Winter celebrations in Manistee of yesteryear

It might readily be argued that the Victorian residents of Manistee gave more elaborate parties than we do today.

Going to the costume party circa 1890.

Going to the costume party circa 1890.

Certainly the following item from the pages of the Times – Sentinel for a hundred years ago describes a very elaborate ball of that era:

“Remember the N. F. Society’s grand masquerade ball at the Opera House, Saturday night. In order to make the masquerade ball the more interesting the Society will give away five grand prizes, as follows: First prize — for the best historical group, consisting of not less than three persons; second prize–for the best comical group, consisting of not less than three persons; third prize — for the most beautiful lady’s costume; fourth prize–for the most beautiful gentleman’s costume; fifth prize — for the most comical costume in the hall.

The masquerade, without doubt, weather permitting, will be the most largely attended ball ever given in Manistee. Gerlach’s full band and orchestra will furnish the music, and the best of order will be maintained.”

In recalling these balls, and other winter parties, a half century later as follows Wilma M. White and Josephine Muenscher, provide a delightful description of the ‘good old days.’

“In winter, there were no snow plows to clear the deep drifts from walks or streets. When ‘ladies’ ventured out, they waded everywhere in long wool leggings, or ‘tights’, and ‘arctics’, as galoshes were called at that time. Winter often began in October, always before Thanksgiving and the subsequent months held a bleak aspect.

“The commodious sleighs of T. J. Ramsdell and Judge A. V. McAlvay and Ellis Benedict, coming from three directions, picked up school children struggling through the snow and carried them to their destinations, tucked in among buffalo robes.

“A sleigh ride to Poppys for an oyster stew was a winter treat. You hired the ‘City Belle’ of James Henderson, probably with four horses, took the oysters and crackers along and were on your way, wrapped in blankets, robes and hot stones. On arrival, you thawed out your chilled hands and feet while Mr. and Mrs. Poppy prepared the steaming stew.

“Since the ‘City Belle’ served as an omnibus in summer and was mounted rather precariously on runners for winter use, a possible spill in the deep snow was anticipated as a regular part of the evening’s entertainment.

“At a slightly later period two dancing clubs met frequently in Olympian Hall on the site of the present Lyric theatre. One of these was the ‘Silver Grey’, for older married people and the younger crowd had the ‘Sailing Club’, so named because many young men had small sail-boats. There was simple music at these parties and at l0 o’clock, rough tables were pulled out for the serving of hot coffee and doughnuts.

“All ages attended festivities of the ‘Silver Greys.’ Grandfathers would dance with their youthful descendants. E. G. Filer, T. J. Ramsdell and B. P. Barnes danced with young maidens and brides, and R. G. Peters at the age of 75 still waltzed, counting, — one, two, three, —under his breath.

“An occasional visiting troupe gave a play at the Opera House, as the Swedish Hall, next to Dr. Clinton Webb’s present home, was called.

“Primitive and simple as it was, this was the early setting of the Manistee of the ‘good old days’. Although in some respects, Manistee has lost its picturesque glamour of the lumbering era, it has gained, at large, and is destined surely, to become a ‘super town’ of the future.”

The museum’s holiday display, “Christmas in the Lyman Building” will be running through the month of the December. The exhibit features several window displays, Christmas trees, information on several stores of Manistee’s past and other artifacts. The museum is open this Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The museum will be open the entire month of December from Tuesday through Saturday.


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