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Throwback Thursday: The Last Waltz: Lincoln's Second Inauguration
March 12, 2015

President Lincoln celebrated his second inaugural ball 150 years ago on March 6, 1865, at the U.S. Patent Office Building, now home to the American Art Museum as well as the National Portrait Gallery. Though the president's words were somber at his inauguration—the country was just coming out of the Civil War—the ball featured dancing, refreshments, and one unfortunate food fight. Today's blog post, written by Howard, first appeared on Eye Level in 2008 and is part of our Throwback Thursday series in which we reprint interesting posts you might have missed.

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 recherche 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 American Art, 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?

Posted by Jeff on March 12, 2015 in Throwback Thursday


It's amazing the detail of these type of events, described so well, it could have been yesterday we we're celebrating with these ladies and gentlemen.

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