Once Upon a Time
January tends to be a quiet social month. But more than 100 years ago, local social movers and shakers wanted to change this. The Twelfth Night Masque party was born.
The Twelfth Night Masque, an invitation-only event, was established in 1905 by Billy Gamble of Procter & Gamble. Originally called the “Widow and Widowers Ball,” a list was drawn up of all of the couples in Billy’s social circle. Then, a committee decided which member of the pair was more fun and only invited that individual. And the details of the event were kept secret.
When invitations were sent, guests were not told in advance where the ball would be held. Rather, they were instructed to state in their RSVP where they would be eating dinner the evening of the ball. A phone call or message was delivered to each guest during their pre-dinner parties informing him or her as to the location of the ball later that night.
The party was an instant hit, and by 1907, both members of the couple were invited. In 1920, the event’s name was changed to the Twelfth Night Masque. A secret committee of 12 was established to plan the annual theme-based event which became one of a handful of “subscription supper dances,” attracting young couples from the North Shore and Chicago. Lavish costumes, a “grand march,” skits, and a post-event breakfast at The Drake Hotel became signatures of this noteworthy party.
Although this party continues today, its prominence on the social calendar is not what it once was. “I would love to see this party returned to the status it once enjoyed,” says Bruce Southworth of Lake Forest, who chaired the party’s 75th anniversary in 1980. “Before social media, this was how people from across Chicagoland met one another, networked, and had a great time in the process,” Bruce explains.
One of the secrets to the Twelfth Night Masque’s longevity is the generations of families whom have attended. “It was such silly fun,” recalls Gail Miller of Lake Forest, who last attended the party 30 years ago with her husband, Gerry. “We went for a number of years with our friends, and it was always a party we looked forward to. But once we had to get home and be up early with our young children, those late-night parties became a thing of the past,” says Gail with a laugh. But the Millers’ daughter, Brooke Schwie, is now attending the Twelfth Night Masque with her husband.
“This year’s theme is ‘The British Are Coming,’” Brooke says. “I love this party because it’s the only costume party where people really go all out on what they’re going to wear,” she adds, mentioning that she may go as British ’60s icon Twiggy.
The 2012th Night Masque will be held on Saturday, January 28, at 8 p.m. at The Drake Hotel in Chicago. To learn more about this event and how you can receive an invitation, visit their website at 12thnightmasque.com.
—Ann Marie Scheidler