Friday, May 25, 2018

the last book I ever read (Grant by Ron Chernow, excerpt sixteen)

from Grant by Ron Chernow:

Following a grand fireworks display, the elaborate inaugural ball that evening was a dismal affair that did not bode well for Grant’s second term. A cavernous wooden building, lit with gas chandeliers, had been especially constructed for the occasion, with an enormous eagle, streaming the national colors from its claws, suspended from the ceiling. To camouflage the rough wood structure, the walls were draped with so much white muslin it was nicknamed “the Muslin Palace.” Hundreds of canaries were imported to warble their greetings to three thousand guests. In a courageous move, Grant invited black guests, leading some members of the Washington beau monde to boycott the event in protest at this racial mixing.

The whole ostentatious affair was undone by a simple design flaw: the big barnlike room lacked heat. As guests arrived, they were shocked by the frosty temperature and attempted to dance in their fur wraps, hats, and overcoats to keep warm. Champagne, food, and ice cream froze in the arctic air. By the time Ulysses, Julia, and Nellie Grant arrive at 1:30 p.m., canaries had started to keel over and die in droves on their perches, the first martyrs to Grant’s second term. The presidential family decided not to tarry long and the dwindling crowd, seeing their chance to escape the deep freeze, had piled out of the hall by the stroke of midnight.

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