Every time we head to Belle Isle park, we pass this bronze statue of a newsboy. Given my predilection for all things street urchin, I have always admired it but never stopped to check it out. Yesterday we did. In the stone are carved the following words: "The Evening News to the Newsboys of Detroit." It's clear that the statue was once a water fountain (no longer functioning).

I did a little bit of research and found that an original newsboy sculpture by Frederick Dunbar was dedicated at the fountain in 1897, a donation to the City of Detroit by James E. Scripps (publisher of the Evening News, a predecessor to the Detroit News), at an estimated cost of $3500. That newsboy was stolen in 1966, returned and stolen again in 1974 (this time, despite a $100 reward, the newsboy was never returned). Grosse Pointe sculptor Janice Trimpe was commissioned to create the replacement, which was dedicated in 1997. According to the Detroit News, the occasion of the original dedication back in 1897 was the annual newsboys' picnic. On July 6, 1897, about 5,000 newsboys flocked to Belle Isle from all over the region. Detroit Mayor William C. Maybury gave a speech and ended the dedication by granting the bronze newsboy a formal license to sell papers and giving his dog a tag. "Games followed." The cool Victorian picnic shelter directly behind the statue has a sign that says "Newsboy Picnic Shelter" and states that it was renovated in 1992.

All of this only made me more curious about the idea of a newsboys picnic. The idea is pretty straightforward: every summer, the local newspapers who relied on a legion of street urchins and guttersnipes to peddle their penny editions to the masses would throw the boys (and girls?) a huge picnic to make them forget how poorly the papers treated them the rest of the year. And I'll bet they were a lot of fun. I found a few pictures of newsboy picnics from around the country. Here are some Chicago newsboys getting carted off to a picnic in 1902:

In 1908, Lewis Hine took several photos at a newsboy picnic in Cincinnati, where the kids apparently watched and played some exciting games:

Occasionally, Newsboys would use the excuse of an underfunded picnic to do some old-fashioned grifting. In 1909, William Allen of the New York Times reported that a number of street urchins at 23rd Street and 5th Avenue were collecting funds for a picnic despite the fact that picnicking season had passed. "The real newsboy has neither time nor, it is to be hoped, inclination for a game of this sort. Therefore, good Samaritans should not be impelled to fall into the snares of these young rascals. The tearful-eyed little rogue who stoops to cast discredit on thousands of honest newsboys deserves chastisement for his ill-devised beggary." In San Antonio, "every kid that could even claim kin to a newsboy" attended the 1915 picnic.  Newsboy Picnics were held in some cities through the 1950s.

Newsboys weren't the only street kids given picnics, in Chicago all street kids were invited to the annual "Waifs' Picnic" in Jackson Park:

Four or five thousand children present many different types of humanity, most of them, alas! showing sadly the want of home influence and mothering that is the most pitiful feature of the life of these gamins. A foreigner, whose English has been acquired from grammars and select literature, would doubtless have difficulty in understanding many of the expressions heard here. The compiler of "English as she is Spoke," or of choice specimens of slang, would find a wide and rich field. In spite of these characteristics, there is an evident air of enjoyment, from those of larger growth, eagerly arranging for a game of baseball, to the small boy, who is contented to lie on his back on the grass and kick up his heels. Moving about among the crowd of boys, many little points are noted, small in themselves, but suggestive of their daily life. At first sight, it appears strange that bootblacks Should burden themselves with their outfits when coming on an excursion of pleasure ; a second thought will bring the explanation that they have no homes in which to leave them. A number of the boys have bruised faces or black eyes, reminders of recent fights. Some have attempted a suitable attire for the day by twisting a piece of red, white, and blue cloth around their hats ; one girl is seen with a wisp tied around her head. For there are many girls in this company, not all of whom, perhaps, sell papers. [The Chautauquan, Volume 13]

Sometimes such gatherings were called "Huckleberry Picnics." Here are the lyrics to a turn of the century song called "The Huckleberry Picnic" that described this kind of outing among a group of wild animals:

(from A History of Rome and Floyd County, State of Georgia, United States of America by George Magruder Battey (Atlanta, Ga.: The Webb and Vary Company, 1922), page 562):


1. I looked down the river 'bout the crack of day.
I heard a big commotion 'bout a mile away.
The critters from the fields and the forests had come.
All had collected for to have a little fun.
'Twas the badger and the bear, the fox and the hare,
The otter and the coon, the mink and baboon,
The 'possum and the kangaroo, the wolf and weasel, too;
The monkey and the owl were a-settin' up a howl!

"Come jine the huckleberry picnic,
'Tis gwine to take place today;
I'm on the committee for to 'vite you all,
But I ain't got long to stay!"

2. 'Long about noon the table was set.
They brought out to eat everything they could get.
The badger and the bear took hash Française.
The fox and the hare took consommé.
The otter and the coon took 'simmons a-la-frost.
The mink and baboon took fish cream sauce.
The mule had a fit and the groundhog died,
And all were chuck full 'when the hyena cried:

3. Buffalo and hogs hollered "Right hand across!"
Jenny and Jack hollered "Left hand back!"
It looked sorter strange in the ladies' change
To see the nanny goat swapping places with the shoat.
They tried to "grand change" over and again,
But a little cur pup kep' a-mixin' 'em up.
'Bout to be a fight in the "ladies to the right,"
When the cats began to bawl, "Promenade all!"

4. 'Long about night the varmints took sick,
Sent for the old snake doctor mighty quick.
Like the railroad cars his wings did hum.
The varmints all hollered, "Yon he come!"
Started for to open the head of the hoss,
When the varmints all hollered, "Hold on, Boss!
It ain't no use to do like dat.
Dat ain't de place whar de misery's at!"

5. Tied the tail of the monkey with a rope,
Looked down his throat with a microscope.
You just ought to seen that monkey's tail.
'Clare 'fore goodness it turned right pale!
Rubbed it and he rubbed it, but 'twa'n't no use,
So he greased it all over with pokeberry juice.
When that ugly monkey up and died,
He turned right over and softly sighed.

6. Animals went down the river for to bathe,
Just couldn't make the baboon behave.
When it came time to look for a towel,
They had to wipe off on the little screech owl.
The screech owl screeched and the bullfrog hopped.
The tadpole wiggled and the terrapin flopped.
The monkey he then run out and hid.
The elephant spied him and said, "O, you kid!"

So much fun.

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