The Fashionable Summer Amusement—Pic Nics Considered Socially, Topographically, Gaily and Festively—A Glance at the Greensward—An Afternoon out of doors among the Dancers and Danceresses.
Reader, dost thou pic nic it?
Not such pics nor such nics as we had, when children, on the greensward.
Not the cheerful procession of little folks, exchanging the decorum of the Sabbath School for a day in the woods.
We refer to those places where “children of larger growth” do congregate—pic nics that are honored by advertisements in the newspapers, with “tickets for sale here” in shop windows—pic nics that are “as gay as they make ’em” and twice as festive—pic nics where the beauty and fashion of our Ilionic metropolis, from Batestown to the Poestenwynantskill, can be seen in all their waterfalled radiance.
Such are our modern pic nics.
Imagine a column or so written at this point, all about the war, and then ask “What has this got to do with pic nics?”
Much, as we shall show. You ask, “why is this thus?” and lo! the answer, not stolen from the Phili-buster programme, either.
The peaceful days from 1860, backwards, were full of long-trained excursions—hieing by steam to some distant shady nook, “far from the busy hum-(bug) of men.” The war came; Government wanted cars; it told the railroad companies not to let them for jollifications; excursions ceased. But as people must have their fun, they switched off to nearer haunts, accessible on foot, or by the ubiquitous horse car. Thus came pic nics into vogue, and they still remain a modern institution. That those who never go to pic nics may become posted as to the goings on, and that those who always go may see themselves as others see them (without being seen), is the object of this ramble from the literary groves to the real, bona fide “first temples.”
Troy is great on pic nics. They are our local “peculiar institution.” Saratoga has its Congress water; New York its Sængerfest; Boston its notions, but Troy its pic nics. Those who in Winter,
Dance all night till broad daylight
And go home with the g’hals in the morning,
In Summer are picnically inclined. But while Troy amusement-seekers run to pic nics, they have to run out of Troy to reach them. These gatherings don’t take place in Mansion House Square—Superintendent Richards would refuse his consent—nort are they even located by any chance in Washington Park or the Seminary grounds.
Where are the pic nics?
There are four leading resorts.
Simmons’ Island, at Cohoes, is one of the favorites. It is located just below the spot where Tom Moore, the poet, accepted the hospitality of Mrs. Patridge of the Cataract House, and then sat down and wrote for Masten’s paper the verses commencing:
“From early morn till set of Sun,
I’ve seen the mighty Mohawk run.”
Simmons’ Island is an excellent place for a pic nic, financially speaking—for it is reached by a causeway, with a gate, and nobody can “steal in.”
Powers’ Grove is on Green Island, close to the same classic Mohawk, and just below the dyke. It is roomy and romantic, but de-fence-less, so that those who are too lazy to take out a greenback and pay their way, can flank the ticket-seller and defraud the treasury. It is so near the horse railway, that conductors can keep step with the music and dance a jig on the platform as they pass.
Lansing’s Grove is on the Hudson River, a quarter of a mile above the horse railway barn at the upper end of Lansingburgh—a goodly walk after you leave the cars, but pleasant when you get there.
Winnie’s Grove is on Oakwood Avenue, but not so near the silent city as to disturb those who sleep their last sleep. it is reached by ‘busses, wagons and other nuisances on the avenue (front way)—also by leaving the horse cars at the Bull’s Head, and clambering a hill till a policeman wants to see your ticket or else threatens to make a “dead head” of you with his club. This is the back door.
Here are the arenas—the theatres where the scene is laid—the characters being forthcoming at the appointed time, without any rehearsal.
The preliminaries for the affair are too numerous to mention. They consist in hectoring local editors for puffs, “dickering” with a band, asking everybody to buy a ticket and ordering from thirty to seventy-five kegs of lager beer.
This Teutonic beverage seems to be an especial favorite on these convivial reunions. It is said by those who have used it, that while the mythological gods drank nectar on ordinary occasions, they invariably called for “zwei glass bier,” when they visited Terpsichore—in other words, had a dance. To those who are accustomed to quaff it from the cool fountains of our city gardens, it is a little chocking to see the beverage carted on the pic nic grounds through the sun, and “drank hot.” Others, however, say that’s nothing when you get used to it.
The pic nic! Tell us of the pic nic!
Ice cream for the ladies must be borne in mind. Delicate creatures who frequent the groves don’t feed on air. They take swings, cakes, candies, etc., and sometimes take their partner’s pocket book, too.
The pic nic! The pic nic!
No crowding on a boat, nor squeezing in a car—no getting around on the overslaugh, nor waiting all night for an up-train. It is come and go when you’re a mind to.
But the pic nic!
That’s just what we’re driving at—behind a 2:40 horse, with our Angelina Jemima by our side—for when in Rome we do as the Romans do.
We are late.
Of course we are. That’s fashionable. When Mrs. Lotty invites you to her 8 o’clock party, she looks down on you as a “vulgaw plebawan” if you ring her door-bell before midnight. So we find dancing has been going on since noon, and yet the excitement is not at its zenith. And here is the scene:
Pleasant woods are these, where leafy canopies have been spread by nature’s hand in curves that art is powerless to imitate. Here a tall monarch of the forest, and there a stripling plant of scarce a Summer. Long walks and overhanging banks invite a ramble, where branches serve as screens of living green. Ah! merry groups are those who congregate in scattered knots or unite in companies of hundreds. Beneath their feet a platform has been laid—a ball room metamorphized among the realms of the wood nymphs—a rival to the carpet of turd and the bare floor of rocks and gravel. Like shifting figures in a Kaleideoscope, the people move to and fro—now mingling in the mazes of the dance—anon pausing for a moment’s intermission. Along they go, “Forward four!” “Balance!” “Ladies chain!” “All promendade!” And so on, to the “basket” or “jig.”
Look at the faces!
If reporters have a weakness, it is fort a pretty face. Some have been known to be “carried away” by the force of cheek. No wonder that “pressing editorial duties” call them to pic nics. Ah! black eyed damsel, wilt dance with us, she didn’t wilt. And then the boys. They haven’t the same innicent look on their countenances as the fair ones wear. They look rogueish. Their motto is, “for fun.” Instead of making fools of themselves at Newport or Niagara, or imitating the dandies of Saratoga, they are having a free-and-easy afternoon at a pic nic. It’s all a matter of taste.
Then the side-shows!
Lager beer goes down, and soda-water corks go up. Swings fly and air-guns shoot. Sandwiches disappear and ice-cream melts. The “great American war show” is around.
Sullivan furnishes the music, or Quackenbush and Goodspeed. We must have music. On with the dance.
Then the sun sets and the excitement rises. The fun grows fast and furious. Feet fly quicker on the dancing-platform; ladies talk louder; “gents” smoke harder into their partners’ faces; musicians perspire two drops a second instead of one; the crowd is so large that the dancing sets grow small; floor managers scream—everything is at sixty miles an hour speed.
The crowd disperse. Perhaps there have been some little episodes, such as a free fight, but the caterpillar police district [i.e. the Capital Police District, Law 1865, chapter 554.] extends over all four groves, and this part of the exercises will be omitted in future.
Then for home. All have had a good time, except those who haven’t. If such charges as are made on the horse-cars had been tried in the early part of the war, the rebellion wouldn’t have lasted a month. No wonder that Superintendent Barton’s hair has turned gray, nor that the conductors stay poor. But the longest road ends at last, and no matter at what grove the light fantastic toes have been tripped, the red or yellow cars land them in Troy at last.
Wendell Phillips can talk as much as he has a mind to about “lost arts,” but we have found a few to supply their places. One of them is the art of pic nicing.
Troy Daily Times. July 29, 1865: cols 3-4.