Inaugural Balls

(The last event of a governor’s inauguration is the big dance.  In this tenth, and concluding, segment about inauguration history—Let’s Dance!)

Our new governor might be up late tonight because the celebration will continues well into the night.  After today’s inauguration, there will be dancing.  No matter how late the new governor is up, he’s usually in the office for his first full day of work early, if not bright, the next morning.

Members of the legislature and other important people will get all gussied up, many of them risking their lives (in our view) when they are introduced and proceed down the grand stairway from the second floor to the first floor rotunda.  We have never seen a lady get her toe caught in the hem of her gown as she comes down the stairs but the few times that we’ve jammed ourselves into the crowd and covered the event, we have watched those introductions and parades down the steps with a certain tenseness.

It takes FOREVER to get all of those people down those steps.  And then the new governor and his wife get the first dance before everybody else looks for enough space to approximate a dance.

Here’s a little history of inaugural balls in Missouri:

The first inaugural ball for a head of state in Missouri might have been in March, 1804 when Spanish Governor Carlos deHault de Lassus ran the French flag down the pole in St. Louis and the American flag was first run up, signifying the change of ownership of the Louisiana Territory from France to the United States.  De Lassus was the French-born Spanish Governor, the French never having any government leaders here during the time between the sale of the territory by Spain to France and then the transfer to the United States. Captain Amos Stoddard  represented the United States in that ceremony and was in charge until President Jefferson appointed a territorial governor.

Jere Giffen (who recently died) wrote in her book, First Ladies of Missouri, “De Lassus held a public dinner in Captain Stoddard’s honor.  This was followed by a dinner and ball given by the citizens of St. Louis. The new executive was aware of the requirements of his position and he reciprocated with a dinner and ball open to the public. Captain Stoddard noted in personal correspondence that his entertainment—which might be classed as the first inaugural ball of an American governor in the area of Missouri—cost a total of $622.75.”

There were public dinners that included dancing for succeeding territorial governors but they were not considered inaugural balls as we know them today.

The first inaugural ball of an actual Governor of Missouri might have been January 3, 1853. Giffen wrote that new first lady Martha Price (Governor Sterling Price), who was so sick during the 1852 campaign that some people expected her to die, “was sufficiently strong to move with her children into the executive mansion for the inaugural ceremonies in January, 1853.” The “mansion” in this case was the first house built for a governor, using $5,000 provided by the legislature in 1832.  It was located on the same square or block as the original Governor’s House was constructed in 1826.  The Capitol was originally known as the Governor’s House when state government moved here in the fall of ’26 because it had a two-room suite for the governor to live and work in.  That was fine for John Miller, a bachelor, but not so great for his successor, Daniel Dunklin, who had a family.  Construction was underway in October, 1833 and was ready when Dunklin moved his family to Jefferson City in early ’34. The exact location is unclear, as is the exact location of the original Governor’s House but it apparently was in the area where the present Executive Mansion is located.

Giffen writes, “A large reception, termed by some an inaugural ball, was held by the new first family and attended by hundreds including friends and relatives from Chariton and Howard Counties. One of the first formal entertainments planned by capital city residents for the new first family probably was held in the mansion of Thomas Lawson Price, the first mayor of Jefferson City and a prominent businessman of the time.  According to Jefferson City legend, it was an unbroken custom for many years for the incoming governor and his wife to be received first at the Price home.  Although bearing the same name, the two Price families were not directly related until several years later when the Governor’s son, Celsus, married Thomas Lawson Price’s daughter, Celeste.”   The wedding was at the Thomas Lawson Price mansion.

Thomas Lawson Price was the defendant in an 1846 lawsuit that challenged the legal ownership of the land on which Jefferson City was laid out.  The state, of course, won the suit.  In the early Twentieth Century, the Price mansion was purchased by the state, torn down, and became the site of the present Supreme Court Building.

Inauguration receptions and dances do not appear to have been held at the Capitol until the present building was erected.  Until then, celebratory events were held at the Executive Mansion built during the administration of Governor B. Gratz Brown.  Jean Carnahan, in If These Walls Could Talk, indicates the first inaugural festivities in the mansion were after the inauguration of Silas Woodson on January 3, 1873.

One writer—not present for the occasion, but hopeful that the Mansion and its residents would serve as a model of Victorian propriety—declared the evening “an assemblage of ladies and gentlemen met for the purpose of rational, intellectual enjoyment.”  However, those in attendance found the evening far more robust as sounds of music from a brass and string band filled the house. Inaugural guests delighted in such rollicking dances as the polka and schottische, which had replaced the minuet after the Civil War.  It was reported that dancers swirled “all through the magnificent parlors, waltzing around, through doors, and from one room to another, galloping over people who came in the way, and schottisching recklessly about…until long after the noon of the night.” 

Joseph Folk, a Democrat, was elected in 1904 when Republicans swept control of government into their column. Carnahan wrote:

Like first ladies before her, Gertrude Folk found the traditional reception and ball “a trying ordeal…and a tax on the hands and feet.”  Still she called the event “great fun” and an opportunity to meet people from all over the state.  As the evening grew longer and the fun gave way to fatigue, Gertrude eased her weary feet by abandoning her “new high-heeled slippers…in one corner of the drawing room after the last hand had been shaken!”

Herbert Hadley was inaugurated during a snow storm on January 9, 1909.  Giffen records, “Snow blew into the Mansion as each of the some ten thousand guests was admitted. Mrs. Hadley recalled how her gloves soon became torn with the prolonged handshaking and when she took them off her hand began to bleed, staining the front of her white satin inaugural gown.”   Giffen seems to indicate the event was more a reception than a ball—surely the only way ten thousand people could have visited the place that night.

The Jefferson City Tribune said, “It is said to have been the largest gathering ever assembled in the mansion. As you came down the grand staircase you would stop and look at the great seeting [sic] mass of human beings and hesitate to make the plunge but finally before you could get courage up to step forth, without a moment’s warning you were lifted off your feet and rushed along at such a rate that if the walls had given way under the pressure you would have rushed pell mell into the Missouri river.”  Music was by the Third Regimental Band of Kansas City but because the house was so crowded that dancing was impossible, “some of the young people repaired to the Madison hall and finished the evening in dancing,” a reference to the Madison Hotel, which burned about thirty years later and was replaced by the Governor Hotel, now the Governor Building.

Inaugurations were held indoors in the chamber of the House of Representatives.  The Capitol that burned in 1911 was not a fit place for any inaugural balls as we know them today—which is why post ceremony celebrations were held at the Mansion.

Things were a little straight-laced, compared to today, in 1913 when Elliott Major was inaugurated.  The inauguration committee issued an edict barring “ragging” at the ball, the playing of ragtime music.  Modern dances such as the “bunny hop” or the “bear cat,” or the “turkey trot,” and “all other of the 57 varieties of the terpsichorean art where swaying of the shoulders and other unnecessary movements” are made.

Governor Frederick Gardner was to have been inaugurated in what is now the Capitol’s Resources Museum in 1917 but that area was still unfinished.  He, therefore, held the first outdoor inauguration, an event not held again until Warren Hearnes began the current custom of outdoor ceremonies in 1965.  However, 1917 was the first time an inaugural ball was held in the Capitol.  Barricades limited participants to certain areas to congregate and dance. And organizers cautioned, “During the inaugural ball, only dancers will be allowed on the main floor in the museum.  Spectators will go up in the gallery.  Thirty policemen from St. Louis and Kansas City supplemented the Jefferson City police force with crowd control, security, and making sure the new building was not vandalized.  Three bands performed and champagne was served although Gardner had decreed earlier that he wanted no alcohol to be served during the ball.  Mrs. Gardner quick discovered the mistake but kept quiet about it. Later that year the House and the Senate met for one day in the new building although their chambers were not yet finished.  But legislators were able to say they had served in the new Capitol.

Receptions still were held at the Mansion on inauguration day but Governor Arthur M. Hyde, in a bow to the age of the building (now fifty years old) and the greatly increased crowds for inaugural events scheduled two inaugural balls—one at the mansion and another at the Capitol.  The first inaugural ball in the rotunda was on January 10, 1921.

Governor Baker was the first governor, in 1925, to have the only inaugural ball of the night in the rotunda.  But there was a post-inauguration reception at the Mansion, a practice that continues today.

By the time James T. Blair was sworn in on January 14, 1957, the crowds were so large that two inaugural balls were held—one in the rotunda and the other one two blocks away at the Governor Hotel.

When Warren Hearnes was sworn in on January 11, 1965, a military reception was held at the Mansion and a third dance was added to the inaugural ball festivities.  The now-traditional ball in the rotunda was joined by another dance at the Governor Hotel with a third one in the ballroom of the newly-opened Ramada Inn.

Inaugurations have continued to be held outdoors except for 1997 when Governor Carnahan felt the weather was too dangerous and the parade was cancelled and the ceremony was moved into the rotunda. Joe Teasdale, however, in 1977, held his ceremony outside although a foot of snow the night before caused the cancellation of the inaugural parade and the windchill at noon was minus-45. The inaugural ball did go ahead that night—in the rotunda.

The first Ashcroft inauguration on January 14, 1985 (and the same would happen four years later at his second inauguration) did not feature the new Governor and First Lady having the first dance in the rotunda.  John and Janet Ashcroft, as members of the Assembly of God, did not take part in dancing. Instead, he sat down at a grand piano in the rotunda and played “The Missouri Waltz.”

The Holden inauguration in 2001 created headlines for months.  It included two additional dance floors in large heated tents on the south front lawn of the Capitol.  There were FOUR inaugural balls—the traditional rotunda event, another dubbed “One Bright Future” in one of the lawn tents, the third—the “One Missouri Ball” in the other tent, and a fourth, at the Capital Plaza hotel, was a Children’s Ball that was for children five to thirteen years old that featured a coloring corner, a photo station, an arcade and a sundae bar.  The final cost of all of the inauguration events was $1,039,917.20 (of which $125,400 was state funds).  It was the second-most expensive gubernatorial nomination among the 17 inaugurations from December, 2000-May, 2001 with only Puerto Rico spending more.  Holden did not pay off a debt totaling about $417,000 until July.  Union donations, mostly in June, constituted $51,000, which drew criticism because Holden issued an executive order later that month giving unions more influence in collective bargaining with state workers.  His spokesman denied any impropriety and noted unions had strongly supported Holden throughout his political career.

After those events, the legislature decided not to appropriate state funds for future inaugurations, beginning with Matt Blunt.  Since the Holden inauguration, succeeding governors have taken some pains to note how thrifty they have been.  In fact, the first Nixon inauguration, July 12, 2009, was dubbed the “potluck inauguration” because the planning committee decided to hold a potluck dinner at the Capital Plaza with the committee providing hamburgers and the public was invited to bring home-made desserts.  But that part of the day fell through when city health officials warned there was no way to guarantee the safety of the food that was brought in.

If, by the way, you want to see what many of the First Ladies wore at their inaugural balls, you can visit the Cole County Historical Society, across the street from the Mansion, and see several on display.  They don’t have any of the attire worn by the Governors, but as we all know, there are times—most often weddings—when the outfit worn by the man is of no interest at all for the official record.  What’s so interesting about a tux or a suit?

The society is in the row house  where Governor Brown lived while the mansion was being built.

 

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