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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Invitation to Lincoln’s Inaugural ball, March 1865; sold for $1,699. Photo courtesy of Early American History Auction
Abraham Lincoln’s second Inaugural ball was about to begin. Tension over the Civil War loosened its grip over people that spring evening in 1865.

The ball was a way to honor the President’s victory, a night to stop, reflect, and affirm the freedom Union soldiers fought so hard to preserve. A sense of optimism filled the gala.

"The great, warm heart of the nation has little sympathy with that neuralgic nerve which forbids the expression of exuberant feeling at this most auspicious moment," an observer said.

Emblems, flags, and banners filled the walls in the large marbled hall of the Patent Office. This was the first time a government building was used for the occasion.

Guests climbed the curved double granite stairways from the south portico entrance, past the gas lamps lighting their way and into the newly completed grand exhibition hall. A brass band performed light music in the foyer. A string ensemble, located in the main room played for 500 dancers.

Satin, velvet, silk and lace dresses saturated the dance floor. Politicians and their wives swayed alongside foreign officials and their spouses. Men in uniform filled the room.

The guest of honor, Pres. Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary arrived around 10:30 P.M., and stayed until after 1:00 in the morning.

Lincoln dressed in a plain black suit. Mary, his wife, wore white satin and pearls.

Tickets cost $10 and all the proceeds went to the soldiers in the field. Over 4,000 people were there.

Supper was served on sideboards and consisted of roast beef, veal, chicken, turkey, quail, pheasant, oysters, salads, fruits, cakes, creams, and sweets of all kinds.

Those who attended the ball that evening received an invitation with bust portraits of Lincoln and Vice President Andrew Johnson on them. Beneath the portraits, the words “National Inauguration Ball, March 4th 1865” were stamped.

Two majestic American eagles were perched on pillars to the left and right of the invitation. One eagle held a serpent in its beak, symbolizing war. The other held an olive branch, symbolizing peace. A fitting metaphor for the evening.

The eating and dancing lasted until dawn. Who could have guessed that a little more than a month later, the war would be over and Lincoln would be dead.

All that remained of the evening for most attendees were memories and a 10 1/2 inch by 7 1/2 inch invitation.

The invitations have become an important piece of Presidential history. How many actually survive is impossible to say. They weren’t intended to survive 141 years. Somehow they did survive and show up occasionally at auction.

That’s what happened on April 22. Early American History Auctions, in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., held a mail bid and internet auction. They featured autographs, coins, currency and Americana in the sale.

Among the lots, in excellent condition, was an invitation to Lincoln’s Inaugural ball. It sold for $1,699.

Here are some current values for other historical artifacts offered in the sale.

Historical Artifacts

New Orleans World’s Centennial Exposition Poster; scarce; circa 1884; 40 inches by 27 inches; $2,360.

Abraham Lincoln portrait; bust-length, memorial of him on ivory, bearded; 3 3/5 inches by 2 1/2 inches; $2,950.

Slave Branding Iron; each slave was branded twice, once aboard ship leaving Africa and once again in the Americas, circa 1800; 18 1/2 inches long; $3,675.

Flag; 34 stars; 11 stripes; Civil War era; associated with Confederacy; rare; 38 inches by 90 inches; $14,160.

George Washington signed document; appointing John Smith as a Captain in the Regiment of Infantry; Sept. 29, 1789; 11 inches by 14 1/2 inches; $20,650.

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