In 1895, the year of the first-ever Miners Picnic, money was raised to help gold miners’ widows and orphans. Now, 119 years later, gold continues to play a major part in this event — only now, instead of contributing, visitors can take home a bit of gold.
“One way or another,” said Miners Picnic Chairman Jack Laird, “there will be more gold prizes offered at this year’s event than ever before. For the very first time, there’s the Grab the Gold raffle. Winners could claim a gold nugget worth $350 or one of three gold dust vials worth between $50 and $150. Gold experts Jerry and Goldie Levitt have been extra generous in donating these valuable prizes. They have also donated gold for the gold panning activity — enough so that everyone who pays the $3 to pan walks away with more than $3 worth of gold.”
The old Mine Yard will be buzzing with activity, including a dramatic mine rescue reenactment at high noon. Brave miners and vintage rescue vehicles join forces to save the day, as visitors cheer them on. Living History will be in full bloom at Empire Cottage, so visitors can enjoy a friendly chat with original owners, Mr. and Mrs. William Bourn Jr., as well as visionary mine supervisor George Starr and his wife Libby. Housekeeper Katie Moriarty will share behind-the-scenes stories about life at Empire Mine in the early 1900s. All these colorful characters will be portrayed by Empire Mine State Historic Park docents in authentic, turn-of-the-century costumes.
Just outside the clubhouse, visitors can bring their blankets, chairs and lunches, and picnic near the vintage gardens, with the stately fountains in the background. Cousin Jack Pasties, served by park volunteers, will be available for purchase. Local vendors Sweeney’s Weenies, Lazy Dog Ice Cream, Brew Bakers Coffee and Baked Goods, Old Tyme Kernel Kettle Korn, An Honest Pie and Jamba Juice will also have tasty snacks and drinks for sale.
At 1:15 p.m., popular local band Rush Creek (with special guest appearance by “Humbug Jonny” Meredith) will perform on the stage near the clubhouse. Many of the lively, old-time tunes they’ll play date back to the gold-mine heydays. Roving minstrels, magician Peter Franchino, and other surprises will add to the fun, including visits from mountain man George Steger, Ray Ray the Clown, and some very wild women and their adorable donkeys. At 2 p.m., organic farmer Amigo Bob Cantisano will lead a tour of Empire’s heritage trees.
To add to the upbeat, community feel, Robert Russell, Grass Valley’s official town crier for the last 10 years, will be on hand to remind folks to purchase their Grab the Gold raffle tickets — and to announce the winners at the gold panning area at 3:15 p.m.
“Miners Picnic is the day we celebrate our community’s action-packed history,” Laird added. “It’s got built-in appeal for all ages. Traditionally, we attract visitors from all over California and some from all over the world. Whether they leave with gold prizes or just golden memories, the 119th Miners Picnic is rich in gold, grit and glory.”