“Some Enchanted Evening” was the music and the message as played by the Robert Maxwell-led Jimmy Maxwell Orchestra when, during the “Maidens’ Dance,” debutante Miss Caroline Bailey Acomb drew the golden bean. Following decades of tradition at the recent Twelfth Night Revelers Ball, which was held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, single women took to the floor with their masked partners for the first official dance. They approached the massive, five-tiered king cake, aglow with candles, that was rolled out onto the dance floor at the ball’s outset and were handed tiny white boxes with the TNR initials in blue. The treats within were bits of cake and, for the court maids, silver beans.
The fourth daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dwight LeBlanc Acomb, queen Caroline, was visibly taken by her honor, even to the point of a few tears. “I was so surprised,” she said later with a radiant smile. As debutantes, her older sisters were all TNR court maids.
Weeks before the ball, which occurred on Twelfth Night, the 12th day after Christmas, guests received the beautiful invitation that announced the “149th Presentation.” It was re-created from the organization’s second ball in 1871, which was held in the French Opera House. That year, the Revelers selected a queen. Theretofore, women only participated after the tableau, when they were asked to dance. During the gallivanting of 1871, the Twelfth Night Cake was cut and its slices distributed to the young ladies by the Revelers. The golden bean designated the queen, Emma Butler, who became the consort to the king, the Lord of Misrule. Since that evening, the monarchal selection has added suspense and spark to the ball, which will celebrate its sesquicentennial in a year.
In 2017, Miss Catherine “Catie” Lapeyre Barry, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Owen Barry, was tapped for the top honor by the Goddess of Chance. She returned for the ’18 activity in full royal regalia and, just prior to the ball at the cocktail reception, was roundly toasted.
Within queen Catie’s court were Misses Mary Dalton Acomb, Emily Smith Adams, Eliza Ann Baldwin, Mary Corbin Bolles Burlingame, Charlotte Villars Delery, Emily Dickson Ellis, Caroline Walmsley Favrot, Margaret Elisabeth Hoefer, Anna Eugenie Huger, Catherine Franklin Hughs, Caroline Bennett Johnson, Caroline Emily Lane, Alexandra Suzanne LeJeune, Ailleen Cassegrain Livaudais, Cynthia Callaghan Nelson, Elizabeth Flower Redd, Erin Curry Reily, Avery Scott Rowan, Virginia Parker Stewart and Eugenia Hill Walk. During the 2017 Carnival season (and before), quite of few of them reigned over their own courts. Chosen to conclude the Mardi Gras festivities were Anna Huger, as queen of Carnival (Rex), and Avery Rowan, queen of Comus.
The names of the 2017 queen and court appeared in the 2018 programs that were placed on the ballroom floor in three sections to form TNR. They were passed out by the 2018 Junior Cooks, whose 10 names were listed as well in those programs: Masters Leonard Henry Aucoin III, Henry Lawes Cook, William Carriere Cook, Brandon Freret Favrot, David Reymond Hulefeld, Colin McGlinchey Moffett, George McKay Pipes, James Joseph Reiss IV, Brent Conway Schwing and William Mauro Souza. After the program distribution, the Junior Cooks and the adult ones, the bakers, bowed in unison.
But the names of those receiving beans for 2018 were not yet made known. Anticipation prevailed.
Within the ballroom, the Carnival eye turned to the pretty stage decorations. Behind the throne-bench was a golden curtain and an oversize crown with the TNR initials. On either side of the throne were two huge gilded urns on pedestals holding profusions of red roses. Greenery was at each base, and above were two sparkling chandeliers. Noted, too, within the audience were select colorful ballgowns that added chromatic pleasure.
Aural delights next ensued with the arrival of the Marine Corps Band, more than two dozen in number, which played five selections, concluding with a medley of anthems from the branches of the military. The first number was “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the second, a rousing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which generated enthusiastic applause from white-gloved audience members.
The next to appear was the TNR captain, who glittered in the traditional white panoply. Accompanying him were the lieutenants, all in jewel-colored garb. Excitement next occurred with the arrivals of the Lord of Misrule, who was very regally at ease (and escorted to the throne by the captain) and the 2017 queen Catie, who flashed her perpetual winsome smile. She was escorted by Mr. Monty Burlingame, whose wife Julia, as Miss Waters, and their daughter, Miss Patricia Brooke Burlingame, reigned respectively in 1980 and 2007.
As the order of the ball proceeded, the above cake was brought out; costumed krewe members cavorted around it; and two bakers, each with a glittering, beribboned “knife,” made cutting gestures as the orchestra played “New York, New York.” The single ladies danced, the boxed beans were handed out and, voilà!, a new queen was selected. “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” played. When Caroline’s name was bruited about as the new monarch, a nearby cast member said, “Acomb! How sweet.”
The 2018 court was escorted out of the ballroom, only to reappear in full splendor moments later with Miss Acomb at the end. Finally, the audience had the identity of the court, thanks to a second distribution by the Junior Cooks of a program insert. Her majesty’s name was not known at the time of the printing, but the names, in alphabetical listing were Misses Caroline Bailey Acomb (by coincidence, the first name), Madeleine Anne Bienvenu, Elise Lockett Clay, Virginia DeRussy Dodenhoff, Ellen Ashley Feringa, Megan Lane Feringa, Sarah Jane Holbrook Freeman, Sarah Elizabeth Grehan, Jane Talley Hodges, Charlotte Worley Huger, Madeline Ann Landry, Page Ferrier Morehead, Mary Fleming England Redd, Katherine Kergosien Simmons, Eugenie Cecile Whealdon and Shelby Jane Ottley White. Charlotte Huger and Fleming Redd had sisters in last year’s court.
After queen Catie departed the stage, sans mantle, her royal successor, Caroline, sat beside the Lord of Misrule, who later praised her intelligence and loveliness, saying sharing the throne with her was “the occasion of a lifetime.”
Earlier in the evening, he joined krewe members at Antoine’s for dinner, where former Lords of Misrule wore chef’s hats with the date of their rule. From the city’s oldest restaurant, circa 1840, they all formed a parade walk to the Ritz-Carlton with his majesty 2018 on horseback. Hours earlier, Antoine’s Twelfth Night Room was abuzz at lunch for the former queens, one of them remarking, “We are the ‘has-beans.’”
After the Maxwell orchestra played the concluding song at the ball, Donna Summer’s “Last Dance,” the movement was on to midnight merriment: the queen’s supper at the Garden District home of Mr. and Mrs. Ryan Acomb, the queen’s uncle and aunt, from which hung the white and blue-lettered TNR flag. In a bottom corner, the date 2018 was enclosed in a golden bean. Noted within the crowd were many ladies wearing the gold-plated and enameled krewe favor pin, which was inspired by the 1871 ball invitation.
After the festive fact: Caroline’s parents, Dwight and Kirsten, said how thrilled and honored they were to have their daughter reign, and how impressive the Lord of Misrule was, particularly in the French Quarter parade. The Acombs concluded with, ”It was such a fun night and a fabulous way for us to begin the 2018 Mardi Gras season surrounded by friends and family.” And somewhere, the Goddess of Chance gave a wink of approbation.