Carpe Panis!

Seize the what? Seize the bread it what it’s supposed to mean. Cause, check it out, this here blog is about carp fighting over various types of bread that people throw at them – so, Carpe Panis! Get it?

Anyhoo, there I was in Ohio chillin’ with my sis on a pontoon boat while the husbands attempted to catch some fish in Lake Pymatuning. She asks me if I want to go to Linesville. I have no idea what she’s talking about and she informs me that if we venture there I will spy something I have never spied in all my 39 years. Now, really. How amazing can this sight really be? I’m a native NYer for heaven’s sake! I’ve seen people dressed like carrots giving away juice at Grand Central. I saw a dude dressed like the Ranch1 Chicken, covered in filth walking down 17th street with his chicken head under his arm looking like he was about to go kick someone’s ass. I even saw, I swear to God, a bunch of people dressed like Santa and Mrs. Claus, in Bryant Park, dancing on and around a GIANT bowl of Chex cereal. No lie.

So, what could this thing be out here in nice, peaceful PennaOhio that was so friggin spectacular? Well, I guess we could go, we had nothing else to do and the fish in Pymatuning were being total jerks that day. So, off we piled into the car and drove a bit to The Spillway in Linesville, PA.

First amazing thing there? A tourist site with free parking and free “admission”, not even a box with a sign for a suggested donation. No cops, no security guards, no one checking your purse or your pockets. That in itself was worth the trip. I know right? How crazy is that?

Alright, back to my story. What on earth can be so darn special? Lemme tell you: fish. Big, fat, slimy carp battling it out for pieces of bread, bagels, rolls and muffins being tossed at them by thoroughly amused children and grown up New Yorkers. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but just look at them. That’s just a few, there had to be thousands, dropping the big elbow on each other, pushing & shoving just to get stale and sometimes moldy bread. You can bring your own or for a dollar or two, get some from the little stand that also sells ice cream. At first you just throw some in, then you realize that they are actually paying attention to you. You can dangle a dry old piece right above them and they’ll all look up at you, their big mouths opening and closing in desperation, making these weird sucking noises. If you wave a slice back and forth they all follow, simply mesmerized by its green, fuzzy goodness. Then throw it in and it erupts into carp chaos!

All the while, the ducks, who are said to walk on them to casually steal a bialy, stare at both the tourists and the fish like we are just schmucks. I sincerely think they were mocking all of us.

But how did this wacky yet wonderful American tradition come to be? Well, to begin with, Lake Pymatuningwas not always a lake, it was a swamp and according to the Feb., 23rd 1930 issue of the Springfield Republican it was a “wasteland infested with creeping things, wild animals and ‘spooks’.”  The article goes on to tell of a mysterious ship that had been stuck in the swamp for maybe over 400 years. The thinking was that it may have been part of DeSoto’s fleet that went up the Shenango River back when it was still wide enough to accommodate such a vessel, and it attacked by the local Indians. There was also the story of an Indian girl who, after refusing the advances of her boyfriend, was taken out to a sandbar in his canoe where he left her to her demise.  Neither of these tales or any other mysteries were enough to stop anyone from filling the swamp, I don’t believe any archaeologists were there to investigate the area or put a halt to anything. The good folks of OH and PA had been waiting for this darn dam since 1913 and by gum, they needed their fresh water and jobs.

From the 10/26/1931 edition of the Omaha Herald

Finally, on October 6th, 1930, Gov. Gifford Pinchot, using a silver plated shovel, turned the first clump of earth and officially began construction of the Pymatuning Dam in Greenville, PA.

Now I know you’re wondering what the heck does any of this have to do with bread eating carp? Patience, people. A little bit of American history never hurt anyone – sheesh! Fast forward to 1934, the dam is done and the Spillway opens – huzzah!  A spillway, which from what I have been able to figure out via the internet, naturally attracts fish for some reason and this one attracts oversized carp. So what’s the dealio with the bread? Well, from a column in the October 13th, 1935 issue of the Ohio Plain Dealer, it’s quite a simple tale. Someone dropped a piece of his sandwich into it and the fish went crazy. All the other folks noticed and started throwing bread from their lunch baskets in too and have been doing so since 1934.

So, it’s maybe 1952. You and the wife and kids are all dressed up because that was what you did back in the old days when you went on any sort of excursion, and watching all these fish eat is making you hungry. What to do, what to do… I know, you can head about two and a half miles down the road to the Linnwood Restaurant.

They opened a few years ago, around 1949 or so and it happens to be Thursday so you can get the Threshermans dinner. Nice. “Hey, Pop,” asks your son Johnny, “What’s a Threshermans dinner?”

“Why son,” you say, ” a Threshermans dinner is an old tradition among the farming folks around these parts. You see every summer all the farmers would get together to help each other cut and gather the grain and put in threshing machines which separated the parts we can eat from the parts we can’t. It was very, very hard work and while the men did that, all of the women folk  prepared a huge meal for them. At the end of the day, everyone gathered together for a great, big dinner.”

“That sound’s fun, Pop! Did they have pie?”

“I bet they did son, ” you say as you tousle his hair. “Now why don’t you go get your Mom and Sally and we’ll just go see about that pie.”

So off you go to the Linnwood over on the Spillway Road, and eat until you’re sleepy. Their slogan is “Where the Ducks Walk on Fish”, a phrase I have found to be attributed to one Alpine McLane or MacLaine. According to the 1930 census, Alpine was born in DeSoto, MO around 1893 and lived in Linesville where he owned a hardware store. I haven’t found any indication that he or his family owned The Linnwood and if there’s someone out there who knows, please tell us.

And that’s it, the end. Is that all? Honestly? There’s no folktale where maybe the spirit of that poor Indian Lass who was left to drown needs to be appeased, or that it brings good fortune or improves your catch the next time you’re out? You mean these carp aren’t the doomed souls of DeSoto’s crew? Nope. Carp like bread is all. But who cares? It’s 10 minutes of honest, pure, clean fun and although The Linnwood is no more, I’m sure there are plenty of other awesome joints around. You should ask the locals about the Lake, maybe they’ll have more tales to tell.

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4 Responses to Carpe Panis!

  1. Susan Dickey says:

    I was so pleased to read this. We lived in Erie in the 1950s, my grandmother worked at a visitor center at Pymatuning where you could take boat rides, and we loved our summer visits that often included a Thursday trip to the Linwood Restaurant. I am just in the process of trying to recreate the dumplings I remember at the Thresherman’s Dinner for a dinner tomorrow with friends. I’ve tried many times before and never feel like I’ve succeeded but dumplings are all good. Thank you for writing this (I love the discussion of “where the ducks walk on the fish”) and thanks to the LInn family for creating such a wonderful restaurant.

  2. Jon G. says:

    Linnwood Restaurant was owned by Elsie Morgan-Linn and her husband, Rudolph P. Linn, my grandparents.

  3. wagnerowicz says:

    we had such a good time there – nothing like this up here and if they did have something like it you’d have to pay to see it. NYC does NOT represent the US of A – I need to move.

  4. jess says:

    Haha. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! as a local of Gville, pa, I can’t tell you how much fun this is when you don’t really have a whole lot to do around town. lol.

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