Dealing with Ohio Cabin Fever – 19th Century Style

As winter settles in over central Ohio, one might ask, “What did our forbears do when the temperature got down to zero and stayed there for a while?”

The short answer is that – winter or summer – Columbus is a place where people have always liked to have a good time and a little ice and snow – or even a lot of ice and snow – seldom has stood in the way.

A few examples from our distant past might be instructive.

As a capital city, Columbus has a long tradition of parties that have been – shall we say – a bit on the less formal side. A young man named Isaac Appleton Jewett, wrote to a relative in 1833 about some of these more casual events.

“The wine parties have been very numerous during the winter. You may be surprised when I report to you that in this village of the West, the capital of our state, are supported two billiard tables continually open to the public, two roulette tables expressly for gambling, and at the first hotel, a room is occupied by a stranger who is risking his thousands, or rather hundreds, every night at the game of faro True we have gaming prohibitions but they are quietly reposing on the shelf.

On a more formal note, local resident Alice Fay Potter remembered in 1900 some of the great winter parties of the years before the Civil War.

She noted that the place to be at this time was “the home of Michael Sullivant in Franklinton, famed far and wide for its hospitality. The great wide halls resounded again and again with the sound of dancing feet, gay music and merry voices. Whenever a party was in prospect, cornices were placed over every door and window. In each of these was a row of sockets in which were placed candles that made the room a blaze of glory two great tables were set in the side yard where coffee, sandwiches and ice cream were served to the coachmen, and in winter two giant fires were always blazing for their comfort.”

“Old fashioned quadrilles were danced, the lancers being then a novelty. The Virginia Reel, Money Musk, the stately Spanish Contra Dance, the slow waltz without reverse, the schottische, and the three step polka were very popular.”

“One of the gayest social events was the Widowers’ Ball in 1849 It was given in the old Neil House, a stately building with columns at the entrance and a wide staircase leading from the lobby to the floor above. The dancing was in Odeon Hall and the supper served in one of the three dining rooms of the hotel. People came from all over the state, and every lady who could had a new gown. Floral decorations were not used as the fashionable ornament for the center of the table was a pyramid about two feet high of quartered oranges or macaroons fastened together with tiny green leaves, the whole covered and adorned in spun sugar.”

Another writer from the same era later remembered that, “The city was perhaps more interesting socially, as well as intellectually, than it has been in later years. It was really more of a large-sized town in that day than a city. The most important form of entertainment was the large evening party. Columbus families vied with each other in giving these affairs which are described by those who used to attend them as quite delightful events After supper the elders who did not care to dance retired and the young people spent the evening in dancing.” Even with the passage of time, some things never change. -30-

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