Sunday, August 13, 2017

1909 postcard: Balloon at the Merchant's Picnic in Hanover, Pa.

Here's a fun one...

This black-and-white postcard was postmarked on August 19, 1909, in York, Pennsylvania — nearly 1,300 full moons ago.1 It was mailed to Mr. George Williams in Newville, Cumberland County. The cursive message on the back states:
Suppose you wonder why we did not come to-day but the lady that promised to keep house for me could not come & one of my boarders has taken sick so it was impossible for me to get away. Am very much disappointed. Hope to see you all sometime again.
Sister Emma

The postcard photograph was taken by Swords Bros. & White, which was based in Hanover. No publisher is listed for the card, though.

The image, featuring a large crowd and what looks like a hot-air balloon with the words "HAPPY DAY" printed on the side, is titled "Merchant's Picnic, Eichelberger Park, Hanover, Pa."

It looks like this big summer event started in 1906. Here's an article from The Baltimore Sun on August 12, 1908, and refers to that year's event as the "third annual":
The Big Picnic.
Hanover, Pa., Aug. 11 — This town was closed tighter today than on Sundays. All business was suspended and streets and homes practically deserted. Traveling salesmen and visitors were astonished when they arrived and hastened to inquire why the town was abandoned, some thinking an epidemic of contagious disease had broken out and that a quarantine had been established. They learned that this was simply merchants' picnic day and that the populace was enjoying their third annual outing at Eichelberger Park.

Fully 10,000 persons from Hanover, McSherrystown, Littlestown, New Oxford, Spring Grove and country districts were in attendance. A baby show proved a popular feature, and more than 300 youngsters were in competition for liberal gold prizes offered for the prettiest babies. William H. Long and Luther P. Horn, the judges, made these awards: First prize, Elizabeth Sell; second, Dorsey Venard; third, Marie Tressler.

Balloon ascensions, peanut scrambles, a pig race and stilt walking contest were other amusing features. Two baseball games between Columbia and Hanover and a game between the Merchants and Barbers drew the largest crowds.
A newspaper article from the next summer, 1909, features some very similar themes to that 1908 article in The Baltimore Sun. This is from the August 11, 1909, issue of the Harrisburg Daily Independent:
Pretty Feature of Merchants' Picnic Called Off.
Hanover, Aug. 11 — Yesterday was merchants' picnic day at Eichelberger Park, and fully half the population deserted the town for a day's outing, while thousands came from the surrounding towns of New Oxford, Spring Grove, Littlestown, McSherrystown, Abbottstown and East Berlin. Hanover was closed tighter than on a Sunday, and traveling men got the impression that a quarantine prevailed.

The leading feature of the picnic was to have been the baby show, but this was a failure owing to the requirements that all babies appear in coaches, which the mothers objected to.

The amusements combined a balloon ascension, two baseball games, concert and prize contests for children.
Finally, here's the coverage of the event that appeared in the August 10, 1910, edition of The York Daily:
Delightful day Spent by Hanover Business Men
at Eichelberger Park
Hanover, Aug. 9 — With weather conditions all in their favor the members of the Merchants' association, and their relatives and friends spent an enjoyable day at Eichelberger park, the affair being one of the best ever held. Despite the fact that many farmers were home getting ready for the fall seeding, the attendance was large and all of the amusements were enjoyed. The dance floor, which was free to all in the afternoon, was crowded with young people and the ball games were well attended. All of the contests were enjoyed as were the thrilling balloon ascensions and parachute drops of King Kelly and wife. These concert in the evening by the City band completed a delightful program.
I found references to the Merchants' Picnic going all the way up to 1972. I'm not sure if it still persists today.

1. In baseball games on August 19, 1909, the Philadelphia Phillies split a doubleheader with the New York Giants and the Boston Doves swept a doubleheader against the Brooklyn Superbas. The Boston Doves eventually became today's Atlanta Braves. While in Boston, the team went through a lot of nicknames, including Red Stockings, Beaneaters, Rustlers, Bees and Braves.

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