Supposedly, The Hunt Ball at the historic Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria took place the evening of Nov. 22, 2014. But inside, there was nothing to indicate it was not Nov. 22, 1800. The Hunt Ball was part of the tavern’s weekend of historic festivities, beginning with a banquet on Saturday and ending with a lunch hosted by Founding Father and America’s third President, Thomas Jefferson.
The rhythmic tapping of shoes upstairs and the faint sound of the live music only deepened the historic atmosphere of the game room immediately below the dance hall. The candle-lit room housed two gaming tables; one for a game of dice, but the main attraction was the card game Whist.
Steve Diatz, an Alexandria resident dressed in the uniform and invented persona of early American naval officer Nicholas Armitage, taught guests the rules of the games. In many ways, it was practice for his trip to New Orleans in January to host games at the bi-centennial of the battle fought there. Diatz has been attending events at Gadsby’s tavern since 1982.
“My favorite was on Nov. 5, 2005,” said Diatz, and after pressing from the gathered guests, continued. “I took, in marriage, my wife Heather in the upstairs ballroom. It was a theme wedding, the scenario was Nov. 5, 1945. We made it a World War II welcome home victory wedding. Everyone dressed in ‘40’s attire.”
Many of the attendees were historical re-enactors who attended as historical characters of their creation. Nastassia Gross played a former slave who worked with the British following the Dunmore Proclamation that freed all slaves who fought for the loyalists. Things were momentarily awkward at the card table when Gross found out that the gentleman sitting next to her, Diatz, was a patriot. The tension passed when the two began gossiping about the gambling addiction of a local loyalist commander.
According to Gretchen Bulova, the director of the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, balls like the one on Saturday are a link to Alexandria’s past. The event was originally planned to be “The Jefferson Ball,” with Jefferson re-enactor Bill Barker in attendance. Jefferson, along with George Washington, John Adams, James Madison and James Monroe were known to have attended the tavern during their times in Washington. However, Barker’s trip to the tavern had to be delayed until the following day, so the theme changed to reflect the popular 18th and 19th century sport of hunting.
“One of our ball goers had mentioned to us several months ago the idea of a ‘Hunt Ball’,” said Bulova. “All of the songs and dances were related to the hunt.”
The Hunt Ball was one of five thrown each year by Gadsby’s Tavern. In the past, others have included a “Bread and Butter Ball,” named after an 1760 entry in Washington’s diary where he recalled attending a ball in Alexandria where bread and butter were offered served in notably large quantities. Tickets to the Hunt Banquet and Ball were $120, or $45 for the ball alone.
The next day, Gadsby’s lunch with Jefferson featured Madeira, a wine Jefferson was particularly fond of. The wine was served with fried oyster, biscuits, slices of roasted duck and a chocolate mousse. Tickets to the event were also $45.
At the lunch, Jefferson spoke on a variety of topics, from political discourse to his relationships with fellow Founding Fathers’ John Adams and Alexander Hamilton.
“As we continue to move the more swiftly into the future, our past will move equally as fast behind us,” said Barker, as Jefferson. “Therefore will we not be the more prone to forget?”
Next event at Gadsby’s Tavern is a tour of Alexandria by candlelight on Dec. 13 and 14. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, $5 for kids.