The Vanderbilt Ball of 1883

The Vanderbilt Ball of 1883

Alva Vanderbilt at her official opening of the chateau in March 1883, in her costume of a “Venetian Renaissance Woman.” The photographer apparently added the birds in later, for no matter cause.

It was 1883 and the socially bold Mrs. William Kissam Vanderbilt (née Alva Erskine Smith) was decided to develop into a part of New York’s excessive society and get on The Record.

This was the well-known record of “The 4 Hundred” individuals who had been New York’s excessive society of the Gilded Age. However to be able to get on The Record, Alva would want to undergo the gatekeeper: Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, the queen bee of New York’s social hierarchy. Upholders of outdated cash and custom, Mrs. Astor and Ward McAllister, the self-appointed “arbiter of social style” and creator of the 4 Hundred, had been the authorities in all issues higher class and it was as much as them to determine in case your final identify was respectable sufficient or your bloodlines had been pure sufficient to develop into a part of the elite.

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That they had deemed the Vanderbilt household unacceptable for top society as a result of they discovered the crassness of nouveau riche household patriarch, Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, the bold entrepreneur who had made his fortune within the transport and railroad business, too distasteful.

This didn’t sit properly with the decided Alva, who was married to Cornelius’ grandson, and he or she made it her mission to carry the Vanderbilts onto the record of the 400 and into what she thought was their correct place in society.

The very first thing she did was have famend American architect Richard Morris Hunt construct her and her husband an opulent French château-style mansion at 660 Fifth Avenue that overshadowed the luxurious city houses that already lined the avenue. The mega mansion was nicknamed “Petit Chateau.”

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The house of Mr. and Mrs. Alva and William Kissam Vanderbilt, “Petit Chateau,” designed by famend architect Richard Morris Hunt.

The salon of the Petit Chateau, 1902.

When Petit Chateau was prepared, Alva determined to throw a housewarming social gathering, however in fact not the standard housewarming the place a visitor will carry a pleasant plant. She needed a celebration on a a lot grander scale and on Monday, March 26, 1883, she hosted one of the crucial wonderful events that New York had ever seen.

Invites had been hand delivered by uniformed servants, younger socialites had been working towards quadrilles (dances carried out with 4 in an oblong formation) for weeks, and, in line with the New York Instances, “Amid the push and pleasure of enterprise, males have discovered their minds haunted by uncontrollable ideas as as to if they need to seem as Robert Le Diable, Cardinal Richelieu, Otho the Barbarian, or the Depend of Monte Cristo, whereas the women have been pushed to the verge of distraction within the effort to settle the comparative benefits of historic, medieval, and fashionable costumes.”

Along with her entry to mountains of cash, Alva spared no expense and used each accessible useful resource, together with the ability of the press, and invited journalists to take unique images of the decorations beforehand and construct the hype. Alva additionally supposedly used another trick up her sleeve. In keeping with gossip, she used good old school manipulation to realize admission to the New York 400. The story goes that like all younger ladies of marrying age, Mrs. Astor’s daughter, Carrie, had been working towards a quadrille together with her associates for weeks and was anxiously awaiting her invitation. When all of her associates obtained theirs and he or she nonetheless hadn’t, she requested her mom to search out out why.

Alva claimed that since Mrs. Astor had by no means referred to as on the Vanderbilt house on Fifth Avenue to introduce herself formally, she had no handle to ship an invite to, so Mrs. Astor begrudgingly dropped in on Petit Chateau and left her visiting card. The Astors obtained their invitation the next day.

The flamboyant costume ball began on the stroke of 10 p.m., because the 1,200 New York socialites started arriving in carriages on the mansion. Police needed to maintain again crowds that had gathered to observe the occasion unfold and catch a glimpse of society “it” women and men of their outrageous costumes and ingenious get-ups. Even Mrs. Astor and Ward McAllister attended.

Very like on the promenade, the visitors had the chance to have their picture taken on the occasion of the 12 months, or maybe the century, by Mora, a dashing Cuban refugee who was the photographer of the wealthy and well-known. 

Cornelius and Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt II as Louis XVI and the Electrical Gentle.

Engaged couple Agnes Binsse and Reginald Francklyn, dressed as Incroyables, a reference to French society.

Alva dressed as a Venetian Renaissance girl and there was Miss Edith Fish dressed because the Duchess of Burgundy, with actual sapphires, rubies and emeralds studding the entrance of the costume. Alva’s sister-in-law, Mrs. William Seward Webb, went as a hornet, with an imported headdress product of diamonds. Miss Kate Fearing Sturdy went as her nickname “Puss” and wore a disturbing cat costume that consisted of a taxidermied cat head she wore as a hat, and 7 cat tails sewn onto her skirt.

Miss Edith Fish was dressed because the Duchess of Burgundy, with actual sapphires, rubies and emeralds studding the entrance of the costume.

Mrs. William Seward Webb (neé Lila O. Vanderbilt), dressed as a hornet and carrying a headdress of diamonds.

Miss Kate Fearing Sturdy in her disturbing cat costume.

Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II, in one of the crucial dazzling costumes of the evening, represented “Electrical Gentle.” The costume, designed by Charles Frederick Value, was product of yellow satin and gold and silver thread, and adorned with glass pearls and beads in a lightning-bolt sample. It even had a torch that lit up, due to batteries hidden in her costume.

Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt (Alice Claypoole Gwynne) as “Electrical Gentle” in a fancy dress designed by Charles Frederick Value. A built-in battery lit a lightweight bulb she carried and will elevate over her head just like the Statue of Liberty.

The yellow satin Electrical Gentle costume designed by Charles Frederick Value. It is adorned with glass pearls and beads in a lightning-bolt sample. This costume was solely one in every of a number of spectacular robes that served to make the occasion the official begin of Alva Vanderbilt’s function as a number one socialite of New York. The costume is preserved at Museum of the Metropolis of New York.

At precisely 11:30, the ball formally started with the hobby-horse quadrille, the primary of 5 quadrilles the place the younger individuals of society danced down the grand staircase of their lavish costumes.

Dancers within the Dresden quadrille wore all-white courtroom costumes and appeared eerily like residing porcelain dolls. For the Opera Bouffe quadrille, the costumes had been simply as elaborate. The New York Instances described Miss Bessie Webb, who appeared as Mme. Le Diable, as being “in a crimson satin costume with a black velvet demon embroidered on it and the whole costume trimmed with demon fringe – that’s to say, with a fringe ornamented with the heads and horns of little demons.”

Miss Henrietta Sturdy, wanting like a residing porcelain doll.

As a part of the Dresden quadrille, John E. Cowdin additionally seems to be like a white porcelain doll.

Miss Elizabeth “Bessie” Remsen Webb, she of the demon-themed costume.

The ball actually went into full swing after the quadrilles ended. Dozens of Louis XVIs, Venetian noblewomen, a King Lear “in his proper thoughts,” Joan of Arc and a whole bunch of different costumed figures drank champagne and danced across the flower-filled home, together with within the third flooring gymnasium that had been transformed right into a forest stuffed with palm bushes, bougainvillaeas and orchids. Dinner was served at 2 a.m. by a small military of servants. The menu included sizzling fare of fried oysters, hen croquettes and Maryland-style terrapin, and chilly fare of salmon a la Rothschild, beef, ham and hen in jelly, hen salad au celery, sandwiches a la Windsor and a number of other sorts of ices.

The dancing continued till dawn and Alva led her visitors in a single remaining Virginia reel. Then, identical to that, the grand ball was over. The fantasy world that Alva created turned again into actuality, as males in powdered wigs stumbled down Fifth Avenue towards house.

Most modern sources put the price of the ball at $250,000 (round $6 million in right this moment’s cash), together with $65,000 for champagne and $11,000 for flowers. The entire extravagant pomp and pageantry labored: Newspapers throughout the nation praised Alva’s tastes and classiness and reported essentially the most minute particulars. There was some backlash, nevertheless. The New York Solar revealed an article that took subject with the entire extra when there was a lot struggling in the identical metropolis:

“Some kind-minded individuals argue that entertainments of this sort are each charitable and patriotic, for they trigger cash to flow into and provides work to these whose lot it’s to toil. That is sentimental garbage. The needy American workingman and workingwoman don’t make a cent by the importation of Value’s attire, the acquisition of recent diamonds at Tiffany’s or the resettling of outdated household jewels … the festivity represents nothing however the accumulation of immense plenty of cash by the few out of the labor of many.”

However we’re guessing that the entire social gathering revelers, particularly Alva herself, gave not one whit about what The Solar considered her extravagant costume ball as a result of as of March 27, 1883, the Vanderbilts had been on The Record that was now not restricted to 400 individuals.

Maybe that’s why Mora later added birds to Alva’s picture – to represent that she was lastly flying as excessive as the opposite society elites.

You’ll be able to see extra extravagant ball costumes within the picture album at The Museum of the Metropolis of New York.

Mrs. Elliot F. Shepard (Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt) was arrayed as a Venetian Woman in excessive pearl collar.

Mr. Perry Belmont.

Mrs Arthur Paget (née Mary “Minnie”).

Miss Elizabeth “Lizzie” Pelham Bend, dressed as Vivandiere du Diable probably for the Opera Bouffe quadrille.

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