Collis and Arabella Huntington attend the Patriarch’s Ball NYC (1890’s)

By Nancy Armitage 

The Patriarch’s Ball in New York City was the grandest of the Gilded Age “fancy dress” winter balls. All of New York Society wanted to be invited, held in January every year. There is evidence that Collis P. & Arabella “Belle” D. Huntington attended the Patriarchs Ball in the 1890’s. In a passage of the well-researched book called Mrs. Astor New York, it tells a very interesting story about how the Huntington’s were invited. 

Arriving by horse-drawn carriage to Delmonico’s who hosted the Patriach’s Ball in the 1890’s.

In the 1890’s, Ward McAllister & socialite, Mrs. Caroline Astor created “the 400”. It was a very special “Members-Only” guest list of High Society of New York. Using this list of the “400”, guests were invited to several fancy dress balls throughout the year. These fancy dress balls were very exclusive affairs with only the “finest” families in New York were invited. Men & women of the Gilded Age dressed in their best finery. Men in white tie, top hat & long coattails; society women in long fancy gowns, gloves, tiaras, & lots of jewelry. Each member of the Patriarchs’ were also asked to send McAllister a list of their own guest’s names & addresses and a check of course. All this pomp & circumstance came at a price, but that was never talked about.

Ward McAllister himself actually wrote the fancy invitations for Patriarchs’ Ball & their guests. It was a money maker for him, after all.  The “400” family names are an impressive list of some of the wealthiest people in America at the time. There were many wealthy families named, often front page news in the New York Times: the Astors, Vanderbilt’s, Belmonts, Gallatins, Whitneys, J. P. Morgans, Baylies, Geolets, Roosevelts, Waterburys, the Stuyvesant Fishes, the Huntingtons, & the Harrimans to name a few. 

The New York Times newspaper dated March 1, 1891 had an interesting article in “Society Topics of the Week”.  It stated, “Ward McAllister’s dinner in honor of C. P. Huntington, which is considered a significant evidence of the approaching railroad magnate’s entrance into New – York society”. So the Huntington’s attendance to the Patriarch Ball had to be in 1892 or after.  

Elegant gowned ladies at a Fancy Dress Ball.

It is unclear, which Patriarch’s Ball that the Huntington’s went to. It can be assumed that the Huntingtons probably went to the Patriarch’s Ball in January of 1892, 1893 or 1894. In 1894, the Princess Hatzfeldt was mentioned by name in the New York Times as attending the ball. Princess Clara (Huntington) Hatzfeldt was Collis Huntington’s adopted daughter, but in reality she was his niece, born Clara Prentice. Remember she had the ability to invite guests if she wished.

The end of the New York Times article states, “Earlier in the day, however, Mr. McAllister, in speaking of the many pretty women who would be found around him during the evening laid particular stress on the charms of Miss Alice Post, Miss Constance Schieffelin, Miss Edith Kip, Miss Sibyl Sherman, Miss Zuta Barney, Mrs. B. C. Porter, the Princess Hatzfeld, Miss Cameron, & many others.” 

At a Gilded Age party, this is a wonderful & dramatic way to display beautiful roses. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

In 1894, Delmonico’s fancy ballrooms were rented out (by the Patriarchs) to host their society balls. Both Delmonico’s Blue Room & the Red Rooms were used. In the main ballroom the Lander’s Orchestra furnished lovely music & dancing for the privileged guests. The Hungarian Band was playing in Delmonico’s Red Room. Amazingly, these society balls usually began at about 12:00 midnight. The guests must have had to take naps during the day to rest up for this grand event.  The Cotillion (dance portion) led by Franklin Bartlett & Mrs. Yznaga started at 1:30 am in the morning & lasted one & half hours. The dance “was in accordance with the English fashion”.

Per the New York Times, lavish decorations of greens, palms, & flowering plants, greeted the members & their guests. The flowers were romantic pink roses, creepers, pink & white orchids, similax, & asparagus fern hung from the ceiling. The Main Ballroom was decorated in the French style of Watteau, with pink & blue satin tied up with a combination of pink & white roses & purple violets. Wealthy women were dressed in the finest silk & satin gowns. Each summer, the Gilded Age ladies would travel to Paris to find just the right ball gown for the Ball. The women would purchased these formal evening gowns from the finest designers like the House of Worth in Paris, France. 

White orchids and the feathery leaf behind is called “asparagus fern”. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

Also, debutantes were also presented during these fancy society balls. A debutante was a young single girl about the age of 16 to 19, who was presented to society. It is the young girl coming out to society, an old-fashioned notion of presenting herself into society. 

An extraordinary menu, served & catered at Delmonico’s New York City, in one of their fancy decorated ballrooms. McAllister also was in charge of this extravagant midnight supper meal. Royalty, military dignitaries, & other guests made up the 350 guests responded affirmative to the ball. 

The Patriarchs’ Ball menu for 1894 (below) was in French; I translated the fancy French dishes. This elaborate supper was served at 12:30 o’clock, a menu “composed” by Mr. Ward McAllister. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

“Souper du Patriaches Ball” (Midnight Supper Menu)  

January 8, 1894

Lindi, 8 Janvier [January 8, 1894]

Chaud. [Hot portion of the meal]

Bouillon. [Clear Beef Broth]

Huitres a la Viennoise. [Oysters, Viennese style]

Croquettes de Chapon a la Orsay [Fried Chicken Balls]

Terrapin a la Trenton [Turtle Stew, especially prepared by Trenton cooks]

Filet de Boeuf aux Fonds d’Artichauts [Filet of Beef with Artichokes]

Café [Coffee]      

The [Tea]

 Froid. [Cold dishes]

Galantine de Poularde aux Pistaches Macedoine [Chicken Pate with Pistachios & Vegetables]  

Aspic de Foie Gras Decore. [Fancy decorated Duck or Chicken Liver in Beef Consommé Jelly] *

Pate de Gibier aux Truffles. [Game Pate with Truffles]

Caille Farcie Braisse au Celery. [Fresh French Nicoise stuffed with Vegetables & Celery] 

Salade de homard a la Laiture. [Lobster Salad with Mayonnaise]

Mayonnaise de Volaille au Celeri. [Roasted Chicken Salad with Mayonnaise & Celery]

Riblettes. [Lamb or Pork Rib Bites]

Canapés [Hot appetizers usually served on small squares of toasts on doily lined silver trays, like Roquefort Puffs, & Caviar Canapes]

At the Patriarch’s Ball, they used French Limoges – gold & off-white dinner plates, “Snowflake” or “Medallion” was the pattern. These plates also had a gold medallion in the middle, gold-encrusted porcelain plates. (not shown). These fancy plates were made exclusively for Delmonicos in NYC (1890’s-1910); made by Wm. Guerin & Co.

Entremets de Douceur (Sweet Dishes & Desserts)

Gelee aux Abricots. [Apricot glazed tarts]

Charlotte a la Banana. [Banana Charlotte, like a English Sponge Trifle with Cream]

Gateau Noisette. [Petit Round Cakes, usually iced]

Meringue Bavaroise. [Meringue with firm Strawberry Cream]

Pieces Montees [French Wedding Cake that looks like Croquembouche] 

Glaces Fantasies. [Fantasy of molded & decorated ice creams & cakes]

Biscuits Glaces. [Glaces Sponge Cakes or Cookies]

Perveilleuse Nesslrode  [Fancy Pudding with chestnuts & cognac; very showy made in a 3 towered mold that looks like a castle & topped with Cream Rosettes]

Parfait Nougat. [Ice cream parfait with Nougat of nuts & chewy French Meringue]

Fruits. [Fresh fruit like sugared grapes, strawberries, & dried apricots & dates. Usually served in the middle of the dining table: a elaborate sterling silver “epergne” with hanging champagne small grapes over the sides & with herbs & flowers for garnish and bowls of roasted nuts]

Mottoes. (Dessert)


Wines & Champagnes [French Imported specially] 

Moet et Chandon. Imperial Brut. Vintage 1889.

Moet et Chandon. White Seal. Vintage 1889. 

Chateau Leoville, 1874

“Pate de Foie Gras in Aspic”, served at the Patriarch’s Ball in 1894. I was so proud of myself, I was able to make this fancy dish & it was delicious! Mrs. Arabella Huntington also served this same pate on December of 1915; at her NYC- No. 2 57th St. Mansion. The silver tray is Gorham “Imperial Chysanthemum”; Mrs. Arabella Huntington bought tea sets in this silvwe pattern. She had 100’s of pieces of Gorham silver. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

Pate de Foie Gras in Aspic Recipe

Chicken Liver Pate:

2 lb. chicken or goose liver, drained & saute in butter

1/2 c. heavy cream

3 t. portabello tapenade

2 eggs

1/2 c. cognac

3 garlic cloves

1 t. mixed peppercorns

1/2 nutmeg, finely grated

pinch of salt

shallots or mushrooms

1 meatloaf pan

Drain & soak chicken livers in cognac. Drain & saute chicken livers in butter & drain excess juices. Place in a 1 qt. measuring cup & blend using a Braun hand blender. Add garlic cloves crushed mixed peppercorns & nutmeg. Add 1/2 c. heavy cream & blend livers until smooth. Transfer into buttered petit meatloaf or teacake pan, then place meatloaf pan in a pan of water. Bake 350@ for 50 mins to 1 hour, until pate pulls away from the sides of the dish. The pate should be firm enough to cut like a meatloaf, so cool completely before placing pate in gelatin.

Gelatin – Aspic

2 pkg. Knox gelatin

1 c. hot water

1 c. beef consomme (for color & taste)

1 meatloaf pan

Place 1″ gelatin in meatloaf pan. Refrigerate until firm. Then add trimmed Pate de foie gras on top of firm gelatin. Make another batch of gelatin (2 pkg. Knox Gelatin, 1 c. hot water & 1 c. beef consomme) mix until smooth & pour over the pate. Refrigerate until firm again.

To unmold: with a knife loosen the edge of firm gelatin. Place a white plate upside down on top of the pate in aspic then flip the plate right side up to unmold pate. Cut pate into slices & sprinkle baby chives on top with sprig of fresh thyme. Serve with a silver butter knife. Garnish with wedges of lemon & spread on crackers. Recipe: Nancy Armitage

Historical Note:

According to Huntington Legend & Eric Homberger, author of Mrs. Astors’ New York, the Huntingtons did indeed go to the Patriarchs Ball in the 1890’s. Would we call it a business deal or a bribe? Ward McAllister promised the Huntington’s an invitation to the Patriarch’s Ball at a price. Knowing that Mr. Huntington was a very wealthy man, McAllister asked for the sum of $9,000. Once the Huntington’s were enjoying the Fancy Dress ball & were introduced to Mrs. Astor, the trouble started. Collis walked up to McAllister & stated that he would only pay him $1,000. Insulted, Ward told him he’d embarrass the Huntington’s in front of this distinguished group if he didn’t pay him the full amount. It must be noted here, that this $9,000.00 fee would have been the Huntington’s admission fee into New York society.                        

Mr. Collis Huntington’s, who was not afraid of Ward’s threats, replied that he still would not pay the $9,000. McAllister told the story to a newspaperman, & the story was published in the New York Times newspaper. Both McAllister & Huntingtons were both embarrassed. Collis Huntington was not going to be bribed & did not pay the required amount; the Huntington’s were snubbed from society & not invited again to the Patriarch’s Ball. But, secretly New York high society in general was very glad McAllister was outed for his bribes.


Book: Homberger, Eric, Mrs. Astor’s New York Yale University, (Ward McAllister and Collis Huntington’s Patriarch Ball story), 2004

Article: “New York Society 400” by Anya Laurence

New York Times, “Gay dancers at Delmonico’s”, The 2nd Patriarchs’ Ball as splendid as the first. Published on January 9, 1894

New York Times Article: “Society Topics of the week” March 1, 1891 (Ward McAllister’s dinner in honor of C. P. Huntington mentioned)

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