In Depth: Picnicking And Politics At Fancy Farm

by tcveigh on August 8, 2010

Another Fancy Farm Picnic in far western Kentucky has come and gone.  And this year’s event drew a huge crowd, despite the scorching heat.     

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Fancy Farm is a small Catholic parish about 30 miles from the Mississippi River.  It’s also home to an annual picnic that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for St. Jerome’s Church. 

But what is about the picnic that draws thousands of people to this tiny Graves County farming community?  It can’t be the sweltering heat and high humidity!  Apparently for some, it’s the barbeque pork and mutton, and farm fresh vegetables.  Others come to hear old-style stump speeches, and jeer at the politicians delivering them. Still others want to be politicians.  Gatewood Galbraith’s been trying to convince Kentucky voters for years to elect him governor and he rarely misses a Fancy Farm picnic.  He was here again this year, selling books and signing autographs.  And, yes, he’s running for governor next year, as an independent.               

 “The party’s are the problem,” said Galbraith.  “They got their horns locked up like two bull elk fighting over territory, while the business of the people lays dead in the dust.  So, we think an independent governor who doesn’t care who gets credit for doing what’s right can use civility and statesmanship to get the best intention to both parties to join together in a people’s caucus and finally address the perennial problems.”

Just up the hill, Mary Freeman was trying to win a bingo jackpot.  She lives in Benton, 25 miles north, but grew up in Fancy Farm.  So for her, the picnic’s a homecoming.

“So, you like to come out and play bingo,” said McVeigh.  “Do you ever listen to the politicians down the hill?

“No,” replied Freeman.

“Why not?”

“I see enough of that at home,” said Freeman.  “They’re going to do what they want to do.”

Over by the concession stands, former Gov. Paul Patton was snacking on a barbeque sandwich, talking with well-wishers.  He had already been to several pre-picnic events sponsored by area Democrats, talking strategy for the fall campaign.

“You can see what the Republicans are doing, Governor,” said McVeigh.  “They’re running against Obama, Pelosi and Reid.  Do you think that’s going to work for Rand Paul?”

“I don’t think they’re on the ballot here,” replied Patton.  “The issue is between Jack Conway and Rand Paul.  It’s between mainstream middle policies that Democrats in Kentucky support against the extreme right wing agenda of Rand Paul.”

Not far from the stage, waiting for the political speaking to begin, Ralph Warren of Beaver Dam was decked out in a Stetson hat, black Converse tennis shoes and an AARP T-shirt.  He was wearing a Conway sticker but confided that he kind of likes Rand Paul.

“Well, he’s for small government and lowering your taxes and things like that,” said Warren.  “Did you see this morning’s Owensboro paper?  He offered to get a ticket for Obama and Pelosi to come in here and campaign for Conway.  Do you think he’ll take him up on it?”

Kids who roam the picnic grounds tend to gravitate toward the games of chance, like pitching dimes into tea cups to try to win Mom a new blue plate.  Some of the older folks just like to sit in the shade and watch the passing parade.  It is a fascinating slice of Americana.  And it’s been on display every year, for the last 130 years.

(Photo from www.fancyfarmpicnic.org)

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