Friday, January 31, 2014

"le Mardi 31 Janviere 1905" JAMES HAZEN HYDE'S COSTUME BALL


HE art of entertaining; is generally supposed to be best understood abroad. The spirit of the people is better suited there than here to social employments. There is, however, in America a lavishness and an opulence in our entertainments that occasionally startle the foreigner.

   Certain memorable events of this sort, on this side of the water, have contributed to such an impression. It is certain that the eighteenth century costume ball given by Mr. James Hazen Hyde at Sherry's restaurant on the night of January 31st(1905) will deepen the impression.

   While it would be idle to say that this entertainment rivaled in any way a court ball in Russia (where as many as five thousand people are invited—where fifteen hundred servants are needed to make the ball possible—where twenty thousand dollars are spent on fireworks, and where the total cost may approximate three hundred thousand dollars), or certain of the most notable functions which have been given at times in Paris and London, it is fair to admit that as regards its artistic side, its perfection of detail, its correctness in costume, its novelty and color, nothing has been attempted on this side of the water which could be compared with it.

   There has been, throughout the country, so much discussion of this costume fete that the public may feel some interest in seeing an authorized group of portraits taken on the evening of the entertainment, and in reading a brief description of its more important features.

Grand Ballroom at the Hyde Ball, February 1905.

  The ball was meant to recall the splendor of Versailles, the reign of King Louis, and the time of Marie Antoinette. There were six hundred people at the dance, in costumes of the period. The scenes of the entertainment were set on the second and third floors of the Sherry restaurant. The third floor is the floor of the great ballroom which for almost ten years has been used for many of the great public and private festivals in New York.

   A measure of the elaborateness of the decorations, and of the program arranged, is to be found in the general opinion among those accustomed to festivities of this sort, that nothing heretofore known to New Yorkers (except, perhaps, the ball of the Bradley-Martins in 1897) was worthy to be compared with it, in any way.

   In the case of the Bradley-Martin ball the public and the pulpit took up the question rather seriously, as to whether or not the money spent in such a way was wisely or rightly spent. In the case of Mr. Hyde's ball, it served his enemies as an excuse for making an overt attack upon him. They circulated the rumor that the ball was a somewhat reprehensible affair and in questionable taste. It is a matter of actual knowledge to everyone who attended the ball that the entertainment was perfectly decorous and dignified. To prove this, one has only to glance at the names of the men who went in costume and helped in every way possible to make the entertainment successful.

Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Mrs. Robert Goelet, Mrs. Edward Post, Mrs Edward L. Baylies, August Belmont, Cornelius Vanderbilt, James A. Burden and others.

   Among the more prominent men who attended were George J. Gould, E. H. Harriman, Cornelius N. Bliss, A. J. Cassatt, Ogden Mills, Senator Depew, Clarence Mackay, Stuyvesant Fish, Col. Wm. Jay, John Jacob Astor, Henry Clews, August Belmont, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Whitelaw Reid, Gen. Lloyd Bryce, George R. Rives, (Silent)James Henry Smith, Wm. G. Rockefeller, Douglas Robinson, W. Bourke Cockran, and many others equally prominent in public life, in politics, in art and in finance.

   The greatest interest was manifested by each of Mr. Hyde's guests in the costumes of the other guests. Mr. Whitelaw Reid, for instance, had written to Mr. Hyde, so it was rumored, requesting that he, Mr. Reid, might be permitted to attend the ball in conventional evening dress, on the ground that his age and dignity would prevent his appearing in the habit of a courtier of the eighteenth century.

   Mr. Reid, whether this interesting tale were true or not, was not in costume when the white-wigged and gold-coated master of ceremonies announced him at the door of the ballroom.

   He and two other equally distinguished personages were, however, the only guests at the ball who were permitted to appear in the costumes of our own day.

   When the guests had paid their devoirs to Mr. Hyde and his sister, Mrs. Sidney Dillon Ripley(husband was grandson of Sidney Dillon), who assisted him in receiving, they were ushered to the ballroom where Watteau chairs were set about the room for their convenience.

Portrait of James Hazen Hyde at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.
***While his guests reveled in their elaborate costumes. James appeared as himself dressed in a bottle green coat, a stiff white shirt, red vest, black stockings, and shiny black dancing shoes: the traditional attire of a coachman.***

Portrait of Mrs. S.D. Ripley(sister of J.H. Hyde)  at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

  The entertainment began with an eighteenth century dance, executed by some of the prettiest debutantes of the year and by some of the younger men in New York society. The girls were costumed a la Carmarga. They carried baskets of roses and wore wreaths of rosebuds in their powdered coiffures. The young men who assisted in the dance were all in Pierrot costumes.

Group Portrait of Nora Iselin, Miss Warren, and six other women holding baskets of flowers at the Hyde Ball, Feb. 1905.
Portrait of two unidentified men in jester's costumes at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

The dance of the debutantes was on the floor of the large ballroom. It was a pretty picture set in rose bushes, all glowing with electric lights among the rosebuds. Around this frame was the quadruple circle of spectators. 

   The dancers were Misses Annah C. Ripley, Gladys Vanderbilt, Anita Stewart, Gwendolyn Burden, Helen T. Barney(father), Nora Iselin, Charlotte Warren, Natica Rives and Katharine Barney, with Messrs. Gillespie, John Clinton Gray, Monson Morris, Henry Robbins, John Rogers, W. F. Whitehouse(explorer), Worthington Whitehouse and Lucius Wilmerding.

People in costume dancing at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.
   This dance had been rehearsed under a professional ballet master for several weeks.

People in costume dancing at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.
   The men dancers had all been made up, after their costumes had been adjusted, by professionals from the Metropolitan Opera House. These, incidentally, had been occupied earlier in the evening in doing similar offices for the Sherry waiters, who were garbed in eighteenth century clothes.

Decorations(banner for ballet) for a party at Sherry's given by James Hazen Hyde a few days after the Hyde Ball, which took place on January 31, 1905.

   Following the debutantes' gavotte came the ballet on the temporary stage by Mile. Varasi and a part of Herr Conried's ballet. It was received with great enthusiasm by the occupants of the chairs in front of the Watteau screens which surrounded the room.

Mme. Rejane at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

   After this came a comedy (Entre Deux Portes) written by Dario Niccodemi, and acted by Rejane and her company. The piece was written for the occasion, in imitation of the comedies of the eighteenth century. The author had very cleverly written the play "around" Mr. Hyde's party, and the characters in the piece were all of them supposed to be returning from the very fete where the play was being acted.
The characters were:

La Marquise, Mme. Rejane.
Le Marquis, M. Giorieux.
L'Abbe,  M. Berthier.
Madelon, Mile. Avril.

A scene depicting the great James Hazen Hyde Ball of January 31st, 1905. Hyde is shown greeting French actress Gabrielle Rejane in the Ballroom of Sherry's Restaurant ~ decorated to replicate a garden at Versailles, with real turf and thousands of roses.

   The plot was an ingenious one. The Marquise (Mme. Rejane) and her husband were supposed to have had a little domestic trouble, and each had laid a plan to make the other jealous.   The Abbe had come, upon the Marquise's invitation, to pay her a call. At the same time Madelon was there upon invitation of the Marquis. The husband and wife each left the room door open that there might be no suspicion. The situation developed that each was trying to keep up a seemingly desperate flirtation, while meaning to watch the other.

   This afforded an opportunity for some very clever acting, of which Rejane took every advantage. At last, as was to be expected, the wife dismissed her Abbe, and the husband Mile. Madelon, only to rush into each other's arms like a newly married couple.

Madame Rejane (Gabrielle Charlotte Reju) posed with others who are costumed in the "garden of Versailles" at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

   Over the stage was a blue satin canopy decorated with ostrich plumes. The charmingly painted scene showed two rooms with a hall between, the doors to the rooms being open. The entree of Rejane was strictly according to the period. She was brought into the room in a sedan chair, supported by four court flunkeys. When they reached a point between the stage and the chair where Mr. Hyde sat as master of ceremonies, they lowered the palanquin to the floor, and out stepped Mme. Rejane as a little eighteenth century lady with bepowdered coiffure, a satin dress and high-heeled satin shoes.

Madame Rejane (Gabrielle Charlotte Reju) standing posed with a walking stick beside James Hyde at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

   The scenery for Mme. Rejane's little play depicted the period of the later Renaissance and was especially imported by Mr. Hyde from Paris—a very wise precaution when one remembers the rattletrap settings to which Rejane treated her American audiences this season.

Supper room at Sherry's at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

   After the comedy the trumpets sounded, and on the floor beneath a supper was served for the six hundred guests. The supper room had been transformed into a representation of a beautiful Versailles garden, with rustic chairs, arbors, rosecolored lights, trellises, vines and turf. Instead of four walls and a parquet floor, the guests found themselves within a marquee upon the lawns of Versailles. The room itself had been hung with a canopy, and under the edges peeped rose bushes and greenery. Through the thousands of blooms peeped innumerable electric lights, in all the colors of the rainbow. Sixty tables were set about, and over each a rose bush in full bloom reared itself. It was a scene even more beautiful than the one upstairs. Not a detail had been omitted. Every guest was seated where each would be. The waiters and servants were in costumes of the period, with great white wigs, red and blue uniforms, white silk stockings and a plentiful supply of gold braid and silver lace.

   The menu of the supper shows how carefully everything had been arranged to recall the spirit of the eighteenth century.

Menu listing the dishes to be served inside an escutcheon bordered by a masked deity of plenty above, fruits of the hunt and of the harvest below, and snaking grapevine on the trellises at either side.

      Consomme Voltaire
Escalopes de Homard a la Rejane(lobster)
    Faisand Pique Louis XV(pheasant)
 Salade Madame de Pompadour
   Jambon a la Gelee Princesse(Belgium ham in aspic)

     Glace a la Reine(ice cream)
Petits Jours - Bonbons
      Pol Roger '89.

   A goodly number of private dinners were given before the ball. The guests came to these dinners in their costumes, and went on to the ball. Care was taken that at the supper these groups should be kept together as much as possible.

   After this supper Madame Rejane stood upon a table (as was the custom in the palmy days at Versailles), and recited a poem written for the occasion, dealing with the friendship between France and America, the growing intimacy between the two countries, and the happy results of this increasing international good feeling. The poem was entitled "Apropos", and was written by M. Robert de Flere and M. G. Caillevet, authors of "La Montpensier".

Interior of a tented dining room at Sherry's at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

   After Mme. Rejane had recited her poem, there was dancing in the ballroom, and, after dancing, a second supper in a large room which had been transformed into an enormous party-colored tent supposed to be a copy of a tent on the palace lawn at Versailles. Throughout the entire evening there was music, both in the ballroom and in the halls and supper rooms. The music in the ballroom was by the Metropolitan Opera House orchestra, led by Nathan Franko.

   Such attention to detail had been paid by Mr. Hyde that his guests found a fully equipped photograph gallery, managed by Byron, the flashlight photographer, where five operators, by the aid of the new "Cooper Hewitt" light, took over two hundred photographs of the guests. Every kind of group was taken, and there was much humor and novelty in some of the groupings.

he Byron Photographic Staff, Hyde Ball, Feb. 1905. From left to right: Joseph Byron, William Whiles, Percy C. Byron, Louis Philip Byron, and in the front Tom Lunt.

   After the festivities were over, and when the dancers were leaving, the footmen gave each guest a printed copy of the poem which Rejane had recited, and a program of the comedy which had been enacted on the stage.

Portrait of Mr. Whitney Warren, holding a chair, at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

   Mr. Whitney Warren, a prominent architect, had taken care of the decorative arrangements, and had succeeded in completely metamorphosing the interior of a strictly modern place of entertainment into a wonderful imitation of an eighteenth century French palace, with all its ornamental and decorative glories and its harmonies of gold and color.

Portrait of Mr. Cooper Hewitt, Mr. Whitney Warren, Mr. Richard Peters and an unidentified man at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

   Mr. Warren carried out his commission, not by attempting, as some of the prophets insisted that he would, to reproduce some particular salon of the palace of Versailles, but by applying to the ballroom, halls, and banquet rooms the general Versailles scheme of decoration.

   The predominant note of the color scheme was old rose. The great hall and the dining-rooms on the second floor were walled with lattice screens, over which rose vines in full bloom had been trained. Rose bushes were scattered about, and over all there glowed a soft rose-colored light.

   On the third floor the ballroom had been converted into an arbor of roses and heather. A canopy covered the ceiling. Rose bushes were scattered about, and before the rosehued curtain that shut off the stage was a hedge of heather plants in bloom. Every possible effect making for a correct representation of the spirit of the days of Marie Antoinette had been remembered, and the setting was complete and harmonious in every detail.

The Marble Room, Grand Ballroom at the Hyde Ball, February 1905.

Interior at Sherry's with a statue and trellis-work at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

Interior of Sherry's with a statue and trellis-work at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.
Interior of Sherry's with a statue and trellis-work at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.
   Around this ballroom there is a gallery on two sides of the room. This gallery had been trellised with roses and appeared, to those on the floor, like a "loge grillee", such as the French theaters boasted of in the ancient days. Mr. Hyde had cleverly arranged this gallery so that those within its shelter remained invisible to the dancers. Here many people had gathered to view the spectacle: the Press—the older ladies of New York society who wished to view but not to be viewed—and the friends who did not care to go to the trouble of a costume. For all of these spectators on this gallery a supper was served at small tables. 

   The majority of the women were in costumes of the period of Louis XV. and Louis XVI. The women of the French courts, the Du Barrys and the Pompadours, never aspired to costumes more beautiful than were those worn at this ball.
The costumes were remarkable for their correctness and their beauty. All the women present vied among themselves to outshine each other. Dowagers with powdered hair mingled and merged on the ballroom floor with debutantes in white wigs.

Mrs. Clarence Mackay at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

   Among all the costumes of the evening, one of the most noticeable for its originality and beauty was that of Mrs. Clarence Mackay, who had conceived the idea of going to the ball as Adrienne Lecouvreur, the famous actress of the eighteenth century. Mrs. Mackay was supposed to be Adrienne in her great role of Phedre. Her dress was of silver cloth studded with turquoises, with a silver tunic and skirt. From the shoulders there fell a long train of silver cloth embroidered with turquoises. This train was carried by two tiny negro boys in costumes of pink brocade and sandals.

   Mrs. Mackay wore two large breastplates of turquoise, silver sandals, and a tiara of turquoises and pearls. A necklace of the same jewels completed her costume. Her hair was not powdered and fell in two long braids, intertwined with turquoises, over her shoulders. She carried a scepter in her hand, and her little pages followed her everywhere throughout the evening.

   The portrait which we print with this article is by Mr. John W. Alexander. Mrs. Mackay posed for this portrait in the costume which she wore on the night of the ball, without, however, the train, the tiara or the negro pages.

Portrait of Mrs. George Gould at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

   Mrs. George Gould's costume was that of Marie Leczinska, the wife of Louis XV. Her dress was of white satin embroidered in pearls and made with a long train of pale green velvet, embroidered with gold and emeralds, and lined with ermine. The train, flowing from the shoulders, was fastened to the corsage with straps of gold and emeralds. The train was looped up on one side with a cluster of diamonds. Her hair was powdered, and she wore as  ornaments a collar of pearls and emeralds with long pendants.

   Miss Alice Roosevelt came on from Washington to attend the dance. She wore a striking costume of white, with garlands of flowers, patches and powdered hair.

   Many of the men took advantage of the permission in the invitations to wear hunting costumes; others simply added to their ordinary evening clothes revers of hunting pink, wearing also small-clothes of black satin, while some came in Directoire costumes, with powdered hair.

   Owing to the variety of the costumes, the dances were varied and extremely picturesque. General Joubert could be seen dancing with Adrienne Lecouvreur, Madame de Pompadour with Louis XVI.; courtiers, soldiers, royalists, king's favorites, and all the multitude of eighteenth century characters mingled and merged in this ballroom, so carefully and beautifully decorated according to the spirit of the days of Louis XVI.

   Although the dance had begun at eleven o'clock in the evening some of the more enthusiastic of the dancers did not leave until seven in the morning. For those who wished to stay until the end, a breakfast had been arranged, and when morning arrived many of the guests were to be found in the breakfast room, while some were still to be found at their places in the ballroom.

   One feature of the fete which was especially commendable was the way in which the artistic side of New York life had been mingled with its more purely social side.

Portrait of Miss Elsie de Wolf at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

   It has often been urged against American entertainments that they are either entirely social or entirely artistic, in so far as the people attending them are concerned. But at Mr. Hyde's dance both sides of New York life were prominently represented. Such artists as Mme. Nordica, Miss Bessie Tyree, M. Saleza, Mme. Avril, Miss Elsie de Wolfe, M. Niccodemi, Miss Mary Moore, Mme. Eames, Mme. Ackte(Finnish soprano), Signor Scotti and Mr. Charles Wyndham, all attended the ball and, with others equally prominent in the drama, in painting, architecture, literature, sculpture and the allied arts, gave to the ball a refreshingly varied note, quite exceptional in such affairs, and quite worthy of emulation in the future.
Mme. Lillian Nordica at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

A group of uniformed waiters at the James Hazen Hyde Ball, January 31, 1905.

Théobald Chartran (French, 1849 –1907), James Hazen Hyde (1876-1959), 1901. Oil on canvas. New-York Historical Society, Gift of James Hazen Hyde, 1949. The book he holds expresses his interests in book collecting ~ the narrow red ribbon, sewn into the buttonhole of his lapel, a symbol of the Legion d'Honneur award that had recently been given to him by the government of France.
   Mr. Hyde is the founder of the Cercle Francais at Harvard College; he has introduced and paid for a course of American lectures at the Sorbonne in Paris; he has brought over to this country some of the most distinguished lecturers and men of letters living in France to-day; he is the president of the Alliance Francaise, and has always taken an active interest in French life, art and literature. Although a man of only twenty-eight, he has probably done more to further the entente cordiale existing between America and France than any other man of the day.

   He is a bachelor, a man of a large independent fortune. His taste and his fortune combined resulted in the most carefully planned, the most successfully managed, and the most novel ball given in the memory of living New Yorkers.

   Previous to this fete there had been given in New York three or four memorable fancy dress balls, all of them remarkable affairs of their kind. The first was the W. K. Vanderbilt ball, which has often been spoken of as the occasion on which the Vanderbilt family assumed their social prominence. Before that time the Vanderbilts had cared little or nothing for the life of society. Since that event they have been, in New York, practically the leaders of it. Next in the list of great balls of the kind came the Bradley-Martin ball in '07, given at the Waldorf. The extraordinary publicity given to this entertainment has always been a matter of wonder to those who attended it. It was simply a well-planned and extremely effective ball, but the press of the country used it as a basis for the contention that money spent so lavishly in such kinds of entertaining was an unjustifiable expenditure, and one likely to do more harm than good. In this opinion several ministers and members of the church were strongly in accord. The ball is forgotten now, but those who will take the trouble to look back to the papers of the time will find that for days, and even weeks, it was the subject of a most violent controversy. It was the last big entertainment given by the Bradley-Martins in America, as they have taken up their residence abroad more or less continuously since that event.

   Another fancy dress ball which attracted a great deal of attention, and which was in some ways a more original and a more carefully planned entertainment than either of the two before mentioned, was that given last winter by Mr. Lloyd Warren. This ball, like Mr. Hyde's, was a ball of a period, every guest being required to appear in an Oriental costume. There was no demand on the part of the host that the guests should represent characters in any particular country, so long as they were all in an Oriental garb. The consequence was that the ball was thronged with Egyptians, Greeks, Chinamen, Hindoos, Turks and all the various nations of the Orient.

   With Mr. Hyde's ball, however (the fourth great ball of the kind in recent years), the guests were limited, in their choice of dress, to one hundred years of history, and it was an extraordinary fact that none of them had overstepped this limit of years with the exception of a few gentlemen who chose to appear in hunting dress. All countries were represented, there being among the dancers a generous sprinkling of Frenchmen, Germans, Italians, and many distinguished representatives of other countries of Europe who happened to be in New York at the time. The French press gave a good deal of space to the dance, and spoke particularly of the presence there of so many representatives of their own republic. The End.  

   Follow THIS LINK for more on James Hazen Hyde and his 1905 fancy dress ball. Click HERE to view more portraits of the guest at the Museum of the City of New York.

   Patricia Beard talked about her book, After the Ball: Gilded Age Secrets, Boardroom Betrayals, and the Party That Ignited the Great Wall Street Scandal of 1905, on C-Span. The book examines American business ethics in the early twentieth century through the story of the struggle for control of the Equitable Life Assurance Society between majority shareholder James Hazen Hyde and the company’s board of trustees. The author showed slides throughout her presentation and answered questions from members of the audience afterwards. Click HERE to view this discussion. New York Times review.

James Hazen Hyde Book Plate.


  1. This ball caused such a scandal and I had never seen the pictures you have here. They are amazing and thank you so much for making them accessible and deepening my knowledge of this event. Stanford White was a guest that night as well as Mamie Fish.
    James Hazen Hyde departed for France shortly after with accusations of financial impropriety swirling around him about the handling of Equitable money.

  2. This is a wonderful contemporary description of the ball. However, I am anxious to know your source for the illustration of James Hazen Hyde handing Rejane from her sedan chair because sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s my father posed for a photograph on which the illustration was based. I realize your post is 8 years old now, but I'm hoping you might still remember where you found the image. Can you help me with this quest? Thanks.