Holidays

In Old Sacramento, July 4 history lessons will include croquet

Mike McDonnell jumps his blue croquet ball over the red ball for a point after he hit it with mallet at Meadowood resort in Napa July 11, 2011 in St. Helena, Calif. He's a former jazz bassist with a father in the U.S. Croquet Hall of Fame.
Mike McDonnell jumps his blue croquet ball over the red ball for a point after he hit it with mallet at Meadowood resort in Napa July 11, 2011 in St. Helena, Calif. He's a former jazz bassist with a father in the U.S. Croquet Hall of Fame. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Fried chicken, apple pie, canned peaches and croquet.

Ladies adorned in bonnets and long dresses and gentlemen in top hats, starched white shirts and frock coats will arrive with picnic baskets, mallets and wooden balls. A 31-star American flag will flutter above Old Sacramento.

Drench the 1851 scene in patriotic red, white and blue, and the volunteers of the Old Sacramento Living History organization hope the Fourth of July Picnic and Croquet Tournament will educate the public about Sacramento’s history.

“In the 1850s their entertainment was homegrown,” said Patricia Hutchings, chair of Saturday’s event, which will be staged in front of the Sacramento History Museum. “The ladies would make patriotic aprons of red, white and blue and wear them on patriotic occasions for fun.”

The croquet tournament is an interactive tool to include visitors and residents in learning about Sacramento’s history, said Ken Knott, a founder of Old Sacramento Living History.

“Entertainment-wise, it is good to learn some of these stories that happened during the California Gold Rush as well as to learn the history of your own town,” he said. “We want to help people understand society today by looking at how people in history lived.”

Created in the 1850s in England, “croquet was an emblem of refinement and a sport of the elite class,” said Bob Alman, an editor of Croquet World Online Magazine. “Those who could afford to play it had money and influence.”

Today, croquet is inexpensive and can be played in the backyard, Alman said. It requires no special skill or talent, which means the whole family can enjoy it. That could be good news for all those who inherited the family croquet set from their youth and stored it in the garage, although the game played in the backyard may only loosely resemble regulation play.

As described by the United States Croquet Association, American croquet is played between two teams – the red and yellow balls vs. the blue and black balls. In a singles game, each player plays two balls; for doubles, each player uses one ball throughout the game. The balls are struck with mallets and must follow a set sequence through the wickets, with extra strokes being earned by sending the ball through the wicket in the correct direction or causing other balls to move.

To win, a side must be the first to maneuver all its balls twice through the wickets and into the stake.

Standard courts vary in size depending on the length of grass. The Croquet Association suggests the game can be played on an “ordinary lawn and with an inexpensive croquet set,” but the field of play should be the flattest and smoothest and with the shortest grass to be found.

The July 4 picnic and tournament reenactment was created in 2005 by the late croquet enthusiast Jason Hollingsworth, Knott said. Each year, Hollingsworth’s walking stick is passed to the winner of what is now referred to as the Jason Hollingsworth Memorial Croquet Tournament, Knott added.

The Living History volunteers chose a specific July 4 – that of 1851 – to re-enact.

“This was the first day we were official,” Hutchings said of the day California’s star would have been added to the U.S. flag. “We were ‘sewn into’ the United States of America.”

California officially became a state on Sept. 9, 1850, but the new star was added the following July 4. The picnic and tournament will try to capture what it may have looked like when California was admitted in 1851, said Hutchings.

In addition to the tournament, which will feature 15 to 25 volunteer players, the reenactors will present a handmade 1851 American flag, the new star symbolizing an emerging country, Hutchings said. At that time the flag was mostly displayed by the military and was not a common sight for everyday citizens.

There also will be an apron contest, patriotic speeches and songs.

Jennifer Crane: 916-321-1161, @Jenn_Crane

Fourth of July Picnic and Croquet Tournament

  • When: Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; museum open 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Where: Outside the Sacramento History Museum, 101 I St., Sacramento
  • Cost: Free
  • Information: (916) 808-7059, www.sachistorymuseum.org
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