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Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt's Great Fancy Dress Ball 3-26-1883

All Society in Costume

The Vanderbilt ball has agitated New York society more than any social event that has occurred here in many years. Since the announcement that it would take place, which was made about a week before the beginning of Lent, scarcely anything else has been talked about. It has been on every tongue and a fixed idea in every head. It has disturbed the sleep and occupied the waking hours of social butterflies, both male and female, for over six weeks, and has even, perhaps, interfered to some extent with that rigid observance of Lenten devotions which the Church exacts. Amid the rush and excitement of business men have found their minds haunted by uncontrollable thoughts as to whether they should appear as Robert Le Diable, Cardinal Richelleu, Otho the barbarian, or the Count of Monte Cristo, while the ladies have been driven to the verge of distraction in the effort to settle the comparative advantages of ancient, medieval, and modern costumes, or the relative superiority, from an effective point of view, of such characters and symbolic representations as a Princess de Croy, Rachel, Marie Stuart, Marie Antoinette, the Four Seasons, Night, Morning, Innocence, and the Electric Light. Invitations have, of course, been in great demand, and in all about 1,200 were issued.

As Lent drew to a close, everybody having decided what he or she was going to wear, the attention of the select few turned from the question of costumes to the settlement of the details of the ball itself and the practicing of the parts assigned to them in the various fancy quadrilles decided on to make the most conspicuous features of the entertainment. The drilling in these quadrilles have been going on assiduously in Mrs. William Astor's and other private residences for more than a week, while prospective guests not so favored as to be able to witness these preliminary entertainments have had to content themselves with recounting such items of information as could be extracted from the initiated. As early as 7 o'clock last evening, although the ball was not to begin until 11, gentlemen returning from the hair-dressers' with profusely powdered heads were to be seen alighting from coupes along Fifth-avenue, and hurrying up the steps of their residences to complete their toilets. About the same time the passage up the avenue of an express wagon containing the horses for the hobby-horse quadrille attracted a great deal of attention. By 8 o'clock a large crowd of inquisitive loungers was collected in Fifth-avenue and Fifty-second-street watching Mr. Vanderbilt's brilliantly illuminated residence and a group of workmen putting up the awning before the entrance. Inside, long before the ball commenced, the house was in a blaze of light, which shown upon profuse decorations of flowers. These, which were by Klunder, were at once novel and imposing. They were confined chiefly to the second floor, although throughout the hall and parlors on the first floor, were distributed vases and gilded baskets filled with natural roses of extraordinary size, such as the dark crimson Jacqueminot, the deep pink Glorie de Paris, the pale pink Baroness de Rothschild and Adolphe de Rothschild, the King of Morocco; the Dutchess of Kent and the new and beautiful Marie Louise Vassey, but a delightful surprise greeted the guests upon the second floor, as they reached the head of the grand stairway. Grouped around the clustered columns which ornament either side of the stately hall were tall palms overtopping a dense mass of ferns and ornamental grasses, while suspended between the capitals of the columns were strings of variegated Japanese lanterns. Entered through this hall is the gymnasium, a spacious apartment, where supper was served on numerous small tables. But it had not the appearance of an apartment last night; it was like a garden in a tropical forest. The walls were nowhere to be seen, but in their places an impenetrable thicket of fern above fern and palm above palm, while from the branches of the palms hung a profusion of lovely orchids, displaying a rich variety of color and an almost endless variation of fantastic forms. In the centre of the room was a gigantic palm, upon whose umbrageous head rested a thick cluster of that beautiful Cuban vine, vougen villa, which trailed from the dome in the centre of the ceiling.

To make the resemblance to a garden more complete, two beautiful fountains played in opposite corners of the apartment. The doors of the apartment, thrown back against the walls, were completely covered with roses and lilies of the valley.

The scene outside the brilliantly lighted mansion, as the guests began to arrive, was novel and interesting. Early in the evening a squad of Police officers arrived to keep the expected crowd of sightseers in order and to direct the movements of drivers and cabmen. Before 10 o'clock men and women were wandering about the streets outside of the house and glancing at the windows, or peering under the double canopies which led up to the door. They took up positions on the steps of the houses opposite or stood on the adjacent corners waiting for the carriages to arrive, and then all who could obtain room on the sidewalks crowded at the outsides of the canopies and gazed curiously and enviously at the gorgeously costumed gentlemen and ladies whom the ushers assisted to alight. Carriages containing the more youthful and impatient of the maskers drove past the mansion before 10:30 o'clock, the occupant peering surreptitiously under the curtain to see if others were arriving as he rolled by.

Carriages drove slowly by while the ladies and gentlemen in them, who were not in costume, gazed out of the windows and at the crowds about the house, indicating that curiosity was not confined to the humble walks of life entirely. At 11 o'clock the maskers began to arrive in numbers, and the eager lookers-on in the street were able to catch glimpses through the windows of flashing sword hilts, gay costumes, beautiful flowers, and excited faces. Handsome women and dignified men were assisted from the carriage in their fanciful costumes, over which were thrown shawls, Ulster's and light wraps. Pretty and excited girls and young men who made desperate efforts to appear blasť, were seen to descend and run up the steps into the brilliantly lighted hall. Club men who looked bored arrived singly and in pairs and quartets, in hired cabs, and whole families drove up in elegant equipages with liveried coachmen and footmen. A great many ladies were accompanied by their maids, who were not allowed to leave the carriages, whereat there was some grumbling. Gentlemen's valets were treated in the same manner, and the ushers insisted that these orders were imperative. AT 11:30 o'clock the throng of carriages before the mansion and waiting at the corners was so great that the utmost efforts of the Police were necessary to keep the line in order, and many gentlemen left their carriages in adjacent streets and walked up to the canopy which was the entrance to the fairyland. Most of the gentlemen gave orders to their coachmen to call for them at 3 o'clock. Others made hour as lasted as 4, and some of the more seasoned and wiser party-goers ordered their carriages as early as 1 and 2 o'clock. The guests had all arrived, save a few stragglers, at midnight, and the crowd began to disperse. A few still remained to wander about in the vicinity of the house, or to gaze into the area windows or up to the more brilliant plate-glass in the stories above. At 1 the Police were the sole occupants of the street before the house, with the exception of an occasional wondering belated pedestrian.

The guests on arriving found themselves in a grand hall about 65 feet long, 16 feet in height, and 20 feet in width. Under foot was a floor of polished and luminous Echallion stone, and above them a ceiling richly paneled in oak. Over a high wainscoting of Caen stone, richly carved, are antique Italian tapestries, beautifully worked by hand. Out of this hall to the right rises the grand stairway, which is not only the finest piece of work of its kind in this country, but one of the finest in the world. The stairway occupies a space 30 feet square, the whole structure of the stairway being of the finest caen stone, carved with wonderful delicacy and vigor. It climbs by ample easy stages to a height of 50 feet, ending in a pendentive dome. Another stairway, also in Caen stone, leading from the second to the third story, is seen through a rampant arch, with an effect which recalls the unique and glorious stairway of the Chateau of Chambord. In the gymnasium, on the third floor, a most beautiful apartment, 50 feet in length by 35 in width, the members of the six organized quadrilles of the evening gradually assembled before 11 o'clock. Lots were drawn Saturday last by the ladies in charge of those quadrilles to decide the order in which they should be danced, it being previously agreed that the ball should be opened by the "Hobby-horse Quadrille," a fantastic set, under the leadership of Mrs. S.S. Howland and Mr. James V. Parker, to which by common consent the privilege was assigned of filling the scene for five minutes and no more.

The first place among the more picturesque quadrilles was drawn by the "Mother Goose Quadrille," under the leadership of Mrs. Lawrence Perkins. At a little after 11 o'clock, to the strains of Gilmore's Band, the six quadrilles, comprising in all nearly a hundred ladies and gentlemen, were formed in order in the gymnasium and began to move in a glittering processional  pageant down the grand stairway and through the hall.

Winding through the metley crowd of princes, monks, cavaliers, highlanders, queens, kings, dairy-maids, bull-fighters, knights, brigands, and nobles, the procession passed down the grand stairway and through the ball into a noble room on the front of the house in the style of Francois Premier, 25 feet in width by 40 in length, wainscoted richly and heavily in carved French walnut and hung in dark red plush. Vast carved cabinets and an immense, deep fire-place give an air of antique grandeur to this room, from which the procession passed into a bright and charming salon of the style of Louis XV., 30 feet in width by 35 in length, wainscoted in oak and enriched with carved work and gilding. The whole wainscoting of this beautiful apartment was brought from a chateau in France. On the walls hang three French-Gobelin tapestries a century old, but in the brilliance and freshness of their coloring seemingly the work of yesterday, and over the chimney-piece hangs a superb portrait of Mrs. Vanderbilt by Madrazo, full of spirit, character, and grace.

The ceiling, exquisitely painted by Paul Bandry, represents the marriage of Cupid and Psyche, and the furniture is of the bright and gracious style of that age of airy arrogance and perfumed coquetry which preceded the tragedy of the great Revolution. Thence the procession swept on into the grand dining-hall, converted last night into a ball-room, and the dancing began. This dining-room, which is of the length and width of the gymnasium above, was brightly illuminated. It is 32 feet in height. The floor and the ceiling are both in oak, richly paneled in similar designs; the lower wainscoting, 7 feet in height, is of carved oak, above which is a temporary wainscoting of a peculiar gilded tapestry 9 feet in height, and above that Caen stone which reaches the chere-story windows of stained glass that run all around the apartment. At one end of the room is a gigantic fire-place, more than 20 feet in width, the lower part of which is of Carlisle stone and the upper of carved oak, and at the opposite end of the room is a music gallery 18 feet from the floor, whence the music in the words of Emerson, "poured on mortals its beautiful disdain."

In the "Hobby-horse Quadrille," with which the ball began, the horses were the most wonderful things of the kind ever constructed in this country. The workmen were two months in finishing them. They were of life-size, covered with genuine hides; bad large, bright eyes and flowing manes and tails, but were light enough to be easily and comfortably attached to the waists of the wearers, whose feet were concealed by richly embroidered hangings. False legs were represented on the outside of the blankets, so the deception was quite perfect. The costumes were red hunting-coats, white satin rests, yellow satin knee-breeches, white satin stockings. The ladies wore red hunting-coats and white satin skirts, elegantly embroidered. All the dresses were in the style of Louis XIV. This quadrille was organized by Mrs. S.S. Howland, with the help of Mrs. Richard Irvine, Miss Robert, and Mr. James V. Parker.

The opening quadrille of the ball, however, really was the "Mother Goose Quadrille." led by Mrs. Lawrence Perkins as Mother Goose and Mr. Oliver H. Northcote as a wizard. The other members were Miss Elise Perkins as Jill, Mr. George Allen as Jack, Mr. Spencer as Prince Charming, Miss Fannie Perkins as Miss Muffet, Miss Thoron as Little Red Riding Hood, Miss Lamson as Bopeep, Miss Blake as Goody Two-Shoes, Miss Butler Duncan as Mary Mary Quite Contrary, Miss Parsons as My Pretty Maid, Mr. Alexander Butler Duncan as Ping Wing the Pieman's Son, Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Julian Kean, and Mr. Leavitt as Squires, and Mr. Lawrence Perkins as the Pieman.

Perhaps the most brilliant quadrille of the evening was the "Opera Bouffe." organized by Mrs. Fernando Yznaga, sister of Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt. In this quadrille appeared Mrs. James R. Potter, Mrs. Clarence Carv. Mrs. Frank Lawrence, Miss Leroy, Mrs. George Rives, and Miss Smith another sister of Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt. Another striking quadrille was the "Star Quadrille," organized by Mrs. William Astor. In this quadrille appeared Mrs. Lloyd Bryce, Miss Astor, Miss Beckwith, Miss Carroll, Miss Hoffman, Miss Marie, Miss Warren, and Miss McAllister. These ladies were arrayed as twin stars in four different colors-yellow, blue, mauve, and white. The gentlemen were led by Mr. Lloyd Boyce and Mr. Lanler in costumes of Henri Deux. Still another was the old "Dresden Quadrille," led by Mrs. James Strong, in which appeared Miss Etta Strong, Miss Oelrichs, Miss Dana of Paris; Miss Annie Cunard, Miss Lanier, Miss Swan, Miss Cowlin and Miss Waldo. They wore wavy white satin, every appurtenance of which was of pure white. The dresses of the ladies had bonffant paniers, short sleeves and skirts and low bodices.

Their hair was powdered and dressed high. The gentlemen wore the old German Court costume of white satin, knee-breeches, powdered wigs, and a white narcissus in the button-hole. The mark of the Dresden factory was embroidered on both the ladies and gentlemen's costumes.

Among the hundreds of striking and unique costumes but a few can possibly be noted. These, however, will convey some idea of the scene as it presented itself at midnight, when the hall, the grand stairway, and the spacious apartments were all thronged with animated groups enjoying the double pleasure of seeing and of being seen.

Mrs. Vanderbilt's irreproachable taste was seen to perfection in her costume as a Venetian Princess taken from a picture by Cabanel. The underskirt was of white and yellow brocade, shading from the deepest orange to the lightest canary, only the high lights being white. The figures of flowers and leaves were outlined in gold, white, and iridescent beads: light-blue satin train embroidered magnificently in gold and lined with Roman red. Almost the entire length of the train was caught up at oe side, forming a large puff. The waist was of blue satin covered with gold embroidery the dress was cut square in the neck, and the flowing sleeves were of transparent gold tissue. She wore a Venetian cap, covered with magnificent jewels, the most noticeable of these being a superb peacock in many colored gems.

Lady Mandeville, who received the guests with Mrs. Vanderbilt, wore a costume in most fortunate contrast with the toilet of Mrs. Vanderbilt. Her dress was copied from a picture by Vandyke of a Princess de Croy. The petticoat was of black satin embroidered in jet. The body and train were of black velvet, ornamented with heavy jet embroidery. The dress had large puffed Vandyke sleeves, an immense stand-up collar of Venetian lace, the sleeves being turned up with the same lace. The whole was crowned with a black Vandyke bat and drooping pinnies, turned up at one side and blazing with jewels. Nothing could have been more becoming to Lady Mandeville's blonde beauty than this magnificent and somber dress.

Mr. W.K. Vanderbilt appeared as the Duke de Guise, wearing yellow silk tights, yellow and black trunks, a yellow doublet and a black velvet cloak embroidered in gold, with the order of St. Michael suspended on a black ribbon, and with a white wig, black velvet shoes and buckles.

Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt appeared as Louis XVI. in a habit de cour and breeches of fawn-colored brocade, trimmed with silver point d'Espagne, a waistcoat of reseda, trimmed with real silver lace. The stockings, shoes, and hat were of reseda. He wore a jabot and ruffles of lace.

Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt appeared as the "Electric Light," in white satin trimmed with diamonds, and with a magnificent diamond head-dress. Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt was accompanied by her children daintily appareled, one as a rose, in pink tulle, with a satin overdress of green leaves, a waist of green satin and a head-dress of white satin, fashioned like a bouquet-holder: another as Sinbad the Sailor, in white satin breeches, a white chemisette, a flying jacket, embroidered in gold, and Turkish shoes, and a third as a little courtier, in a light-blue satin hand-embroidered coat, with waistcoat and breeches of white satin, and embroidered in roses and daisies.

Miss Ada Smith, a sister of Mrs. Vanderbilt, wore, as a peacock, a dazzling costume of peacock-blue satin, the waist composed of real peacock's breast, with a peacock cap and fan. The train and the front of the dress were covered with the peacock's breast, with a peacock cap and fan. The train and the front of the dress were covered with the peacock feathers. Another similar costume was worn by Mrs. Buchanan Winthrop.

Mrs. Seward Webb, Mr. Vanderbilt's sister, wore, as a hornet, a brilliant waist of yellow satin, with a brown velvet skirt and brown gauze wings. This dress was paralleled by another representing a wasp, of purple and black gold gauze, with horizontal stripes of black and yellow, and a transparent gold tissue overdress. A special head-dress was imported for this costume, with antennas of diamonds. Yellow gloves striped with black were worn with it.

Miss Terry, as Summer, wore light blue and white satin trimmed with sheaves of wheat and with a jeweled scythe and corn flowers in her hair.

Another very picturesque costume was that of a Daughter of the Forest, with ferns and butterflies in her hair and necklace of jeweled lizards. The dress was of green velvet trimmed with natural ferns 12 inches deep, ivy, wild roses, and shells. The gloves and shoes were green, and the bouquets of ferns.

Miss Work, as Joan of Arc, attracted great attention. She wore a white china crape, embroidered in silver fleur de lees, with a culrass, helmet, and gauntlets of solid silver mail, the bodice, leggings, and shoes being of steel cloth and the spurs of steel.

Mrs. G.G. Haven wore a very handsome dress of terra cotta brocade and white satin, as a Princess, the daughter of Henri Deux.

Mr. Fred Nelson appeared as Henri Deux himself in a dress of black velvet embroidered with gold. Mr. Thomas Maitland made an effective Capuchin monk of the barefooted order, with hood and sandals.

Miss Hunt as a Court lady of the time of Francis II. wore a velvet dress of a singular shade of brown trimmed with Jewels. Mr. Hamilton Fish Webster came as a Spanish muleteer, in a brown velvet jacket and breeches, with a blue satin vest covered with buttons.

Mrs. George L. Rives, as La Perichole, wore a short dress with an overdress made of a Roman sash, the dress being trimmed with gold fringes, and on her arms bangles with sequins.

Miss Bessie Webb appeared as Mme. Le Diable in a red satin dress with a black velvet demon embroidered on it and the entire dress trimmed with "demon fringe"-that is to say, with a fringe ornamented with the heads and horns of little demons.

This dress contrasted very effectively with the costume of Miss Butler-Duncan, as "Mary, Mary, quite contrary" a brocade panler worn over a yellow satin skirt, the dress being trimmed not only with silver bells and cockle shells, but with "little maids all in a row." a series of exquisitely hand-painted little virginal heads smiling out of the petals and cups of flowers.

Mr. Brockholst Cutting, as Blue Beard, wore a dress of blue and silver cloth, with blue silk tights and a gray felt hat with blue and gray plumes.

The young Duke de Morny wore a Court dress of Louis XV., of plum velvet embroidered with steel and rubies, and lined with the color called "crushed strawberry." The buttons were made of real diamonds, rubies, and sapphires, and the chapeau was of velvet trimmed with feathers.

Mr. Herbert Wadsworth appeared as Don Juan, in white satin, slashed and puffed with black velvet and embroidered with gold and silver.

Mr. Henry Clews appeared as Louis XV., in chocolate and gray satin, while Mrs. Clews personated Fire, in a gorgeons costume of iridescent bronze, over flaming yellow satin.

Mr. Wright Sanford wore a Court dress of the time of Louis XV., of gray satin: Mr. J. Sanford a Court dress of Louis XV., of blue satin.

Mr. Abram S. Hewitt appeared as King Lear while yet in his right mind, and the costumes of his three daughters attracted much attention. Miss Sallie Hewitt's dress as a Persian Princess was superbly embroidered by hand, and that too by a New York woman, Mrs. Wheeler, whose handicraft deserves commendation. The youngest Miss Hewitt made a most picturesque Dutch maiden.


Website: The History
Article Name: Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt's Great Fancy Dress Ball 3-26-1883
Researcher/Transcriber: Miriam Medina


New York Times March 27, 1883 p. 1 (2 pages)
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