Thursday, August 2, 2012

The White Ball at Rosecliff.

 Rosecliff Ballroom as it appeared at this week's Gatsby Ball.

Here is part one of the New York Times account of Mrs. Oelrichs's  1904 ball.  Please notice that the recalcitrant men did just what they wanted, especially after the Times article of the day before virtually gave them permission to rebel. I'd like to point out that the servants wore outfits of white "duck" or canvas, not white "duck suits." I'm glad we got that straight.

Theresa Fair Oelrichs was unspeakably wealthy, thanks to her father's silver mines in Nevada. She had her Newport mansion, Rosecliff, built in the design of the Grand Trianon of Versailles. On July 3 of that year, the Times had reported that she was adding a musicians' gallery to her white and gold Louis XVI ballroom. No doubt she had already formulated the idea of the white ball and the ballroom renovations were to prepare for it. 

The accounts of her decorations are interesting. Having the leafy ceilings of her "supper room" decorated with hundreds of electric lights was rather forward thinking and expensive in 1904.

There is a popular story that Mrs. Oelrichs asked the U.S. Navy to anchor ships within sight of the ball. The story claims that when they declined she had faux ships built and positioned in the harbor. If this incident had actually happened, it would surely have been mentioned in the Times and other publications of the time.

Harry Lehr’s Dictum Disregarded at Newport Function.
Decorations All in White and Women Guests and Servants in Costumes of White.
Special to the New York Times

   NEWPORT, Aug. 19. -- The much-talked-about "White Ball" of Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs was given at Rosecliff to-night, and almost everybody who is anybody in society was there. The ball, however, proved to be "white" only so far as the costumes of the women and the decorations at the villa were concerned. The men, with scarcely an exception, steadfastly clung to the conventional black coats and trousers, and against the dazzling background these were made all the more conspicuous.

   When a few weeks ago Mrs. Oelrichs announced her intention of giving a ball, Harry Lehr suggested a “white ball” with white court costumes for the men and white gowns and hair arranged a la pompadour for the women. The suggestion was approved, and the edict went forth that the guests should appear only in white, and that the men should shave off their mustaches.

   The idea did not meet with favor among the men. Some laughed at it, other expressed their disapproval in other ways, and some of the leaders said they would not make fools of themselves to please Harry Lehr. There was from the start a general feeling that the men would appear only in black. The ordinary evening suit, they said, was good enough for them. No one shaved his mustache.

   The scene at the ball was dazzling. The women wore white, the decorations were of white, and even the waiters wore white duck suits and white shoes. 

   The ballroom is white and gold in its permanent decorations, and the only floral decorations were of white lilies. A supper room was made on the verandas and the terrace overlooking the sea. This was in Italian garden effect, with massive white columns supporting a roof of oak branches, among the green of which were hundreds of electric lights.

  Long garlands of white hydrangeas were suspended from the walls, and large hanging baskets filled with white orchids were suspended at intervals. The hall leading to the ballroom was decorated with massive groups of white hollyhocks and hydrangeas, and large vases of white roses were placed in the various rooms occupied by the guests.
(The New York Times, August 20, 1904.)

Rosecliff ballroom ceiling

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