Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Honor of Your Company Is Requested: President Lincoln's Inaugural Ball

I saw this ages ago, but am finally getting around to writing about it. As Lincoln mania continues in the District, my favorite bit of Lincolnalia is The Honor of Your Company Is Requested: President Lincoln's Inaugural Ball at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The focus is Lincoln's second inaugural ball, which was held on March 6, 1865 in (eerily) the very building where it is on display, as the Civil War was winding down and Lincoln was soon to be assassinated. On display are the invitation and menu, Mrs. Lincoln's dress, newspaper stories that relay the food fights that occurred and more.

The "bill of fare" is my favorite part, and includes: ornamental pyramides, a belle alliance tart, terrapin stew and ice cream in the flavors white coffee and burnt almonds.

The New York Times wrote an incredible account of the ball, with a smattering of French phrases thrown in. Below are some choice passages.

"The tickets for the ladies were very elaborate and prettily designed, six by ten inches in size, and ornamented with portraits of the President and Vice-President, beside two very good likenesses of the American eagle."

"Mr. Lincoln was evidently trying to throw off care for the time but with rather ill success, and looked very old; yet he seemed pleased and gratified as he was greeted by the people. He wore a plain black suit and white gloves."

Mrs. Lincoln's hair, "which was put plainly back from her face, was ornamented with trailing jessamine and clustering violets most gracefully."

"One dress of mauve velvet, trimmed with deep point lace, we must not omit to mention. It was royal."

I could go on for pages, so go read the original Times article, with more delightful prose and details here. The article is from Wednesday, March 8, 1865.

And go see the show, which runs through January 18, 2010.

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