Within the Carnival framework, two gala events focused on dates and dresses of yore. Both organizations — the Mystic Club (founded in 1923 with Mrs. Frank B. Hayne as the first queen) and Alexis (founded in 1973 with Mrs. Thomas Norton Bernard wearing the crown) — honor married ladies for their monarchy and courts.
Malmaison and Mystic Merriment
The Chateau de Malmaison, a beloved retreat for Napoleon and a home for his wife Josephine who felt this was her natural habitat, was recalled in the presentation of the Mystic Club at the Hilton Riverside Hotel. Activity surrounding the emperor and empress took place during the springtime of the year XII (1804-1805) of the French Revolutionary calendar then in use. Attendees included Josephine’s ladies of honor and Napoleon’s military entourage.
Prior to the 8 p.m. tableau, guests of the Mystic Club gathered for a reception. Then, with the ladies seated in the Grand Ballroom, the formalities ensued with an overture (composed and arranged by Leo Ursini) played by the Jimmy Maxwell Orchestra and the entrance of the captain, in a blue French court suit, and then the cast. His majesty, the Mystic king, made quite an impression as Napoleon when he appeared on the stage.
In darkness, and on the side of the ballroom opposite the stage, her majesty the queen stepped forward. When the spotlight embraced her, guests applauded Mrs. Louis McDaniel Freeman Jr., who answers to Courtney (nee de la Houssaye), but, for that evening, played the role of Josephine, Empress of the French. She was garbed in a magnificent gown in the style of the Empire period of the early 19th century. Floor length, the regal dress was heavily embroidered with bullion and sequin paillettes in an opulent floral motif and complemented with a long red satin train embroidered in a floral pattern similar to that of the gown. In addition to her floral-motif parure, she wore a silver tiara studded with brilliants.
The six ladies in waiting, portraying ladies of Josephine’s court and household, were all splendidly arrayed in simple, yet richly embellished Empire modes of 1805. Of different colors, the gowns had individual embellishments, floor-length skirts, high waistlines with gold trim, low necklines and puffed sleeves. Each one was made of elegant antique silks that were heavily embroidered with gold and silver bullion and iridescent sequin paillettes in various motifs, including roses and other floral designs. For each, a heavily embroidered silk underdress was worn atop an overdress and a train made of sheer fabric was cut back to reveal the richness of the underdress. A tiara, various styles of hair bijoux and ornaments complemented the gorgeous garb. All of the gowns, including that of the queen, were designed by Mary Wethern Williams.
Processing as ladies in waiting were Mrs. Andre von Kurnatowski Hooper, Kristen, as Madame de Talhouet; Mrs. Dennis Patrick Lauscha, Jennifer, as Madame de Lucay; Mrs. James Westfeldt Rapier, Marion, as Madame de Lauriston; Mrs. John Michael Selser, Kyler, as Madame de Lavalette; Mrs. Charles David Thompson, Ruth, as Madame de Remusat; and Mrs. Charles James Van Horn, Kathleen, as Madame Chastule de la Rochefoucauld.
After the procession of the above, les dames d’honneur, limelight befell young ladies, debutantes of the season, who were to be presented to their majesties. They were Misses Sarah Kent Agnew, Evelyn Burkenroad Bories, Margaret Magee Brown, Catherine Clare Conwill, Caroline Grace Geary (in absentia), Elizabeth Ashland Hines, Katherine Renee Hodges, Sage Lyons Laborde, Charlotte Lane Langenstein, Karoline Havens Mallette Patrick, Nicole Elizabeth Weinmann, Leah Katherine Whann and Claire Michelle Zeringue.
Always a thrill, the Mystic Club’s grand march (composed by Christian Bach) established the dignity of the presentation and an opportunity to admire the lovely attire.
A certain amount of general milling ensued before members and their guests sat for dinner, which started with “spring mix,” a salad, continued with braised beef as the plat principal, and concluded with warm chocolate lava cake. White and red French wines, accompanied the first two dishes, while Charles Bove Sparkling Champagne was served with dessert.
Among those noted were family members of the queen, who continues as the third generation in the line of Mmes. Freeman as queen. In 1955, the late Mrs. Richard West Freeman, Tina, wore the crown; her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Louis McDaniel Freeman, Judy, was the 1975 monarch, and in February 2015, Courtney, Mrs. Freeman Jr., was hailed. Mingling, too, was Mrs. William Boatner Reily III, Wendy, whose late mother-in-law, Mrs. Reily Jr., reigned in 1937. The 2014 monarch, Mrs. Kenneth H. Beer, Margaret, was seated on a front row with past royalty.
Meanwhile, and into the evening, the music beckoned a throng to the dance floor, where exuberance blended with elegant finery and Josephine “joy” prevailed.
Tsars in Our Eyes
The Imperial Reception of Alexis, which was held at the New Orleans Country Club, celebrated the Signing of the Treaty of Paris on March 30, 1856. Recognized, too, was the end of the Crimean War.
The evening’s activity commenced with a Court Reception before the 8:30 p.m.-1 a.m. gala Imperial Reception. The tsar, who was not identified, reigned as Alexander II (Alexander Nikolaevich Romanov, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, 1855-1881), while the tsarina, Mrs. Mark Edward Curtis, Martha (nee Young), portrayed Her Imperial Majesty Maria Alexandrovna (Marie of Hesse and by Rhine). Two grand duchesses completed the court. They were Mrs. Thomas Long, Lynn (nee Pendergrass) as Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, and Mrs. Arthur William Nead, Caroline (nee Lavender) as Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna. Their respective escorts assumed the roles and attire of Grand Dukes Vladimir Alexandrovich and Sergi Alexandrovich.
The court’s dresses were of the 1856 time period and showcased Mrs. Curtis in a long white satin jacquard print dress, cut with a square neck with ruffles at the neck and hemline. Outer wear was a long black velvet cape with a jeweled button closure. As a headdress, a traditional half-moon headband was used done in burgundy with black and gold trim and to which a long white veil was attached.
Mrs. Long wore a gold satin ballgown with a lace-up corseted back, a gold sash and shawl, while Mrs. Nead was attired in purple satin with black accents. Both, as did the tsarina, wore appropriate jewelry. The period costumes were conceived and provided by Southern Costume Company, New Orleans.
As for the reception’s décor, the double eagle crest was prominent above the dais on which red roses were strategically placed. Deacon John and the Ivories purveyed the music, happy to play classical fare, such as Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1.” “The Radetsky March” by Strauss gave sonorous zest to the Imperial March.
Following a performance by the Komenka Dance Ensemble, the tsar was presented the Treaty of Paris for his approval by Alexander Mikhailovich Gorchakov, the chancellor for the Russian Empire and confidant of Alexander II. After the above march, the court was reseated and the captain closed the festivities. Guests then approached the court with compliments and best wishes.
Last year, the distaff roles were filled by the returning Mrs. Erston Henry Reisch Jr. (tsarina) and, as grand duchesses, Mmes. Jason Matthew Marek and Alfred Edwin Stacey IV. Noted, as well, were Jennifer (Mrs. Leonard K.) Nicholson, Dr. and Mrs. Robert L. Carter, retired Judge and Mrs. H. Charles Gaudin, Mr. and Mrs. William R. Legier, Dr. and Mrs. Alfred A. Olinde, Dr. Frederic C. Querens and Miss Sarah Ann Lowman, Dr. and Mrs. Charles R. Smith, retired Judge and Mrs. Thomas C. Wicker Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Richard Seba, and Mr. and Mrs. Eric S. Berger. Several are past tsarinas.
The Tsarina “Queen’s Supper” featured turtle soup, a Bibb lettuce salad, eggs Benedict, beef grillades and an ice cream sundae station.
To cap off the evening, Deacon John and the Ivories played music for dancing, and Russian revelry of the past made a striking 2015 presence.