In July 1935, the Lemuel T. Boydson Post No. 94 of the American Legion in Woodman’s Hall in Cleveland’s Cedar-Central neighborhood held its annual picnic at the Vass Picnic Grounds. Vass was a well-shaded plot of farmland with picnic shelters, swings, a beer garden, and a dance hall that could welcome up to six hundred visitors at once. It was located in Orange Township off Route 422 (now Chagrin Boulevard) on Walnut Hills Avenue in the 1930s in what would later become the village of Woodmere in the following decade. The members of the Legion and its women’s auxiliary made full use of the shelters during a heavy rain shower, but soon the group was able to enjoy games and relays such as a Boy Scouts baseball game and kids’ relays such as a girls’ bean-bag race, boys’ spider race, girls’ newspaper race, boys’ backward crawl, and girls’ walk-skip-run. The adults had their own activities: a men’s “Dizzy Izzy” race, a trained seals’ race for couples, a men’s cigarette race, and a women’s candle race.
The Legionnaires’ outings to the Vass farm predated a rise of Black homebuilding in what remained a working-class white area well into the 1940s, as the historian Andrew Wiese has documented. Perhaps Black picnics, ephemeral as they were, did not pose a threat to local whites, but when African Americans began self-building homes nearby in the mid-1940s, that changed, as Wiese argues, unsettling locals enough that they sought reprisal and ultimately incorporated as a village in 1946 to try to stanch the influx. The effort failed, and today Woodmere has the highest Black population proportion in the outer eastern suburbs of Cleveland.
- “Legionnaires to Celebrate with Big Barbecue Labor Day.” Call & Post. September 1, 1934.
- “Legion Picnic is Sunday.” Call & Post. July 25, 1935.
- “Legion Picnicers Have Big Time.” Call & Post. August 1, 1935.
- Wiese, Andrew. Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. 94–97.