerald Society of Wilmington on that day.
    “We must acknowledge however, that Wilmington did the fair thing for once, and treated her guests like princes. At the depot the Emeralds, with their band, were on hand to receive the visitors, and after marching in procession through the city, they escorted them to the Island, where they were introduced to a well spread and appetizing dinner, to which ample justice was done, after which the spacious platform was thronged with dancers, who tripped about to their heart's content to the music of a fine quadrille band.  
    “A more merry picnic party we never say, everybody appearing to enjoy themselves highly, and on the train which in the evening brought the visitors home, we heard many expressions of satisfaction at the hospitable manner in which the Emeralds treated our boys, and an intention to return the compliment at some future day. We were gratified to notice the total absence of all beverages stronger than pop and lemonade, they being disposed with a liberal hand.”
    In 1879 picnics took to the road, “Mr. Parkinson of the Braidwood Republican is arranging to give an excursion to the Joliet penitentiary and return, on Saturday of next week. The train will leave Braidwood at 8 a.m. and this city at 8:10. Returning it will leave the penitentiary at 6 p.m. The dinner is to be of the basket picnic kind, near the penitentiary. Round trip tickets, $1.  Children under 12, 50 cents, which tickets include the usual fee charged visitors at the prison. The Miner's Band is to accompany the party. See dodgers.”
    To be fair, sometimes picnickers came to Braidwood, “Neat invitations are out to a grand picnic, public installation and ball, to be given by Talmud Lodge, No. 24 Knights of Pythias, in this city on next Thursday.
    A large delegation in special cars is expected from Chicago on the occasion; also lodges from Bloomington, Joliet and other points. Everything bids fair for a big success.”
    That same year horse racing was added to the grand picnics. “Indications are that the Ancient Order of Hibernians' picnic, near Braidwood, on next Friday, will be on a large scale. Divisions of the order from Morris, Lemont, Dwight, Lockport, Joliet and Wilmington, are to participate, while several fast horses of note are already entered for the races, which feature will be especially attractive.
    “Bands from Braidwood, Wilmington, and other towns are also to enliven the occasion Good weather permitting; “The boys” will have a time worthy of the extensive fraternity.”
    Of course, as soon as things get going well some government man has to step in and ruin it, such as this incident in 1880.
    “Yesterday (Wednesday) there was a big picnic at Braidwood, and beer flowed very freely. Collector Penington went down to look after State licenses, but none of the saloon keepers who were selling liquor at the picnic had their licenses with them. They claimed to have shut up their saloons, and transferred their business to the grounds for the day, leaving their licenses at home. As the law requires saloon keepers to have their licenses at the place where they sell, and also a permit from the revenue collector when they desire to change their location (if only for a day), here is a case for the collector to decide upon.”
    What! A picnic without beer? Of course, no charges were ever placed.