Inaugural supper 1865: an eyewitness account
Abraham Lincoln's second Inauguration was recounted in several magazines and newspapers by a variety of reporters. The New York Times reporter was not named. Just noted as "Special Correspondence." We wonder who he (or she) was? Clearly, the meal was a disaster.
"The Supper. It had been rumored--and the foundation for the report was only rumor--that the supper was to be something extraordinary. We were suprised at this, because we knew good taste and modern custom, in small places like New-York, have, of late years, literally eschewed the practice of immense suppers at public balls; and this reform had been reconcilated by the fact that such attempts had generally ended in catastrophes to the toilets and tempers of all participants. It was, therefore, with misgivings that we saw it announced that a grand supper would be served in one of the corridors of the extensive building. The American people, in general, we are ashamed to say, have not yet learned how to behave at table; and that species of etiquette, not too prevalent in private, is certainly always absent at public suppers. So it was not strange that we should have had warning visions of a grand rush, then a crush, and a demolition in the twinkling of an eye of all th confectioner's handiwork, the frantic snatching of viands from the tables, the brandishing aloft of wine cup, and plate, and cutlery, laden with article alike dangerous to toilet and stomach; of munching and crunching sans ceremonie; of defilement and ruin to precious apparel, the result perhaps of weeks of the dressmaker's effort; of the loss of temper, and loud cries of complaint. And indeed, we harbored a fear as a consequence that a graceful assembalage of dignified ladies and gentlemen might be transformed, as if by the wand of some evil spirit, into a social raffle, where he who was rudest should be most successful in appeasing the cravings of the appetite, and in pocketing the delicate ornamentations of the table.
"The name of the cuisiner has escaped us, and it is not worth while to hand it up now. Suffice it to say it was not Delmonico, therefore we did not expect perfection. The hall set apart for supper was the grand corridor in the west wing. The table was set in the centre, and it gave standing-room for about three hundred personat one time. The cabinets of the works of genius and invention, placed at intervals, served to form alcoves on each side of th supper-table. On one side, some of these were provided with seats; on the other, they were reserved for depositing the extraordinary quantity of material necessary for such a host, and for the operations of the waiters.
"The ornamentation of the table, though limited in extent, was in excellent taste, and peraops quite as profuse os the unfortunately small space devoted to the supper would permit. There were three leading and conspicuous pieces form the confectioner's hands, placed at approprote points in the centre and at each end of the table; in the centre, our imposing Capitol--perfect in minature; at one end an exquisite represntation of the heroic deeds of the gallant army; at the other, a similar device of the proud achievements of the navy. The representation of the Capitol was admirably executed; no detail seemed to be too minute for imitation. Even the lamps at the entrance seemed to give forth light. The columns, pedastals, cornices, frieses, entablatures, windows, situary, and the majectis dome, and towering above all else, the Goddess of Liberty, were all there as perfect as mould and model could make them. In addition, there were several allegorical representations of the progress of civilization, the genius, the arts, the sciences and literature of the day. The piece on the right was in honor of the army; and the glory and fame of the defenders of our liberty were illustrated by a pyramid, around which were clustered in tasteful profusion all the insignia of war, the paraphernalia of battle and the emblem of victory. The navy was honored in the same manner, the representation being surmounted with Admiral Farragut's old flagship Hartford, gallantly riding the withe crested waves, while aloft might be seen the Admiral himself lashed to the rigging, emblmatical of the old hero's achievements in the Bay of Mobile; then battered Fort Sumter, the sad epitome of secession; then Neptune with chariot and trident, and the Goddess of Liberty, inspriing the brave sailor to greater glory and higher fame. There were other ornamentations, principally pyramids of which the detail is unimportant, for nougats, croquant, and chocolate are the same here as elsewhere. The bill of fare provided a select and tasteful variety, and no better idea of it can be obtained than by inserting it right here verbatim.
Bill of Fare.
Oyster stews, terrapin stews, osters pickled; beef--roast beef, filet of beef, beef a la mode, beef a l'anglais; veal--leg of veal, fricandeau, veal Malakoff; poultry--roast turkey, boned turkey, roast chicken; grouse--boned and roast; game--pheasant, quuail, venison, patetes, patetes of duck en gelee, patete de fois gras; smoked ham, tongue en gelee, tongue plain; salades, chicken, lobster; ornamental pyramids--nougate, orange, caramel with vany cream candy, coconut, macaroon, croquant, chocolate; three cakes--cakes and tarts, almond soonge, belle alliance, dame blanche, macaroon tart, tart a la Nelson, tarte a l'Orleans, tarte a la Portuguese, tarte a la Vienne, pound cake, sponge cake, lady cake, fancy small cakes; jellies and creams--calf's foot and wine jelly, Charlotte a la Russe, Charlotte a la vanilla blanc mange, creme Neapolitiane, creme a la Nelson, creme Chateaubrand, creme a la Smyrna, crreme a la Nesslefored, bombe a la vanilla, ice cream, vanilla, lemon, white coffee, chocolate, burnt almonds, maraschino, fruit ices, crabeerry, orange, lemon; dessert--grapes, almonds, raisins &c., coffee and chocolate.
"This was the programmefor the feast. The only thing which did not seem promising was the fact that but three hundred could be confortably accomodated at one time, while there were five thousand persons to be accomodated, and a large majority of them ladies. About the hour of 12, the Presiential party were secorted by a private entrance to the privileged places. Soon afterward the doors were opened, and a throng of more than a thousand, who had collected at that end of the hall, poured into the supper-room . Of course, when three persons occupy the space barely sufficient for one, a 'crush' is the result; and the crush which followed can better be imagined than depicted.
"But this was not the worst feature. With the indecency of conduct and want of politeness and etiquette which charcterizes man American people at table, and which is the certain accompaniment of a large grows at a public supper, many gentlemen, and ladies, seized upon the most ornamental and least nutritious part of the table decorations, demolished them, carried the pieces off in a handkerchief or crushed them under foot. Then the more substantial viands were served likewise. Large dishes of choice meats, tatetes, saldes and jellies were carried off vi et armis into the alcoves, or elsehwere. One gentleman presented a very ludicrous attitude with a large plate of smoked tongue, requiring both hands to hold it, no place to sit down, and no way to eat it! He looked the picture of despair.
"In less than an hour the tables was a
wreck; a few ornaments not destroyed were removed, and the array of empty dishes and the debris of the feast were postitively frightful to
behold. The doors were now wide open, and hundreds of ladies in elegant silks, satins and velvets, and gentlemen in dainty broadcloath,
surged and struggled back and forth. A few obtained something to eat, others very little, and many more only succeded in ruining their
toilets. As much was wasted as was eaten, and however much may have been provided more than half the guests went supperless. By
it was a public supper; we were not much disappointed, and though the gentlemen who managed it may have been to blame for the want of
room, the fact remains that the supper was a disaster, and destracted from the otherwise pelassant aspect of the occasion."
---"The Inauguration Ball," The New York Times, March 8, 1865 (p. 1)
[NOTE: The word "toilet" in this period meant personal grooming. This could be makeup, hair, scent, and cleanliness.]
What did President Lincoln think of this affair?
"Was it Circe who could change men into pigs? If so, she must have been present at the inaugural ball which was held Monday, March 6, 1865, to close the ceremony of President Lincoln's second inauguration. The president's own disgust at what he saw during the opening moments of the banquet was so marked, so pronounced, that he could express it in no other way than by taking an abrupt departure. This he did."
---"Lincoln Leaves Second Ball When Dancers Mob Supper," The Washington Post, March 4, 1933 (p. IE15)
[NOTES: (1) We wonder if the president was whisked off by guards for his own safety. (2) This article provides additional details: The cost of a ball ticket was $10.00. (3) The article the author of the original 1865 eyewitness acount was a woman. It does not reveal her identity.]
Hungry for more? Presidential food favorites!