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Thursday, June 17, 2010

I wish I'd seen these ads in March, when they were actually appropriate, but I'm not waiting till next year. So here are two totally chronologically out-of-place ads that I just found and love!

Estella - I was at the Purim Ball last night attired as King Ashasuerus. See the Jewish Record of to day.
Special Notice. - Purim! Purim! Purim! - Where shall I find a full account of the Purim Ball? In the Jewish Record of to day.
Ha! I had no idea there even were Purim balls! Okay, for the non-Jews amongst my dear readers, here's a nice little Wikipedia entry all about this great holiday which, unfortunately, we don't celebrate nearly enough. (Except the easily obtainable hamentashen you can get pretty much anywhere, any time in New York City.) King Ahasuerus, if you click on the link above, was one of the major figures in the Purim story. In fact, I'm surprised that this ad isn't addressed to Esther instead of Estella, though those two names are pretty similar.

Anyway, because of its similarity to the second ad, I actually believe that the first ad was a plant by the Jewish Record, a newspaper that, unfortunately not only has disappeared but doesn't even seem to have left any trace behind it. A quick Google search only uncovered a newspaper in Texas from the 1920s - about 80 years after these ads were placed. But either way, it looks as if this newspaper is advertising itself in the personals column of another paper by posing as a personal...and now I'm confusing myself.

However, the Jewish Record was not the only paper to cover this affair! No, with only a little bit of hunting, I found the New York Times report about this very exact Purim Ball. I'm not sure how well it lives up to the Liederkranz or the Arion balls, but it still sounds pretty amazing:

No one of the ancient Hebraic celebrities holds a more absolute sway in the affections of the Jews of this day than Esther, the beautiful and pious spouse of Ahasuerus. In comemoration of the signal service rendered by that estimable lady to her nation, on the occasion of the timely elevation of Haman, the envious enemy of her uncle Mordecai, whose daily place of rest was in the neighborhood of the King's gate, the Jewish people yearly observe the Feast of Purim. In this City, the first grand ball of the Purim Association was given last year, with marked success, and the second was given on Thursday night, at the Academy of Music. The building was very elegantly and tastefully decorated and most brilliantly illuminated, the floor was laid for dancing, and the usual magnificence of the Academy incredibly enhanced.
Not less than 3,000 of our Jewish population, with their friends, were present, of whom the great majority were in fancy costume. A more brilliant affair has never been witnessed at the Academy. The most perfect order prevailed, and every arrangement, police, supper, hat and cloak, and whatever, was perfect and unmarred by the slightest accident. The usual variety of absurdities, in the way of disguise, was manifest, though many of the dresses were exceedingly rich, and displayed great taste in selection and skill in preparation. One lady was dressed in the height of fashion, in garments made entirely of Frank Leslie's paper, and was decidedly a feature of the night, as were "Joan of Arc," "Old Aunt Dinah," "Mehitabel Ann," "Old Mother Goose," "Pocahontas," "Anne Boleyn" and the "Dame aux Camelias."

Very many exquisite evening toilettes set off the charms of the black-eyed belles in the boxes, and the universal masculine verdict is, that so many pretty faces have never before been seen at any one occasion, within the walls of the Academy.

(Mad props to the Times, by the way, for not only avoiding any anti-Semitic stereotypes but for even heaping so much praise upon the affair and its attendees.) My favorite parts of this story: the lady dressed "in garments made entirely of Frank Leslie's paper," and the women dressed as "Old Mother Goose," "Pocahontas," and, my personal favorite, "Joan of Arc." You know, the Catholic saint. I suppose one could draw parallels between Pocahontas, Joan of Arc, and Queen Esther, but seriously? How could it possibly be appropriate to come dressed as a Catholic saint to a Jewish ball?

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2010 Pam Epstein


Sandra June 18, 2010 at 12:06 PM  

Hi Pam,

Although this is my first time commenting, I've been reading your posts for a while and wanted to let you know how much I enjoy them. As a sociolinguistics student interested in discourse, I love seeing these anonymous messages from so long ago, as well as your interpretations of their social context. Great work!

By the way, the woman dressed as Joan of Arc may not have been quite as inappropriate as could be imagined. Joan was not actually canonized until the 20th century; as I understand it, in the mid 1800s she was more of a nationalistic symbol for the French than a canonical figure of Catholicism (although of course her religious image may have been part of her nationalistic appeal). I could be wrong, but that's my take at least. :)

And the woman whose dress was made of newspaper? How awesome is that?! Good to know attendees of balls in the 1800s had a sense of humor.

Pam June 18, 2010 at 11:36 PM  

Thanks Sandra! I'm glad you decided to write - never too late!

I didn't know that Joan of Arc wasn't canonized until the 20th century. I guess that does change things a little. I also know that most of the Jews living in NYC at the time were very, very secular, and really, this would not have been a huge deal - most likely.

The dress made of newspaper!! How did she avoid that thing falling apart or getting ripped to shreds?? It's amazing!!

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