Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Saga of the Missed Invitation and Boston 1860 Continues …And Comes To An End

Yellow Hair, Red Coat, Black Horse

Just like Louisa May Alcott and her friend Fanny, thousands of young women tried to catch a glimpse of the “yellow-haired” bachelor prince in his scarlet coat as he rode on a borrowed jet-black stallion named “Black Prince” from the Massachusetts State House to Boston Common for the military review early in the afternoon of October 18, 1860.  Those near the roadway pushed and jostled for a better view, hoping the prince would wave, or nod or even just look their way. 

For some, however, the best view was from above. Certainly that was the case for 18 year-old Harriot Appleton, who watched the prince ride past from the vantage point of the balcony on her father Nathan Appleton’s house at 39 Beacon Street, directly opposite the Frog Pond on the Common. 

Alice Longfellow
As he passed the Appleton house, the prince dipped his head in a slight bow to the women on the balcony.  Some time later, Harriot (who, in 1860, everyone called “Hatty”) remembered the excitement and noted that her half-sister’s daughter Alice, just turned 10 and on the balcony beside her, was “quite captivated” with the spectacle of the prince riding past her grandpa’s house and bowing to her. Alice, the eldest daughter of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Hatty’s half-sister Fanny Appleton Longfellow, had come over from the Longfellow residence at Craigie House just for the occasion. It wasn’t every day that there was a parade and a prince at grandpa’s house.

A Busy Year

For Hatty Appleton, 1860 was turning out to be a busy year.  In February, she was presented to Boston society in the Green Room of her father’s Beacon Street house. Throughout the year, there had been parties and dinners. Now a real-life prince had come to town and waved to her on her father’s balcony.

The Poet Longfellow
Unlike the thousands of other young women who took to the streets to cheer on the young prince, Hatty’s day with the prince was not quite done.  Hatty, along with her mother, her half-sister Fanny and Fanny's husband Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, were all going to the Ball being held in the prince’s honor.

How could they not? Both Longfellow and William Appleton (Hatty’s father’s cousin) were 2 of the 14 members on the Invitations Committee.

The ball was to be held in the Boston Academy of Music (later called the Boston Theater) – a magnificent building in its own right with a spectacular chandelier  and one of the few public spaces in the country large enough to accommodate 3,000 guests.  A special dance floor had been constructed, bunting, flags and flowers by the ton had been arranged and openings through the brick wall to the Melodeon hall next door had been cut through so that the guests could reach the dining area without going outside.

Food…Glorious Food, the Guests and What They Wore

galantine of pheasant
The bill of fare was to be the best that Boston could offer. There would be oysters prepared at least five different ways, galantines of pheasant, turkey and duck, patés (both foie gras and pheasant), lobster salad, veal, and roast chicken, both hot and cold.   For those with a sweet tooth, there would be sorbets, macedoines, glaces, bombes, puddings, meringues and cremes.  And … to wash it all down, endless champagne.

At about 7:30 in the evening, the first carriages started to arrive outside the theater and the invited guests in their jewels, plumes, top hats and finery went inside.  The special Green Room was reserved for the ball’s Executive Committee and Invitations Committee and their guests and that was the room into which the Appleton-Longfellow party headed. 

Hatty was dressed in white, described in the Boston papers as “…simply attired in white tulle, with white flowers.”  It was no doubt similar to (or possibly the very same as) the Paris gown she had worn at her coming-out affair earlier in February.

Her half-sister, Fanny Appleton Longfellow, was described by the press as “queenly”, wearing a “scarlet velvet headdress with a white plume going halfway around her head.  Hatty’s mother, Harriot Coffin Sumner Appleton, was described as “elegantly attired, scarf, collar, headdress of resurrection lace.”

The Grand Entrance

Shortly after 10 PM, the young prince and his entourage made their grand entrance and were escorted to the special “royal box” that had been done up on the balcony.  After a bit, the prince went downstairs and entered the dance floor.  The orchestra played “God Save The Queen” as he entered, and, at 11 PM, the ball officially began as the prince and other dancers took their places for the first quadrille.

Everything had been carefully orchestrated.  There would be exactly seventeen dances with the prince. The prince’s dance partners had been carefully selected.  Nothing was left to chance.

The prince danced first with the Mayor of Boston’s wife.  Next, he escorted the wife of the state’s governor to the dance floor. After that came Mrs. Wise, daughter of the Hon. Edward Everett, the former governor, former senator and former US Secretary of State.

As the night wore on, the dancing continued. Quadrilles, lancers (a dance much like the quadrille), waltzes and polkas were the order of the night.  There would be only seventeen ladies chosen to have their names entered on the prince’s dance card.  After the fourteenth dance - a waltz -  the prince escorted his partner Mrs. Chickering, wife of the piano manufacturer, back to her party.


Polka Redowa
The fifteenth dance was a polka redowa, a “slow” polka nearly like a waltz.   The tune was “Sailor Boy.”  The prince’s partner for the dance was that girl in white tulle, only six days younger than himself, whom he had seen on her father’s balcony earlier in the day – Harriot Appleton.

Years later, Hatty (then Mrs. Greely Stevenson Curtis) told folks that she couldn’t think of much to talk about with the young prince.  She said she had asked him if he didn’t get bored with all he had seen.  “Not at all,” she said that he replied diplomatically. “It is all very interesting.”

The Connection

Hatty Appleton, the 18 year old Boston girl who danced the polka redowa with Prince William’s great-great-great grandfather on his Boston visit in 1860, outlived all the other 16 Boston women and girls who shared that special honor. She also outlived (by 13 years) Prince Albert Edward himself, who ruled as King Edward VII and died in 1910.

In 1863, Hatty married brevetted Brigadier-General Greely Stevenson Curtis (commander, 1st Mass. Vol. Cavalry) and went on to raise a family of ten children.  She had many grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. Her progeny further increased down to the current generation and includes many great-great-great grandchildren.

Some of those great-great-great grandchildren are the very same grandkids to whom I had to break the sad news on Easter that Grandpa’s royal wedding invitation had not arrived. 

“Remember,” I told them, “even though I may not dance at the Windsor-Middleton wedding on Friday with my old friend Camilla, your great-great-great grandma Miss Hatty Appleton danced with Will’s great-great-great grandpa in Boston in 1860.”

And, as I said in an earlier post, I don’t much like hip-hop anyway…so I guess the missed invite doesn't much matter!


  1. Such delightful series. Thank you for each morsel. It was a confection as delicious as a bite of the wedding cake.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the post. I had great fun researching and writing it, so I'm glad you found it worth your time!