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The Last Waltz: Lincoln's Second Inauguration
June 10, 2008

Daguerrotype of Patent Office Building

Patent Office Building, 1846, Daguerreotype by John Plumbe Jr., Library of Congress

On the evening of March 6, 1865, a ten dollar ticket admitted "one gentleman and two ladies" to President Lincoln's second inaugural ball, held in the very building that is now American Art: the Patent Office Building. Estimates of attendance ranged from 4,000 to 6,000 people. A band played in each of the three third-floor galleries: dance music for the north hall, promenade music for the east gallery (now the Lincoln Gallery), and dinner music for the west wing.

The President and Mrs. Lincoln arrived at 10:30 p.m. and stayed for three hours. According to the local paper they were dressed to the nines. "The President was dressed in black, with white kid gloves. Mrs. Lincoln was attired in admirable taste." And for those of you who think fashion and attention to detail are hallmarks of twentieth century celebrity gazing, here's how the newspaper went on to describe Mrs. Lincoln. "She wore a white silk skirt and bodice, an elaborately-worked white lace over her silk skirts . . . completed a most recherché costume." But all was not glamorous as hungry guests apparently mobbed the buffet, leaving the room in a shambles. The guests departed early in the morning, with the last rustle of silk skirts on the stairs leading down into the streets as the sky brightened.

Five weeks later, on the evening of April 14, the president would be assassinated at Ford's Theater, just a few blocks away

This small exhibition at SAAM, The Honor of Your Company is Requested: President Lincoln's Inaugural Ball takes a look back at the evening of March 6, 1865, providing such detail as period costumes, the evening's menu, and a replica of President Lincoln's Brooks Brothers coat. On the floor of the gallery are instructions on how to do the waltz. When I was at the exhibit last week a lot of people were trying their best to learn the steps. And when was the last time you were encouraged to dance at a museum?

Related Program Note: Saturday, August 16, learn mid-nineteenth-century dancing with the Victorian Dance Ensemble.

Posted by Howard on June 10, 2008 in American Art Here


Such detailed description of details was amazing! I never knew such historical accounts could be preserved and published still.

I used to think only the Chinese we're keen on keeping such historical descriptions as with their royalties. It's good to know they don;t have a monopoly of interesting bits and pieces about history.

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