Monday, February 14, 2011

The Writers Almanac

On This Day:
On this day in 1842, the most desirable place to be in New York was at the Valentine's Day "Boz Ball," held in honor of the novelist Charles Dickens, (books by this author) who published his early stories under the pseudonym "Boz." He had not yet published most of his most great books: A Christmas Carol (1843), David Copperfield (1849), A Tale of Two Cities (1849), and Great Expectations (1860) were all still to come. But already he was a huge celebrity. Dickens and his wife, Catherine, had arrived in Boston on January 22nd, and the city welcomed them with all sorts of events, until "Boston" was being called "Boz-town." New Yorkers were determined to outdo Boston, so they organized a planning committee. Boston's major Dickens event had been a dinner for men only, so New York decided to give a ball and include women. The ball was at the Park Theater, New York's largest venue, which could hold 3,000 people. Three thousand tickets sold out immediately at $5 apiece, which was quite a bit in those days. Only the most elite society members were welcome — each guest was thoroughly vetted before being allowed to attend. New Yorkers who didn't make it in were trying to spend up to $40 to get a ticket.

The Boz Ball was unprecedented. Thousands of dollars were spent on decorations. There was a bust of Dickens with a bald eagle hanging above it, holding a laurel wreath. There were huge banners, decorated with scenes from his books. There were elaborate displays to represent each state. The New Yorkers were dressed in their finest. People had trouble dancing because there was simply not enough room, but they did it anyway, and the dances alternated with performances from Dickens' books. In a letter to a friend, Dickens called it "the most splendid, gorgeous, brilliant affair you ... can possibly conceive."

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