Another costume-heavy description of a fancy dress ball was published in The New York Herald on August 17, 1847, in the social column "The Watering Places" on page two. The ball was held at Congress Hall of the United States Hotel in the summer resort town of Saratoga Springs, New York, on August 14, 1847.
Sadly, no information is given about the dancing, though the writer does mention the generous size of the hall, one hundred and fifty by fifty feet, and the beautiful decorations, featuring flowers and greenery plus "miniature flags of every nation which supports a navy" hanging "just above the heads" of the dancers.
The ball was popular, but some who had recently arrived in Saratoga were unable to attend because they could not get costumes ready in time:
Among the company at Saratoga, which is the best in America, there seemed to be a general interest in this event; there were few who, if time could have been had to make suitable preparations, would not have attended that ball. Many persons who have lately arrived did not know that such a ball was to be given until it was too late for them to prepare for it.
The "resident visitors", presumably meaning those who spent the entire summer in Saratoga, had more warning and were able to spend considerable sums on costumes:
But there were no impediments to the ardor with which the resident visitors looked forward to this carnival, as something which would be more brilliant and extraordinary than any previous party; sums which some could not lose without becoming a beggar, were expended for jewels and dresses to be worn upon this occasion, and in procuring these articles, there was all that furor and agitation and hubbub which is characteristic of the American exclusives.
The writer of the column listed quite a few costumes, though he or she noted that there were "hundreds of characters" that he or she did not include. Most of those listed are men's outfits; for any gentlemen looking for fancy dress ideas, this is a great list:
- Charles II (the Adjutant General of New York)
- an "angelic nun" in a white gossamer veil (Miss F. F. of New York)
- Lieutenant Derby, portraying himself, in his military uniform
- a five-year-old child as Cupid in an "elastic dress" to "counterfeit the nudity of the origianl Cupid, with wings and a small bow and arrows (the son of Mr. N. of New York)
- a maid of honor of the Court of Louis XIV (Mrs. C. of Philadelphia)
- Norma (Miss C., presumably the daughter of the former)
- a Dutch or Swiss peasant girl (Miss H. of Philadelphia)
- the Queen of Night, "enveloped in a black veil, upon which were worked numerous silver stars" (Mrs. T. of New York)
- a Chinese Mandarin (Mr. T., presumably husband of the former)
- Ivanhoe (Mr. H. of Baltimore)
- a French beau of the last [18th] century (Mr. D. of Miss)
- Sir Richard Varne (Mr. F.)
- Rob Roy (Dr. H.)
- Saladin, in complete Saracen armor (H. D. T.)
- Sir Walter Raleigh (Mr. T. S.)
- Sir Roger de Coverley (the speaker of the assembly)
- several French boatmen, some of whom inappropriately wore lace colalrs and white kid gloves, "which boatmen do not wear"
- two Cherokee Indians; "one of the gentlemen is actually a half breed Cherokee, and the Indian character was represented perfectly"
- Romeo (Mr. C.)
- the Earl of Rochester (an army officer)
- the Earl of Leicester (Mr. J.)
- Hamlet (Mr. M)
- Lord Amherst, in the dress of the time of George III (Mr. F. W. of Baltimore)
- a Yankee (Mr. F. W. of New York)
- Don Cesar de Bazan (also Mr. F. W. of New York, who changed costumes in the course of the evening)
- Lord Russell from the novel by James (W. S. R. of New York)
- Turkish costume (Mr. C. T. H.)
- an officer of the Guards of the Emperor Nicholas (Baron Wrangell)
- a Spanish grandee or hidalgo (C. G. T.)
- Fra Diabolo (Mr. McB. of New York)
- Richard III (Mr. H. of Boston)
It would probably be possible, by researching 1847 high society, to figure out to whom many of these initials belonged.
One problem, however, was the admittance of people without proper costumes, ruining the atmosphere:
Several of the managers entered the room in civilian's dress, and during the evening an immense number of ladies and gentlemen were allowed to enter the room without the fancy dress...When these persons were allowed to come in ordinary, the ball was no longer a fancy dress ball.
Along from the entertaining costume list, it's possible to glean a few tidbits of information about balls from this account. Most surprising to me was that one family brought their five-year-old, which does not seem like a great idea for a crowded ball, no matter how cute he looked in his Cupid costume.
Also of interest is that many or most of the costumes were rented; a small advertisement for "Mr. Taylor, of Prince Street, New York" was slipped into the costume descriptions. Taylor was "the costumer for this occasion" and had "a collection of the most magnificent fancy dresses in the world." One wonders how this worked. Did ballgoers travel to New York City to outfit themselves or order their costumes sent to Saratoga? Or did Taylor just bring a load of costumes up to Saratoga and set up shop there temporarily?
The doors were opened at nine o'clock in the evening, with such large crowds outside to watch that barricades had to be set up to allow the dancers entry. Supper was served at midnight, with toasts drunk to the army and navy when news was announced of the occupation of Mexico City by General Winfield Scott. The writer does not say when it ended, but notes that he was unable to give a suitable description of the ball in this column because "on account of this affair, I have not slept in forty hours." Sounds like it was quite a party!