Sesquicentennial Soiree Saturday

Posted: February 21, 2013

The Winchester Star

Participants take part in the 2012 Sesquicentennial Soiree at the George Washington Hotel.

Winchester — The instruments are primed and the dance cards ready for the 2013 Sesquicentennial Soiree.

The ball sweeps into the George Washington Hotel Saturday night for a third year of music, dancing, food and history, said Maricarol Miller, manager of the Old Court House Civil War Museum. The event is a fundraiser for the museum.

The room will be a sea of colorful period dresses, gray and dark blue uniforms, and formalwear as re-enactors and history-loving guests gather at the hotel at 103 E. Piccadilly St., she said.

“I think people get intimidated about coming to these things,” Miller said. “But once you go to a ball, you realize it is just fun.”

The 5:30 p.m. cocktail hour and dinner are sold out, but tickets still are available for the ball at 8:15 p.m. for $30 a person.

The ball is the culmination of a workshop held jointly by Lee’s Lieutenants and the Federal Generals Corps, living history organizations that offer “first person” impressions of officers, enlisted men, politicians and civilians, said David Trimble, who portrays Maj. Gen. Isaac Trimble with Lee’s Lieutenants.

The workshop is designed to prepare the members for when they meet in front of the public in June at a living history event, the Gathering of the Eagles, he said. The ball offers an enjoyable and recreational way to end the workshop and a way to raise funds for the museum, he said.

It is also another opportunity for the re-enactors to spend time with the public and share some of their expertise, said Trimble, of Lexington, Ky. In his case, he is sharing some of his own history, since Isaac Trimble was a distant relative.

“Our goal any time we are with people, whether it is at a dinner and ball or at an event where we are speaking, is to make people feel like they have spent time with that person we are portraying,” he said.

The dinner allows the re-enactors that opportunity, he said. They stay in first-person character as the one they are portraying and try to give their fellow guests just a little bit of a “historic experience.”

One of the main attractions for guests at the ball is having the chance to dance the night away to period music using historically accurate dance moves, Miller said. The Susquehanna Travellers will perform the music for the evening, and several couples with the Victorian Dance Ensemble will offer dance instruction.

As in the 1860s, men and women will each receive dance cards they can fill out with the names of the partner they will dance with throughout the night, she said. Some dances guests will learn include the Grand March (which starts off the ball), Soldiers Joy, Couples Waltz, the Tempest, Lancer’s Quadrille, and the Snowball Reel.

The beauty of the dances is that although there is need for instruction, the steps are repetitive and easy to pick up, she said.

“But I will tell you, the Virginia Reel will get your heart pumping,” she said.

Combined with the setting in the ballroom and the music, the sight of people twirling around in period dress “gives you a close vision of what a ball held in the Civil War years might have looked like,” Trimble said.

“Sometimes I sit back and take a deep breath and just watch everyone — the ladies in the hoop skirts and the gentleman dressed in a way men don’t dress in this day and age,” he said. “It just takes you back.”

The hotel helps set the mood early on with the period correct dinner, which this year includes trout, game pie, pork loin, peanut soup and various tarts for dessert, Miller said. They are prepared only with ingredients that would have been available at the time.

“A lot of people don’t realize how good a meal made the old-fashioned way tastes,” she said.

The ball is a wonderful way to learn a little more about life in the 1860s, especially the rules that governed people’s behaviors, she said.

For instance, men and women wear gloves because their hands are not supposed to touch, she said.

At the time, married couples usually did not dance together in society. It was a sign of “unusual attention” for a husband to dance with his wife, but he could do so if he wished. If a woman refused a dance with a gentleman, she was not supposed to dance that set with another man.

The way a woman held her fan could indicate if she was married, single or engaged, Miller said.

Even the color of a dress was dictated by etiquette, she said. Younger girls were allowed to wear brighter colors, but as they aged, women were supposed to choose increasingly darker shades and prints.

“It is amazing that they did have a lot of colors and prints, and some were very beautiful,” she said.


The 2013 Sesquicentennial Soiree will be held Saturday in the ballroom of the George Washington Hotel, 103 E. Piccadilly St. Tickets are $30 per person for the dance segment of the ball, which starts at 8:15 p.m. Contact 540-542-1145 or

— Contact Laura McFarland at