The Ball: A Christmas Story
Happy holidays, all. If you’re wondering what to buy me, I’m a size XL in “column ideas.” I can always use more of those. I struggled a little to come up with this one.
Every year, I find something nice and Christmassy to write about. Let’s face it, nobody wants to open their morning paper on the Saturday before Christmas and find a gruesome murder or a train accident. I’ve written about holiday-based Henry Shoemaker legends, coincidental Christmas events, incidents that happened around the holiday, and much more over the years. Sometimes I have to stop and think if I’ve used an idea before.
So there I was, kind of dwelling on what I wanted to write while I filed obituary cards at the library, and I stumbled on one. Completely by accident, I found the listing to an old article in the Clinton Democrat about a Christmas celebration in 1853, which incidentally would have been Lock Haven’s twentieth Christmas. The article ran soon after, on Jan. 3, 1854.
The article was headlined, simply, “The Ball.”
It detailed a Christmas party held on a Tuesday evening, actually soon after Christmas, on Dec. 27, 1853. The party was held by an organization called the Young Bachelors’ Association, which was once apparently a thing. They seemed to feel that Lock Haven deserved a celebration. In addition to it being the 20th Christmas the community had ever had, it had been a busy year. Gas lights had been installed in the city. A bridge had been built across Bald Eagle Creek, giving easy passage between Lock Haven and whatever the hell was on the other side of Bald Eagle Creek at the time. Construction on the soon-to-be-grand Fallon Hotel had just begun on behalf of the Queen of Spain. And the first public school building had been built on Bald Eagle Street, making it the only grade school in the state outside of Philadelphia.
They held the celebration in Odd Fellow’s Hall, which was on East Main Street at the time, between Grove and Jay Streets — Very near to the office of present-day Downtown Lock Haven, in fact.
“The Saloon at Odd Fellow’s Hall was handsomely decorated,” said the Democrat, “With evergreens, flowers, flags, and mirrors, and a large company of ladies and gentlemen was present.”
There was also music, because what’s a Christmas party without music? An orchestra was brought in from Williamsport, conducted by Major Daniel Repast. The music was said to be “charming,” and everyone had a good time dancing.
Food was provided by W.W. Barker, who owned a hotel called the Mansion House a couple of doors down. (I’ve checked the old maps, and there was a doctor in between the Mansion House and Odd Fellow’s Hall. You know, just in case the party got too wild.) Barker didn’t have to travel more than a few yards with his food, which is good, as he brought a huge variety of it. It was said that “ample justice was done” to the food, and the knives and forks were “made to rattle for a while.”
Barker, incidentally, owned the tavern that was the first attempt at a county courthouse — When Clinton County was founded in 1839, the county commissioners rented out most of his tavern on Water Street for county operations. Barker’s son, Robert Stewart Barker, wound up being the mayor of Lock Haven in 1887.
But back to the party. Imagine it — The music, an enormous table of food, dancing and conversing, all in a classy hall in historic Lock Haven. This was how the community celebrated their 20th Christmas holiday.
“All present appeared in excellent spirits,” the Clinton Democrat reported. “The dancing passed off finely, and in short, the beauty and fashion of Lock Haven and vicinity never appeared to more advantage than they did on this occasion.”
Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at email@example.com or 570-660-4463.