Most of us have seen strange events, designed to be something no one else has done. Things like getting married in a hot air balloon, or during a skydive, or even on horseback. And speaking of horseback…how about dining on horseback. I know, it seems strange, unless maybe you are a kid like my grandnephew, Bowen Parmely, who fully enjoys a popsicle on the back of a horse. While that is a bit unusual, it is not the strangest incidence of dining on horseback.
During the Gilded Age (1870 – 1900), everything was elaborate…for the very wealthy, that is. From estates that were bigger and more ornate and elaborate than many castles, to elaborate train cars, to dining on horseback…really?? How did that fit in with the extravagance of the other things? Normally, during the Gilded Age, meals were elaborate affairs and almost always held indoors. However, there were a few rather strange exceptions. The point of the Gilded Age and the very wealthy people who championed it was that everything had to be outlandish. It had to have a wow factor, and maybe even a shock factor. In fact, the whole point was to shock the people with the very richness of everything they were seeing, as well as the shock of its monetary extravagance.
So, how do you make dining on horseback into something elaborate, elegant, expensive, and rich? Obviously, outlandish was easy on this one. Remember that paper plates didn’t exist then, and the very idea of the ultra-wealthy people eating a fancy dinner with their fingers…well, it is outlandish, I guess. Most meals involving the very wealthy, involve several courses, so just imagine devouring those endless, rich courses, while trying to steady not only the horse, but the China dishes, crystal, and silver too!!
While everyone at the dinners were treated like millionaires, including the horses, the whole affair must have had some rather unpleasant components to it too. Never mind the fact that you are trying to juggle plates, cups, and silverware while on horseback, but consider the smells in the room. The food smelled delicious, I’m sure, but you cannot keep a horse from doing what horses do, so in addition to waiters, were there also stable boys in attendance. And as for the waiters, I’m quite sure it was necessary to watch where they walked…very carefully. The last thing they needed was to slip on a pile of manure and land on the floor, after throwing the food intended for a guest to eat, all over said guest. The horses were encouraged to stand still and behave, by being provided with their own individual bags of oats. I’m sure that helped, but it would still be very hard to stand perfectly still, especially since these horses weren’t previously trained for a life as a piece of furniture.
One such dinner was hosted by millionaire C K G Billing and was held at a swanky New York restaurant. Now just imagine having all those horses inside a restaurant. It would take a week to clean up afterward, I’m sure, and all of this came at an enormous cost. Billing’s bill came to $50,000, an amount unimaginable to most people in the world, but for Billing…well, he was just showing off! As for the guests…I’m sure it was considered a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, or at the very least, I’m sure they hoped it would only be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Who in their right mind would want to repeat such a dinner? Certainly not me!! And I venture to say, these guests didn’t either.