History of the Diller Picnic
As printed in the Pony Express Gazette July 1, 1999 by Miriam Martin and Mildred Kotas.
Along the banks of the Big Indian Creek, in what was part of the Otoe Indian Reservation, in an area referred to as “The Grove” was held the first Diller Picnic on August 12, 1897. Here in the Anna Diller Grove on the south edge of Diller, people sat to eat their picnic lunch. We don’t know exactly what they brought to eat, but we can imagine that in some baskets they had fried chicken, home made bread and butter maybe some homemade jelly, pickles or pickled beets. Maybe some of them had a fresh baked pie or homemade cake tucked in. If you couldn’t bring your own lunch there was to be a dining hall on the grounds where you could buy dinner for 25 cents.
The first picnic was sponsored by the AOUW Lodge (Ancient Order of United Workmen) and the women’s auxiliary, the DHL (the Degree of Honor Lodge) in order to acquaint people with the benefits of the lodge and maybe bring in some new members. After the drills by the mens and ladies teams of lodge members the procession formed, with the band in the lead, and marched to the W.H. Diller’s beautiful grove, just south of town. The newspaper article didn’t tell us what band led the first trip to the grove but in later years it was the Fairbury Military Band.
It is estimated that from three to five thousand people attended that first picnic, which greatly increased the small town of less than 300 people. Included in the festivities at that first picnic were drills by teams of lodge members, a band performance, a steam driven Merry Go Round, that did big business that day, ice cream, a recently invented beverage (soda pop), lemonade, the first Diller balloon ascension and a dance to finish off the evening.
The balloon ascension was deemed a success as the balloon rose to about 2,000 feet and the daring aeronaut pulled the cord of his parachute and jumped into space. He landed safely in someone’s backyard and was invited for ice cream. No balloon ascension was held at the second picnic perhaps because the weather was bad, but they did seem to have balloon ascensions each year after that, sometimes taking a dog or chicken with them.
The dance was held in the Loock Opera House which was built around 1892 or 1893. We can imagine the swish of the long dresses and the creak of the wooden floor as they danced around and around the Opera House. The newspapers tell us that there was a good crowd and that they stayed late.
After the long day of fun they got back into their buggies or back on the train and went home. We can imagine that the people looked forward to this fun day and getting away from the routine at home. The picnic was called a “Grand Success” by the local newspaper and another picnic was planned for the next year, so a tradition was born.
The first picnic was held on a Thursday, the second picnic was on a Friday, August 12, 1898, bad weather would spoil the morning events and keep the crowd down, but the afternoon program went on as planned. For the 9th picnic, held on August 10, 1905, there was a merry-go-round, a balloon ascension, music by the Plymouth Band, basket dinner, and free ice water. By 1923 the picnic was being held for two days and later expanded to three days and moved to the month of July. The grove is still there no longer used for the picnic. The merry-go-round and carnival are held in the park as well as much of the entertainment.
The parade has been a big part of the celebration and for many years was held on Friday evening, it was changed to Saturday evening during the 100th celebration. A street dance is held each year close to where the first dance was held. Some of the fronts of the business buildings on main street are much of the same as they were on that day in 1897.
The Everly Brothers and the Oak Ridge Boys have provided the music in past years. For our 100th celebration we had a concert on the school football field, with the Oak Ridge Boys in concert, about 3,000 people attended. It was a picture perfect evening and a fine concert. This year we’re expecting around 10,000 people to attend the picnic festivities.
This information was was found in the Pony Express Gazette July 1, 1999.
It is by Miriam Martin and Mildred Kotas