The Old Settlers Reunion Picnic, the oldest organized picnic in Indiana, will continue its 136-year tradition this weekend. Held each year since 1868, in Bowling Green, the festivities start at 1 p.m. today.
The three-day event has many activities and lots of entertainment, but the highlight of the picnic has to be the Old Settlers Popeye Fish Pond. The pond was started about 20 years ago by Cynthia Moon. The Bowling Green native had returned home from a Reunion Committee meeting and was trying to think up a new attraction for the Picnic.
The company providing rides at the event said they would no longer participate unless they were guaranteed a full week. The residents of the oldest town in Clay County, about 15 miles southeast of Brazil on SR 46, felt that they needed a new attraction.
Cynthia brainstormed by herself the rest of the night. Then she came up with an idea. How about an old fashioned fishing pond for the kids? Hook a fish and get a prize. At first she rejected her own idea thinking it was probably a little too old fashioned. But later she thought, it just might work, why not try?
The next morning Cynthia got hammer, nails and lumber and started building a bridge. As her husband, Dick, headed for work, he stopped and asked what she was doing.
"I'll tell you later when I get further along," she said.
When he came home that night he stared at her creation then said, "It looks like a bridge."
Feeling successful with her start, Cynthia continued on with her project. She used a farm stock water tank for the pond, setting it beside her bridge. Using broom sticks for a pole, she bent pieces of wire into hook shape and attached them to the poles with string.
Her grandson, Brian, drew eight inch fish shapes onto plywood. Then he and Cynthia sawed them out. They hammered a staple into each fish leaving about a half inch of it extended out where the "fishermen" could hook their catch.
A bunch of boys from town went to her house and painted the fish. There were 14 in all. The two gold fish had the staple in a littler deeper making them harder to catch. So anyone getting a gold fish received a special prize.
When the fish pond was ready, Cynthia decided to call it Popeye's Fish Pond. She'd been known in these parts for years as Popeye.
This 85-year-old great-mamaw was given that moniker nearly 45 years ago. When her daughter, Loretta, was a freshman in high school in 1959, sailor blouses were popular wear for the girls.
Cynthia's sister, Merl, called her one day and asked if she wanted to go to Terre Haute.
"We didn't go to Terre Haute just every day then," Cynthia said. "It was a big deal. I asked Loretta if she wanted anything and she requested a sailor blouse."
When she got the blouse, Loretta excitedly tried it on and loved it. But Cynthia thought it was too big. She took the blouse and put it on.
"It's even too big for me," she said as she turned and looked in the mirror.
Cynthia has no teeth. Even in 1959 she was toothless because she doesn't wear the dentures she got years earlier. When she looked in that mirror, she saw it first and couldn't help but laugh. She turned to Loretta, who started laughing too.
"Mom, you look like Popeye," Loretta said.
That gave Cynthia the idea. The Bowling Green community also has a town Halloween party. That year Cynthia borrowed a sailor hat that her son bought at Wisconsin Dells. She got a pipe from her brother-in-law, Harold Kay.
When she explained why she wanted his pipe, Harold asked if she was getting a Popeye false face.
"I said no. I don't need one," Cynthia said laughing.
Cynthia went to the Halloween party and even her relatives didn't recognize her. That was the beginning of the Bowling Green Popeye.
Besides various parties, Popeye appeared at parades, the Cory Apple Festival, the Clay City Fair and numerous other social functions.
So, since it was Cynthia's idea and she built the bridge, it seemed fitting that the new attraction at the Old Settlers Picnic be called the Popeye Fish Pond. It was an instant success. The kids could fish for a quarter and get a nice prize.
They stood on the red, white and blue bridge and dropped their pole into the pond maneuvering the hook until they caught a fish. If necessary, helpers would assist the little fishermen. But everybody got a prize.
Cynthia and Loretta collect toys for the fish pond prizes all year long. They get things at yard sales, thrift stores, Dollar General, places like that. Their living room was full of boxes Wednesday, overflowing with all kinds of trinkets, novelties, toys and little stuffed animals.
"Kyle Thompson started fishing at Old Settlers Picnic when he was about one year old," Loretta said. "And each year he saved his favorite prize. He's about 23 or 24 now and he has a collector's case full of those toys. He won't part with them."
But its not just for kids. People of all ages enjoy fishing at Popeye's Fish Pond. The pond will be on the Bowling Green square this weekend and Cynthia will be there helping some each evening. She probably won't be wearing her Popeye outfit. But you can recognize her by her relentless energy and the twinkle in her eye. And yes, she really does like spinach.