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Dec. 31 ball at Old State Capitol re-creates music and dancing of the 1800s

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[December 17, 2009]  SPRINGFIELD -- The glamour of women twirling in hoop skirts on the arms of dashing gentlemen will be re-created during the First Night Period Ball scheduled for New Year's Eve at the Old State Capitol State Historic Site in downtown Springfield.

The dancing will be in full swing from 7 to 10 p.m. Dec. 31 in the Old State Capitol's Hall of Representatives. The ball is free and open to the public and is part of the First Night Springfield celebration. Visitors are invited to tour the candlelit building that evening and enjoy the historic holiday atmosphere.

Other events in downtown Springfield that evening require First Night admission. For more information on the First Night schedule and admission prices, visit The parking garage underneath the Old State Capitol will be open that evening, and parking rates will be $3 per car.

Steve Staley and the New Century Orchestra will play dance music of the mid-19th century, and dancing will be coordinated by the Springfield International Folk Dancers. Playing in the New Century Orchestra are Dustin Suits, clarinet; Tom Philbrick, tuba; Bill Furry, guitar; and Steve Staley, fiddle.

The First Night Period Ball is reminiscent of the formal dances and celebrations at the building when it served as the seat of Illinois government from 1839 to 1876. Newspaper accounts of the day described such events:

May 1, 1850: "Monsieur De La Barthe" holds an "exhibition ball" beginning at 8 P.M. in the Senate Chamber. Gentlemen's tickets available at Chatterton's, Birchall & Owens Drug Store, and the American House. This appears to be a demonstration designed to induce people to sign up for dancing classes to be given by La Barthe. Gentlemen's classes begin on Monday evening, May 6, and ladies on Wed., May 8. Prospective pupils are invited to sign up at La Barthe's residence on corner of Madison and Fifth. [Illinois State Register, April 16, 1850]

Masonic Lodge holds an evening ball at the statehouse to raise funds for building a Masonic hall in Springfield "next summer." Tickets available from Capt. J. R. Diller at firm of Ash and Diller. Music provided by Prof. Kennedy leading the Union Brass Band of St. Louis. Mr. McMullen ("Mac") of the City Hotel served "refreshments" at midnight. Groups invited from nearby communities -- "The company was large, at least two hundred and fifty, embracing a number of ladies and gentlemen from our neighboring towns." [Illinois State Register, November 13, 1850 and Illinois State Journal, November 11, 13 and 19, 1850]

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June 24: Masonic Lodge holds a "citizens ball" in Rep. Hall on the evening of St. John's day. Grierson's Band plays. Tickets on sale at Corneau & Diller's Drug Store, Ives & Curran's and C. W. Chatterton's Jewelry Store. Here's the Register's account of the festivities: "St. John's day was celebrated yesterday in this city in most superb style. A dinner was given by the fraternity at the National Hotel, and the host proved that he knows how to do the elegant in the science of gastronomy.

"A procession was formed at the masonic saloon and marched to the state house, preceded by the Jacksonville brass band. A large number of 'brother's from abroad' were present and joined in the exercise. At the state house appropriate prayers were offered and impressive pieces of music performed. Capt. Isaac R. Diller delivered a very interesting and eloquent address, descriptive of the usefulness to the order and the vast benefits it has conferred on mankind. A splendid ball in the evening, at the state house concluded the exercises of the day, which was one of the most joyous ever witnessed in our town." [Illinois State Register, June 26, 1852]

January 9, 1843: The "citizens of Springfield and visitors of said city" granted use of Rep. Hall on this evening to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. [Illinois State Register, January 13, 1843]

The Old State Capitol State Historic Site, administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday.

[Text from file received from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency]


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