Monday, May 7, 2012

Titanic Weekend

I love dancing. I don’t know why I don’t do it more except I guess I love history more. I also love art, and at the moment my favorite art museum is the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. So when I found out that the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers were holding a Titanic themed weekend with dancing and a trip to the Peabody Essex I HAD to attend. Stephen’s spring schedule was already booked up, but my friend Jess agreed to invest in an outfit from the 19teens and come out for the weekend.

I could not afford to do the whole weekend so Jess and I picked the Saturday evening dinner and dance plus the Sunday museum stroll at the Peabody Essex. We skipped the Friday dance, Saturday tea and Sunday concert, but all of that probably would have been too much anyways.

I had big plans to prepare 2 dresses, along with multiple accessories, hats, and “votes for women” sashes. I was going to attend every upcoming dance class, and practice hairdos in advance, but all that flew out the window when I had trouble with the first skirt pattern and my employment situation did not improve. So the week before the event I was looking at a half-done skirt and not much else. Time to finish the skirt then go to the closet! Years ago Mom bought me a pretty dress-up top. It is a thin striped cotton that is open in the front with short kimono sleeves. I dug it out of the drawer that contained my random 19th Century clothing bits, wore it with a lacy camisole underneath, and it was just about perfect. The top was whiter than my skirt material, but a sash would fix that, and a trip to Target supplied me with both a khaki olive colored lace scarf for a sash, and a couple of hats to decorate for Sunday. Voila, instant nineteen-teens outfit.
Since Jess was incredibly nervous about the dancing we agreed to meet up early on Saturday to attend the morning dance practice. Luckily Salem, MA is only about an hour from my house so the drive in was not too bad. I was so thankful for the ballroom dance classes Stephen and I had taken the winter before, and the quick ragtime lesson at Reenactorfest, I was not the most raw of beginners. We left Jess’ car in Salem after the lesson and went back to my house for a 12th Century meeting and then for primping.

Jess wore a Victorian corset under a Revival Clothing dress with a scarf in her hair. I managed to put my hair in a roll around my head. Much more 1890s than 1910s, but something I knew I could pull off. Neither of us had appropriate purses but I grabbed a little suitcase that I’d gotten to hold my dance shoes. We took some photos in front of the house where the shrubs were blooming then back in the car!

The main event of the evening took place at Rockafellas. There were tables ready for dinner, cheese and crackers set up and a balcony with “retiring rooms”, the bar and a painted Titanic backdrop for photos. We even ran into some familiar faces, our friends Clint and Dede and their family were all gussied up and looking fabulous. We all grabbed seats together, got drinks from the bar, then ogled all the amazing clothing. There were a ton of gauzy evening dresses, a few very rag-timey get ups, a lovely Turkish inspired outfit, and so many tuxedos! There were a few cringe worthy dresses, but no absolute monstrosities. Everyone was chatty and friendly and the time before dinner just flew by.

As part of registration we were given packets that included reproduction titanic tickets with our deck and berth numbers, Starline luggage stickers, fancy menus and on the tables: Starline tins of mints. The whole thing was charming. Dinner was very good, we sat at a table with some other folks who also turned out to be from New Hampshire. We had some fun conversations that revolved around the talk about “this amazing unsinkable ship” and how “the captain was powering up the last engines this evening” and everyone expecting that “we will arrive in New York 2 days early!” It was a little bit of first person play made hilarious by our knowledge of the Titanic’s watery fate.

At the end of dinner we all went upstairs for a photo and some tea while the main floor was prepared. The turnover from dinner tables to dance floor was incredibly fast. For the first couple of dances Jess and I stayed on the balcony and watched all the amazing couples swirl below us. Then we got into the dancing!

Jess did not dance very much, she mostly sat with the other folks we knew, but she did get out for a few dances. I found plenty of partners and was incredibly glad for the ballroom dancing lessons. I even managed to get out for some waltzes and not kill myself and my partners, though the major twirls were tough in my hobble skirt. By the end of the evening I even got asked if I was married! We did not stay too late because we had the hour drive back and we had more fun planned for the next day.

Sunday we got out late because Stephen made us breakfast, but it was totally worth it, and we were not the last people to arrive. Since we did all arrive at different times, and were all wandering around the museum in our own small groups, one might enter a photography exhibit and see two lovely ladies in incredibly huge hats on their way out, or wander into the Indian art exhibit and catch a woman in a striking walking suit gazing at a statue of Vishnu. Quite a few of us wandered in and out of the atrium, sharing tables with other people in funny clothes, and getting our pictures taken by the tourist.
At the Peabody Essex Museum, photo by Jess Boynton

There were a lot fewer people at the museum than at the dinner. Saturday’s events had been the real draw of the weekend, but all the folks who came out on Sunday were serious about their history, and they all had different outfits than the ones they had worn the night before. All of the new outfits (since these were the die-hard folks) were amazingly gorgeous and the hats were fantastic! I was so glad that I had at least managed to make small hats for Jess and I so we at least had our heads covered. All of us in attendance promised to come back to the PEM for the hat exhibit in the fall. I really enjoyed my Titanic weekend.


  1. I had such a blast and thank you for inviting me and setting me up with a hat for Sunday!!

  2. For having to put the final touches on your dress together from your closet, you did an excellent job, especially with the kimono sleeves.
    My costume guild did the Titanic Artifact exhibit tour in Balboa Park, San Diego, on Sat, and we all dressed up in 1912 also. I wrote about it in my blog.