Miners’ Picnic takes visitors back to Gold Rush times
By Liz Kellar
Visitors to the Empire Mine State park got to step back in time – to 1905, to be precise – Saturday during the 115th annual Miners’ Picnic. There was a cake walk, bluegrass music to listen to, gold to pan for, and even gunny sack races.
Volunteers in period costume provided day-to-day details of life at the Bourn Cottage and clubhouse to a steady stream of living history aficionados. Mine yard volunteers portrayed workers in the shaft, blacksmith shop, and office and even re-enacted a mine disaster with a rescue.
“I am absolutely in love with the Empire Mine,” said Ginger Fitzgerald, of San Leandro. “I try to come at least twice a year, when the house is open. They always have a different time period and I like to play along.”
Fitzgerald, who has a vacation home in Lake Wildwood, gave kudos to the living history volunteers.
“When my impishness comes out, I try to trip them up,” she said with a laugh. “But I haven’t been able to. They’re very good at staying in character.”
After taking the mine shaft tour with her husband Fitz, Ginger Fitzgerald had a number of questions for tour leader Dick Biggs.
“I’m just nosy,” she laughed after quizzing him on the maintenance of the mine shaft.
Biggs is himself a former frequent visitor turned volunteer; he said his grandparents came to California during the Gold Rush.
“I’ve been coming to Grass Valley all my life,” Biggs said. “I remember when (the Empire Mine) was operational.”
The picnic is a re-enactment of an event that started in 1895 as a fundraiser for the widows and orphans of the hard rock miners, as well as to provide financial help for injured or unemployed miners. Today, the proceeds help restore the buildings and grounds of the park.
Competitions were a big part of the picnics, with “Fat Men’s” and “Fat Ladies'” races, Cornish wrestling, greased pig and greased pole competitions, as well as drilling and mucking contests and baseball and football games pitting Grass Valley against Nevada City.
Park ranger Susan Chase estimated about 500 people visited the park Saturday, down from a normal count of 600 to 800 attendees, and attributed a drop in attendance to the unseasonably chilly weather.
“But it was a nice crowd,” Chase said. “People had a good time.”
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail email@example.com or call (530) 477-4229.
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