Picture this – It is a brisk mid-winter evening in Vandalia in the year 1861.
The town square around the state capitol building, usually quiet at this hour, is alive with sounds of horse-driven carriages, spoken greetings, conversations and the laughter of men and women.
The street lamps’ flickering lights cast highlights on the ladies’ beautiful ball gowns of shimmering silk, taffeta, moiré and brocade in jewel-toned hues.
White kid leather or cloth gloves protect their hands, and, as propriety dictates, the gloves will be removed only for taking refreshments throughout the evening.
The many yards of fabric swish and whisper over their hoops and petticoats as they discreetly hold the skirts of their gowns, and step carefully onto wide boards that have been placed on walkway areas because of the lingering snow on the frozen dirt streets.
Of course, the ladies are assisted gallantly by their escorts, dressed in black-tailed coats, waistcoats, cravats and white gloves.
The date is Feb. 11, 1861, a very special date and occasion, as president-elect Abraham Lincoln left Illinois for Washington, D.C., for his inauguration. That same day, Jefferson Davis traveled to Montgomery, Ala., to accept the presidency of the Confederate states.
It was a time of celebration and gaiety, good reason for a wonderful Victory Ball, an event that could have very well taken place here, at the site of the state capitol, where Lincoln began his legal and political career.
Lincoln Victory Ball
Next Saturday, thanks to Connie Bolyard’s love of history and community – and others who share her enthusiasm and vision – the second Lincoln Victory Ball will be held at the Vandalia Moose Lodge. The doors will open at 7 p.m. to a gaily decorated building, perfect for a grand ball.
“This has been a dream of mine for a long time,” Bolyard said.
“About 32 years ago, during a Grande Levée, I thought, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be great if they had a ball.’
“When I realized (last year) it was the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I got to thinking Vandalia needs to have a Civil War Ball and celebrate that anniversary.”
She told Mary Truitt of her idea, and the idea took wings and feet. Among those getting on board with their support are the Vandalia Historical Society, St. Elmo Banner, First National Bank of Vandalia, Dr. and Mrs. Brian Dossett, The Leader-Union, WPMB-WKRV radio, and re-enactors Kati Long of Sparta and Brian Garner of Vandalia.
Come one, Come All
There will be ladies and gentlemen dressed in the styles of 1861. Everyone is encouraged to dress in period clothing, but it is not mandatory.
The ladies demonstrated at the recent style show held at the Mother of Dolors Catholic Church that their dresses could have come right off the pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book of February 1860 or from Peterson’s Magazine of July 1860.
However, the ball gowns do not have to be as elaborate as described. Bolyard said she made her dress from cotton material costing only $1.50 a yard.
Admission will be free to those dressed in the period dress, because they have put money and effort into their ball dress. Those not in period dress will be charged $5 each.
In the days of the Civil War, balls were held to raise gold and silver for the Civil War effort.
A donation will be taken at the 2012 ball, with the money collected to be given to an organization for care packages for this country’s troops, the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
All (period-dressed or not) are invited to dance to the period music of Salt Creek Band, and there will be a caller to guide dancers through the Civil War era dances. Visiting with old friends and new acquaintances, listening to music, watching a rainbow of flowing dresses moving about, and eating especially prepared period food, sounds like a great time.
This will be an interesting and fun event, but it hopefully is just the beginning of a historical tradition, thanks to a young lady’s 30-year-old dream.
Civil War Memorial Service, Lincoln Program
Next Saturday, the day after the Victory Ball, a Civil War Memorial Service will be held at 11 a.m. at the Old State Burial Ground in the 200 block of West Edwards Street in Vandalia.
As history sadly taught us, it was just two months later, in April, that the first shot was fired in the Civil War, that claimed so many lives were lost in battles between neighbors, friends and even families, something unprecedented in wars in which the United States was involved. Thus, it is appropriate to pay homage to those Civil War veterans, both the Union and the Confederate soldiers.
At 2 p.m. next Saturday, the Vandalia Statehouse will host it annual Lincoln’s Birthday program. Dan Guillory of the Looking for Lincoln project will be speaker.