By Gwen Stanley, Standard Staff
READING — A beloved tradition has been brought back to life in Reading.
The Reading Old Time Ball, a celebration that began in 1915, but hasn’t been held since 1994, is back and will be held Saturday, Oct. 27 from 8:30 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. at the Reading Town Hall.
The ball is now organized by the Ladies Auxiliary of Reading, which was formed just a year ago. Proceeds from the ball will go to the Auxiliary’s fund for emergencies.
Reading resident Shiri Macri said the Auxiliary came together as a result of Irene.
“As with many towns, on the day after Irene we all showed up at the fire station. No one asked us to, we just did. We then spent the following days and nights cooking and feeding the many rescue workers who were out there in the community helping people, cleaning up, fixing roads, etc. So long as they didn’t stop, neither did we. With no organization and no money, we were able to make sure that everyone from the chief to the road crews, to people stuck in their homes, to people with no homes were in some way cared for,” Macri said.
In Reading’s most recent town plan, issued in 2010, reinstituting the Old Time Ball is listed as an idea for improving the cultural and historical resources in town.
The original ball was held as part of a day honoring the dedication of a new building given to the town by Reading resident Wallace F. Robinson in 1912.
In 1915 the first official ball was planned with the idea of convincing young people who’d moved away from their hometown to come back for a visit. From the beginning, the ball incorporated a turkey supper, which during the Lenten season was served past midnight to accommodate Catholics who were abstaining on Fridays.
Resident Esther Allen wrote an extensive piece about the ball for the town’s history books. According to Allen, the ball’s first committee was comprised of Burton Newton, George Burnham, E. Watkins and Merritt Amsden.
Great emphasis was on the food at the ball.
“To put on a supper, it took days in the kitchen filled with bustling ladies of the community. They all had a hand in making a great array of pies: apple, mince, lemon, pumpkin…cakes, dozens of rolls and gallons of cranberry sauce. Homemade pies were always part of the dinner and always made by our local ladies,” said Allen, in the book.
Normally, all of the food was solicited from women in the community, but this year, the group will provide all the food.
The music featured at the ball changed from decade to decade.
In 1921, the ball featured Sherwin Full Orchestra, and later, the Blue Jackets and Allen’s Old Time Orchestra were integral parts of the event. Later, square dancing was introduced as part of the routine; dances were called by Wayne Allen until his death in 1992.
Allen writes that a concert preceded the ball in the early years, and Reading residents would dress in the finest to attend, using ball cards on which a gentleman could reserve a dance with a lady of his choice.
Allen writes of the concerts: “The rich, swelling rhythms of the overture put the crowd into a gala mood for an evening of dancing which got underway with the ceremonial Grand March at 8:30 p.m. followed by quadrilles, round, contra, waltz and fox trots. Some of the dance names were, the fisher’s Hornpipe, Lady Washington’s Reel and the Portland Fancy. Many of the dances were intricate and difficult to execute, and floor directors were on hand to keep things going smoothly and correctly. If the dancers got out of step, the floor director stopped the dancing and straightened out the tangle.”
“Harland Hawkins and Hugh Copeland were two of the early floor directors who for many years prompted the dances and kept the dancers stepping lively. As the clock ticked towards 2 a.m. the orchestra broke into the strains of ‘Home, Sweet Home’ or ‘Goodnight, Ladies’ and another Old Time Ball was over,” Allen writes.
There’s no dress code for the ball, and over the years people have shown up in everything from tuxedoes to a pair of jeans.
As for dancing, don’t feel you have to be a wallflower. Help will be given for those who don’t know the steps.
Allen writes of the dance moves at the old balls, “Many of the dances were intricate and difficult to execute, and floor directors were on hand to keep things going smoothly and correctly. If the dancers got out of step, the floor director stopped the dancing and straightened out the tangle.”
For more information about the Reading Old Time Ball or to reserve tickets, see Town Clerk Amy Harkins at Town Hall or call Shiri Macri at (802) 484-9930.
Editor’s note: Due to a production error, the full text of this story did not appear in the Oct. 18 edition of the Vermont Standard. The full story will run in the Oct. 25 edition.