On Sept. 1, 1909, between 6,000 and 7,000 local residents gathered at Robison Park for the first "Fort Wayne day."
Many local businesses had closed for the day to give workers a chance to enjoy the festivities. Robison Park was an amusement park built north of the city. It opened in summer 1896 and closed in 1919.
According to a Sept. 2, 1909, story in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (our name then), "Fort Wayne day" was intended to be a day of picnics, but the weather was a bit too chilly for people to eat outside. But that didn't stop park-goers from enjoying dancing and vaudeville stage acts indoors. There were also contests such as "tallest man" and "oldest lady" and popular outdoor attractions including Fanny the diving dog and Dunbar's performing goats.
One popular contest was a hunt for a casket containing $5 in gold. That would have been worth well over $100 in today's money.
An edited version of the 1909 story appears below.
Eagle-eyed readers looking at the page pictured above will see the top item in the newspaper on Sept. 2, 1909, was a national story with the headline "Dr. Cook Has Found North Pole And Discovered New Land In Far North." Frederick Cook's claims were later disputed and never proven legitimate.
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"Big Crowd At The Park," Sept. 2, 1909
Despite chilly weather, which marked the inception of the first of the months of "R's," there were from 6,000 to 7,000 Fort Wayne people at Robison park Wednesday afternoon and evening at the occasion of the celebration of the first annual Fort Wayne day. With more of the heat of the last few days administered with yesterday's sunshine, the day would have been twice as successful as it proved to be under the conditions as they existed. Many had planned to take their dinners and suppers at the park – the day, in fact, was to be a picnicking time for all the city – but it was just a little too cool to permit of a very general practice of outdoor picnicking.
As a result of the early autumn chill, the features of the program at the park were confined to events chiefly within doors, and the summer vaudeville and dancing pavilion were the most popular attractions. The vaudeville bill was is an unusually good one this week and the artists played to four large and crowded houses during the afternoon and evening.
The big free acts give in the open air were very good. One was Fanny, the diving dog, and the other was Dunbar's performing goats. Both attractions were witnessed by great numbers of people. Unique contests, with good prizes, added greatly to the interest.
Business houses, generally speaking all over the city, closed up during the afternoon by agreement that Fort Wayne day might be fittingly celebrated, and hundreds of clerks and employers were given the afternoon off. A large percentage of these went to the park and the Wabash Valley Traction company gave excellent service, handling the crowds promptly and comfortably.
Fort Wayne day was observed by a number of organizations in special picnics and pleasure parties at the park.
Perhaps the most interesting contest of the day was the hunt for the casket containing $5 in gold. The lucky explorer was Mr. A.C. McMillan, a Pennsylvania (Railroad) engineer.
Mr. Edmond Miller and Miss Hazel Paulson discovered the candy kid.
Other prizes were awarded as follows:
For the Tallest Man – Lew D. Haven; height 6 feet, 5.5 inches
For the Oldest Lady – Mrs. M.E. Rogers; aged 85 years
For the Oldest Man – V.H. Whitmore; aged 83 years
For the Best Gowned Lady – Mrs. Louis Auger