October 31st – Halloween. Also known as ‘All Souls Night’, an evening when ghosts and witches are believed set free from the underworld to roam the earth. Cultural traditions can be traced to Christian and Pagan religions, but seem to originate in Celtic countries: Scotland, Ireland, England, and Wales.
A huge bonfire was lit on this night to celebrate the festival of Samhain and Calan Gaeaf. Townsfolk dressed in costume or painted their faces black with the ashes from the sacred fire, dancing and singing around the flames in hopes of warding off the evil spirits, while hoping to bestow luck and good fortune upon their family in the face of imminent hardship from the approaching winter months.
Children in costume would go door to door, singing songs while collecting apples and cake in exchange for prayers for the dead. Today, many parents fear the practice of ‘trick-or-treating’ as a result of tainted treats that brought sickness and even death to innocent children in modern times.
Dressing in costumes as ghosts, witches and zombies, people confronted their deepest fears by wearing the garb of their terror in an effort to chase away evil spirits set free upon the earth. Today costumes include movie and comic book characters, as well as politicians and celebrities. These days, Halloween has also assumed an undercurrent of sexual overtones, rather than terror and evil spirits.
A GILDED-AGE MASQUERADE BALL – In 1883 Alva Vanderbilt, wife of William K. Vanderbilt, hosted society’s most memorable masquerade ball, with over one thousand guests. http://nyti.ms/2eo6oma The Fancy Dress Ball was a celebration of the completion of the Vanderbilt’s new
home, Petit Chateau, on 5th Avenue in New York City. The reported cost for the ball: $250, 000 – about $6.5 million in today’s currency. In addition to fabulous and expensive custom-made costumes, the party goers wore extravagant and costly jewels with their masquerades, some, also custom-made as accessories for their costume.
The Fancy Dress Ball was a turning point for the Vanderbilt family as Mrs. Caroline Astor, the reigning queen of society, had shunned the Vanderbilts as nouveau riche, refusing to invite them to her famous parties and balls. Mrs. Vanderbilt had her revenge by refusing to invite Mrs. Astor to the highly touted and anticipated masquerade ball. Mrs. Astor’s daughter, Carrie, practicing a quadrille performance with her friends for the big night, had also not received the anticipated invitation. As the night of the Fancy Ball approached, no invitation was forthcoming.
Carrie, upset about the snub, appealed to her mother to do something about the situation. Finally, Mrs. Astor rode her carriage through the streets of New York to the new Vanderbilt home, instructing her footman to deliver her calling card, thereby acknowledging the Vanderbilts into the higher echelons of the New York aristocracy. Invitations were promptly sent to the Astors by Mrs. Vanderbilt, victorious in her battle for status and recognition, and Carrie performed the quadrille with her friends.
The cost of the ball brought a flood of objections from the commoners of the city, infuriated at the frivolous use of money in the face of hardship and poverty among the bulk of New York citizens. Subsequent balls held by other socialites, namely James Hazen Hyde, resulted in criticism and legal accusations. At a cost of $200,000 Mr. Hyde was implicated in the misuse of funds from the Equitable Life Insurance Company of which he was president, resulting in a state investigation that nearly caused a panic on Wall Street.
(Spoiler alert!) Sara is listed among the guests in the New York Times article near the end as Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Perry Belmont, although she attended the ball alone. Purportedly in Paris at the time, Sara’s picture was taken by Mora Photographers proof of her attendance. Her photo is included in all collections from the Fancy Ball, while letters from Sara, dated at the same time, are received in New York sent from the Champs Elysees. The discrepancy remains a mystery…
Travel back in time and vicariously attend the splendor and controversy of America’s greatest masquerade ball in “AMERICAN GILT-Absinthe”. Book two of the trilogy. http://amzn.to/2dtVM13
Many photos can be found on the internet and pinterest, but it is important to note that the file from MORA PHOTOGRAPHERS is the property of the New York Historical Society.