This is the New York Times account, published on July 26, 1865, reporting on the massive Fenian Irish picnic was hosted at Jones Wood, a huge expanse of parkland between 65th and 75th Street on the East Side of New York City.
Jones Wood was originally to be the site where Central Park was located, but the 5th Avenue location won out. It was here that 30,000 Irish gathered for a massive picnic in honor of the Fenians on July 25, 1865. The observations and keen eye of the writer give an extraordinary look into times gone by. Below is a full account of the picnic in the New York Times from more than 150 years ago. Worth noting that some of the particular word choices have been lost to time:
We are becoming a Nation of Pic-Nickians.
Sunday schools, churches, target companies, brothers of every name and degree, Germans, Irishmen, Frenchmen, and colored persons, one and all, spread themselves and their table cloths regularly once a year in the open air, where, to the merry music of blatant brass and deafening drum they dance and celebrate their souls.
We had passed safely and serenely through an entire week of Teutonic feest, and were about settled in dull routine when huge pieces of pasteboard, gilded and grand, requested the honor of our presence at another monster festival, an Irish celebration, a Fenian demonstration, at that Schildknechtian Paradise, Jones Woods.
Monroe doctrine, Ireland for the Irish, Yankee Doodle, Erin go bragh, and all that sort of thing, slightly mixed, floating in dim vision before us. We remembered the ancient history of Ireland ere the tramp of Saxon Hosts o'ertrod her green soil. We knew that since that time the residents of that bright particular gem of the sea have had an insane idea of repossession, actual and of right, we knew that our Irish-American friends or foes, as the case may be, have rested uneasy in their beds since their earliest cradle, and we knew that a tremendous organization of brothers and knights existed in this country, whose openly avowed intention is to reconquer Ireland, wrest her from the firm grasp of Her Brittanic Majesty, and sing the ancient war songs about the bog fires of the ancient haunts. We knew all this, but what it had to do with a picnic was beyond our comprehension.
In order that we might be enlightened for the benefit of our readers, we determined to go. Our Celtic friends are warmhearted and impulsive. They are fond of whisky and are apt to indulge in a little ground and lofty tumbling at these festive gatherings so that it is just as well for a man either to keep away entirely, or else go in and trust to luck.
Joining the tremendous crowns, the actual processions of Fenian Brothers and Sisters, and Fathers and Mothers, we started for Jones' Wood. Passing innumerable blind men, some of whom had wives and others fiddles, rejecting the thousand and one outside shows which endeavored to attract us, we pressed through the gate and found the woods olive with people.
Gallant soldier-boys of the Ninety-ninth Regiment paced slowly and watchfully up and down the walks, Capt. HART's policemen attended to the platforms and hotel, Mr. SCHILDKNECHT's private police looked out for the bar room, and the detectives overhauled any quantity of light-fingered gentry who plied their absorbing vocation with industrious ingenuity.
The platforms were crowded. A dance is a dance all the world over, and so far as we could see there is no difference between the heeling and toeing of a Fenian couple and that of any other. Candor compels us to state that although the Fenians may be and doubtless are great people in their way, those of their order who yesterday [???]r[???]menaded, all were not people of high degree. With the exception of some of the officials and a few military people there was no one there of note or prominence in any way, shape nor manner.
The men, so far as we could judge, of this organization are young, impulsive hard-working Irishmen. Quite likely they love the [old] country. Most likely the majority of them saw a [lot] o[???]er soil, or if so it was when they [???] young to know anything about it.
The natural [???]s[???] of and Irishman, uneducated and youthful, is to oppose somebody or something, and the natural [???]y of the same individual is merry England.
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S[???] in with their mother's milk a sttong and [???] her in all the stories of Governmental and l[???]r[???]ssion, the celtic infant partakes of its parent's hatred and its county's indignation; the Irish-American [???] w[???] performing the same natural operation [???]rits not alone the Irish hat[???] but the American vin[???] and when the two babies have grown up and meet at Jones' Wood or any other place they are [???]pt to clasp each other's hand, drink together to the [???] or Ireland, swear mutually that she shall be[???], take the oath with sugar many times, and finally in [???]s[???] embrace sink slumbrously upon the ground, unless haply they indulge in a game of fistic[???] for the fun of it, and are -- carried off by a policeman.
Yesterday there were no rows. This will seem strange to those who regard our Irish friends as mere warriors, but the fact is, many of them went to the war, where they got all the fighting they eared for, and now they are on their good behavior.
Young men in black caps and linen dusters abounded; they smoked fearfully vile cigars, drank much rum and lanced themselves wet. They had a real jolly time, and we presume, returned to their several residences quite sober at an early hour this morning.
The ladies varied. There were, very many of the glentler sex on the grounds. The hotel parlors swarmed with them, so did the platforms, the groves and the various little nooks about the place. Some of the prettiest, some of the homeliest women we ever saw, graced this monster gathering of Fenians yesterday; but why will they take so many babies and little children with them? One does not care to dance with a lady whose baby is rudely drawn from the maternal fount, whose little outs, with face and hands gingerbready and perspiratory, contort with disgust as they scream for their "mammy," who whirls gracefully in the maze before them. But it makes no difference, they will take the babies.
The young Irish girls who danced and flirted, and talked, and romped, and sat in the swings, and played pretty little games on the greensward, were mainly shop girls, work girls of various degree. To their credit it should be said that their conduct was in eminent good taste, their demeanor as ladylike as their actions proper.
MODES OF AMUSEMENT
There were various modes of amusement developed at this pic-nic.
Dancing was, as always, a prominent feature. The two immense platforms were crowded, all the time, and the bands were allowed no rest. Quadrilles and fancy dances followed each other in rapid succession, and as one throng of active men and maidens became tuckered out, a second, anxious and eager to go in, took their places. The dancing was not of the most elegant nature, perhaps; it never was at any pic-nic that we remember; but it was very enjoyable.
Swain with swain in closest embrace lovingly meandered from point to point, or with three hops one way and three hops the other induced freest perspiration, or in long-continued romp rushed through the mysteries of the Virginia reel.
Tired the blushing damsel rested on a bench, gallant the linen-dustered Fenian rushed for two plates of ice-cream and two tumblers of cobblers. Then came rest, refreshment, and fresh resolve, that Ireland should be free; after which, another dance.
Next to the dancing we are inclined to think that the six-legged animals drew the greatest crowd. We say animals rather than animal, for a reason which will be obvious in the sequel.
At the door of a canvass tent romantically placed on the skirt of the wood, stood a semi-civilized individual, who, with constant gesture, pointed to a portentous figure on the tent. Struck with wonder we cheerfully disbursed ten cents and went in to see the show. Face to face with us stood apparently a heifer. Her face was beautiful, her eye full of soft longing and repose. We said what a sweet-faced cow. Examination demonstrated, however, that the animal was on the right side a
singular combination of a fully developed, perfect cow and bull; on the left side we found protruding the lower half of another animal, whose perfectly formed back and body terminated in the two legs of a second bull-calf, while underneath the skin of the cow the hand can trace the upper portion of the calf, whose head rests upon her backbone. The functions of nature are performed regularly by all three of the organs; the one external head provides eyes and ears and month for the whole. "What-is-it?" may well be applied to this monstrous progeny. BARNUM should certainly secure it, for its like was never before seen on the earth nor anywhere else. The -- what-you-may-call-it, eats everything and drinks everything, wine, lager-bier, whisky, rum or whatever; whether the udder would furnish, after whisky diet, full rations of milk-punch we know not, but that the combination is the most extraordinary we ever saw, there is no doubt.
While, however, the great business of the day with the thirty thousand people there was fun, there was much done of a more serious nature.
The Committee on Reception were in session at the hotel during the day, for the purpose of attending to invited guests, among whom were the Head Centre, John O'Mahony; the orator of the day, Wm.R. Roberts, Esq.; Wm.F. Delany, Central Organizer; Jas. Gibbons, Esq., of Philadelphia; W.J. Hynes, Central Organizer; J.P. Walsh, Central Organizer; James Brannan, Central Organizer; P. Bannon, of Louisville, Ky.; Wm. Doody, of Holyoke, Mass.; Wm. Sullivan, of Tiffin, Ohio; Michael Scanlan, of Chicago, Ill.; Horace Greeley, Moses S. Beach, Col. C.S. Halpine, H. O'C. McCarthy, Wm. Griffin, P.A. Collins, A.S. Morrison, J.W. Fitzgerald, P.R. Welch, Capt. J.B. Kirker, John Keegan, Member of Assembly, Col. P.J. Downing, Michael Scanlon, Judge Connolly, Hon. Charles P. Daly, F.I.A. Boole, City Inspector, Richard O'Gormon, Benjamin Wood, Judge McCunn, &c.
Every member on the ground belonging to the Brotherhood was ordered to consider himself on duty, and to hold himself in readiness to obey any order of the officer of the day, (Capt. JOSEPH LYNCH, Company F, Ninety-ninth Regiment.)
The details for guard and police duty reported to the officer of the day at 9 o'clock A.M. Guards, which were relieved every two hours, were posted at the entrance to the "Wood," at the fences and alongside the East River, and every precaution was taken to prevent the ingress of improper characters of either sex. Of course, these guards did the best they could, and, in consequence of the arrangements, the very best of order prevailed; but, as at all other times, there were hosts of pickpockets, mole and female, while many of our erring sisters displayed themselves to good advantage on the platforms.
Mr. Wn.R. ROBERTS, of New-York, was designated as the orator of the day, and at the appointed hour a procession was formed, at the head of which marched the State Centre. Mr. JAMES J. ROGERS, followed by officers of the Ninety-ninth Regiment, the Corcoran Legion and members of the order.
After a few words of introduction by Mr. ROGERS, Mr. ROBERTS spoke. (Roberts' speech can be read here via the New York Times.)
Other addresses were made, for which we have no room, but with the inspiring music of the band and the intensity of Irish enthusiasm in behalf of the ould country, a scene of much excitement ensued and a general refreshing season was enjoyed.
The bust of Gen. CORCORAN, which on former occasions has served its turn, was raffled for.
This is the first really great demonstration on the part of the Fenians in this city. Whether it precedes others more significant, as some say, we know not. As a pic-nic, it was a great success, and forms No. 2 in the grand trio comprising the Saengerfest of last week, the Fenian of yesterday, and the Catholic gathering on the 15th of August Occasional showers of rain drove the people into the hotel, where ample accommodations were sorely tried by the pressure. At one time matters looked squally inside as well as out, but the good sense of the State Centre prevented a row, and beyond the wailings of a few damp babies, nothing unpleasant marred the scene.
Whether the result pecuniarily was great or not, we are not informed; but as there were at least 30,000 people there, the receipts must have been large. A great gathering of people obeyed the call of the leaders of the movement. They were favored by the skies and by the sun, the day was perfect, the woods gorgeously carpeted with green, the arrangements excellent, and the entire affair, so far as the attendance was concerned, a decided success.
* Originally published in 2022, updated in May 2023.