These days, when a president or other elected official is inaugurated, the ceremony is often followed that evening by an inaugural ball. In fact, it is pretty much expected, like the celebration of victory after a long, hard-fought battle. When our first president, George Washington was sworn into office as the first president of the United States, on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City, New York, on April 30, 1789, all tradition concerning elections was brand new. Our country was still trying to figure out what our traditions would be at that point.
A week later, on May 3, 1789, George Washington attended a ball in his honor. These days inaugural balls are planned and held with every inauguration. In fact, most presidents attend several balls on inauguration night. Still, in 1789, they were brand new, and it would be another decade before the practice was revived, with the inaugural of James Madison, the fourth president. Dolley, President Madison’s wife, threw a gala for 400 people at Long’s Hotel in Washington. Tickets cost $4.00, which would have amounted to about $100.00 today. That was actually very reasonable, considering that they run about $350.00 today. I suppose that if you were part of high society, you would think nothing of that amount for a ball which would show your support of the new president, as well as, your position in society.
Since Madison’s inaugural ball, the events have become more or less a quadrennial presidential fixture. Today, we think nothing of the event, assuming that it is just part of the grand tradition of our electoral process and seating a new president. Nevertheless, there have been years that the Inaugural Ball has been cancelled. Woodrow Wilson, in 1913, and Warren Harding, in 1921, both passed up balls, citing the need to economize. Franklin Pierce canceled his in 1853 because of the recent death of his son. President Franklin D Roosevelt was another exception, choosing to work through the night rather than attend his first inaugural ball in 1933. He canceled the next three galas because of the Depression and World War II.
At the first ball, Washington danced with many ladies who were considered the cream of New York society. New York was the temporary site of the newly established federal government. Eliza Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton, the treasury secretary, recorded her impressions in her memoirs. She wrote that Washington liked to dance the minuet, a dance she thought was “suited to his dignity and gravity.” In what would seem strange today, Martha Washington apparently did not attend the Inaugural Ball. One month to the day of her husband’s departure for New York, Martha Washington set out on her own triumphant trip to the seat of the new government, thereby becoming our first, First Lady.
Every time I saw, Bob’s grandmother, Vina Leary Hein and her second husband, Walter Hein, they were always happy and fun people to be around. They loved company…especially their grandchildren. Nevertheless, they were hard working people, who rarely took a vacation…or even a day off. The owned a ranch, and there was always too much to do to be away for very long. The only bad thing about all that they had to do, is that they didn’t have as much time to spend with company as they might have liked. Nevertheless, when company was visiting, the evenings belongs to them and what usually went on in the evenings when company was visiting…cards, or at least that was what the evenings were like when Bob and I would visit.
Sometimes, I wondered how Grandma and Walt ever got together. They were two very different people. Walt would have never left the ranch, and wished Grandma wouldn’t either. For her part, she would really rather not play cards at all, and yet she finds herself roped into it. She wanted to be able to go to town and to visit her family, and he didn’t. It seemed like the odd couple sometimes, and yet, there was something that glued this couple together…love and friendship. They were two very different people who meshed perfectly…even if no one else could see why.
One of the happiest days I saw for them was their 50th Anniversary party. They were so happy. Walt was even open to leaving the ranch and the work for the day. He and Grandma looked so happy, and it was such a fun day. They socialized, danced, and enjoyed the foods. They smiled constantly. I could suddenly see that despite the fact that they seemed so opposite, they were nevertheless a perfect match. And whether we could see what it was that drew them together or not, after 50 years, it was obviously there.
As happy as I was for them, the day came when I felt such an aching for Walt. That was the day Grandma passed away. He seemed so broken, so horribly sad, and suddenly almost like a little lost child. It just broke my heart. It became so obvious to me, that Walt loved Grandma with all his being. I wasn’t sure he could live without her, and I suppose he might not have been able to, except that dementia had set in for him, and the foggy memory of her passing, made it easier to bear. Walt lived another six years before he passed away. While they have been gone 16 and 10 years respectively, I still find it very hard to believe that they are gone. Today would have been their 75th Anniversary. I’m sorry that they weren’t here to see this day, but then Grandma would have been 105, and Walt would have been 108, so it seems very unlikely that they would have been here today anyway.