The Twelfth Afternoon King’s Ball held Saturday, January 8, 2011, in the rotunda of the Old Courthouse was great fun! Hosted by Doug Harding of the National Park Service who specializes in living history re-enactments, it was quite literally a step back into 18th century St. Louis.
Yesterday found Doug Harding in the garb of a Colonial gentleman of 1771 as opposed to the uniform of a Confederate soldier of the 1860’s, which he dons for Civil War battle re-enactments.
Chairs set up along the walls of the rotunda allowed visitors to sit and listen to the wonderful music of Dennis Stroughmatt and L’Esprit Creole, to watch the waltzes and reels called by Dance Mistress, Deborah Hyland or catch a breath in between dance sets, and to sample the delicious French Colonial Cracked Wheat Bread, Madelines and King Cake prepared by food historian, Suzanne Corbett. There were cold and hot cider to go along with them.
Recalling a tradition celebrated from the beginning of St. Louis history, the gentlemen present were offered servings of Corbett’s moist, spicy King Cake with Buttercream Frosting. The three who discovered a bean in their cake were designated kings with paper crowns (Three Kings, as in the Magi, who visited Bethlehem on the Twelfth Day after Christmas). Each king presented the lady of his choice with a bouquet of flowers, designating her his queen. After congratulations, they led a dance and accepted responsibility for the next King’s Ball. Traditionally these socials continued up until Shrove(Fat)Tuesday/Mardi Gras, culminating in a grand costume ball – silks, satins, laces and powdered wigs.
(Kevin St. John has kindly informed me that Cahokia’s Colonial Mardi Gras Celebration/Fete du Bon Vieux Temps will take place on Saturday, March 5, 2011 from 2:00 until 5:00 pm in Cahokia, IL. The afternoon events are free and open to the public. There is a $10.00 admission fee for the Mardi Gras Ball that evening. For more information you may call 618-332-1782.)
Visitors to the Old Courthouse were drawn into the dancing and a merry time was had by all. Dennis Stroughmatt (http://creolefiddle.com/) is a master of the arts of Creole fiddling, singing and storytelling; his specialty – Midwest or Upper Louisiana French Creole folklore and music. The rotunda rang with his clear, beautiful voice and reverberated with the strings of violin, guitar and bass, making it all but impossible not to tap or stamp your feet.
Such living-history events deserve a permanent place in present-day St. Louis, one time capital of Upper Louisiana. In 2010 The Missouri History Museum published an excellent Special French Heritage Issue (Volume 30) of Gateway Magazine, detailing the tremendous impact of the French not only on St. Louis and the Mississippi River Valley but the evolution of the United States. You can find it in the Museum Gift Shop.
Photo Credits: “Old Cahokia Courthouse, Cahokia, Illinois” – author: Rklawton, Creative Commons of wikipedia.com; 1771 Twelfth Afternoon Ball at The Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri on January 8, 2011 – Maureen O’Connor Kavanaugh, the author of this blog.