How to Celebrate a 200th Birthday – AAS’s Bicentennial Gala

All of the guests at the Gala were looking sharp.

Some of us on the AAS staff are still recuperating from October’s bicentennial celebrations. There were three days of events, beginning with the Baron lecture by Patricia Nelson Limerick on Thursday night.  On Friday morning the curators presented a celebration of bicentennial gifts, followed by lunch across the street at the Goddard Daniels House.  On Friday afternoon there was a symposium in honor of retired curator of graphic arts and director of the Center for American Historic Visual Culture Georgia Barnhill.  The bicentennial business meeting which followed included videotaped greetings from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and President Bill Clinton.  A cocktail supper followed the meeting.

President Ellen Dunlap and Isaiah Thomas (Neil Gustafson) giving the bicentennial toast.

All of this was topped off with a black tie gala held on Saturday night in Antiquarian Hall. The night’s theme was “Black and White and Read (get it?) All Over” and attendees were asked to dress in those colors.

On Saturday morning the reading room was transformed into a ballroom, complete with dance floor and decorations. A raised platform was installed behind the reference desk for the band.  The evening began with dinners hosted by members who live near the Society.  We were lucky enough to be at the home of Jim Welu, director emeritus of the Worcester Art Museum.  The high point of our dinner was certainly Jim’s most excellent homemade ice cream.

The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers

Then on to Antiquarian Hall, where AAS president Ellen Dunlap and founder Isaiah Thomas (played by actor Neil Gustafson) greeted guests on their arrival.  There was period entertainment; silhouettist Ruth Monsell from Damariscotta, Maine, cut portraits of many of the attendees (another blog post about this coming soon), and there were performances of mid-nineteenth century dances by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers.  After toasts by Mr. Thomas to the Society and to United States President James Madison, a cake in the shape of Antiquarian Hall was cut and served to the guests, followed by general dancing and merrymaking into the night. (To see pictures of the cake, visit Isaiah’s Facebook page.)

Black tie events at AAS are a rarity and it was fun to see friends and co-workers in formal dress.  I was happy to see that the staff cleans up quite well.  And we had the reading room back to normal in time for our opening on Monday morning.

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Tom Knoles

Marcus A. McCorison Librarian and Curator of Manuscripts

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