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After the Ball    by Patricia Beard order for
After the Ball
by Patricia Beard
Order:  USA  Can
Perennial, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The title comes from Charles K. Harris's 'After the ball is over, after the break of morn, / After the dancer's leaving, after the stars are gone; / Many a heart is aching, if you could read them all; / Many the hopes that have vanished, after the ball.' Using public and private records, and Hyde family connections, Patricia Beard has written a finely-researched analysis of high living and big business, that covers historical events beginning in the mid-1800's. At age 25, entrepreneur Henry Baldwin Hyde raised $100,000 from acquaintances to found the Equitable Life Assurance Society. Equitable's New York offices were located at 120 Broadway, Manhattan in a building known for its 'architectural grandeur'. (The building was designed by co-architect Frederick Law Olmstead, famed for the design of Manhattan's Central Park and the parks adjacent to Niagara Falls, Buffalo, NY.)

Henry was described as a 'self-absorbed autocrat', a difficult husband to wife Annie, and a doting though controlling parent of James Hazen Hyde. Henry died in 1899, leaving the Equitable legacy to son James. At the time of his death, there were seventy-seven Equitable offices internationally. James inherited major shares of Equitable, but could not assume his father's position until he reached the age of thirty. Henry appointed Equitable's head officer James Waddell Anderson as James's trustee, and their relationship eventually became adversarial. James, a handsome Harvard graduate, took meticulous care in dress and demeanor even in his later years. His passions included the arts and theater, as well as driving and racing of 'coach and four'. James was popular in France, where Equitable's offices counted for millions of insurance dollars. At one point, it was suggested that he be appointed as the U. S. Ambassador to France.

The Gilded Age by Samuel Clemens and Charles Dudley Warner (which sold 35,000 copies within the first few months of publication) named this era dominated by railroad economy and the worship of success. Ownership of mansions and affiliations with social clubs were worn like badges. Money was the main talk of the day, as were vacation residences and design of wardrobes in Paris. On January 31, 1905, the 'Hyde Ball' took place at Sherry's Hotel, New York City. Six hundred prominent citizens attended in costume. Orchestras, operas, and plays were performed while notables mingled. Present were famous French actress Rejane, John Jacob Astor, the Vanderbilt and Carnegie families, J. P. Morgan, and the Roosevelts. Destructive rumors began during the ball - it was claimed that James paid the Ball's $200,000 expenses from Equitable funds - and led to one of the big financial scandals. In the author's words, 'games of one hundred years ago and those that are still being played ... the maneuvers were legal in 1905 and criminal today'.

Beard does not overload her writing with dates and statistics, but dances the reader to an enjoyable tune throughout. Once a resident of Manhattan NYC, I particularly prize one episode from After the Ball: 'Costume parties were popular, but masks had been illegal in New York since 1829' The rationale was that face coverings were 'subversive of all just and honorable ... (Nearly two centuries later, New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani used the law to prevent the Ku Klux Klan from marching hooded in the city streets.)' Thank you Rudy!

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