#Unearthed: A Christmas House-Party

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's 'buried treasure' is an excerpt from an account of a holiday skating party at the turn of the twentieth century. It originally appeared in the December 1904 issue of "Country Life In America" magazine and was penned by New Jersey journalist Arthur Huntington Gleason.


Party-goer gathering greens for a Christmas 'maypole'

In the shadow of the trees, where the snow was firm and level, we set up ten pine cones, at a distance of fifty feet, and then with frozen snowballs, of a size that suited the maker, we bowled for score. The adjutant's companion, who had helped him to victory on the day before, took all honours with a pine-cone score of sixteen on five rounds. We ended the affair by a combination of cake-walk and promenade dance around the full circle of the clearing, and returned home our several ways, both parties arriving on the veranda within a few minutes of each other, at about four of the afternoon. "Ice carnival at eight to-night," said our host; "no one must miss it."

Promptly at eight we headed for the lake, where we were greeted by a scene that my room-mate described as "considerably thrilling." At the four corners of the lake, which approached the rectangular in shape, four headlights had been placed, which were blazing out across the ice. These headlights had the refracting power of engine lights, and were beyond the reach of wind. The bonfire was again blazing, but this time it served for warmth, and not for light. The east end of the lake was
plainly destined to see the center of the festivities, and here, at opposite corners, were stationed our faithful brass-band of the May-pole party, and a far-carrying hurdy-gurdy - one that clapped its hands on the high notes of Trovatore, and pounded brass with an automatic stick for the Intermezzo.
It had been brought for a price from the county seat, with its Italian operator, who was letting his instrument hibernate, while he sold Spanish chestnuts till tune-time came again. He and the band took turns on the music, and the antiphonal effect was excellent. Or, again, both played together.

Our young ladies, immediately on arrival, were supplied with hockey sticks, which they carried over the right shoulder, and at the crook of the hickory was swung a Japanese lantern with lit candle. It took quiet and clean-cut skating to keep the lanterns alight, and more than one went up in a blaze of glory before the steady, swinging skate-stroke was acquired. For the men who were trick skaters, and
wished to indulge in figure eights and reverse complications, Roman candles were provided. And the nine violet balls, climbing to the tree-tops, made a rich accompaniment for a skater, skating backward, in the famous triple curve. Along the lakeside, at 100-yard intervals, burned coloured
fire - red and green. White sweaters were the popular costume, but the adjutant appeared in full-dress uniform. Altogether, the colour scheme was unusual. From the center of the lake, Santa Claus sent up an endless chain of sky-rockets. The band began to freeze up, and were sent to the bonfire to take their turn on the hot coffee that was being served in birch-bark buckets. The Italian grinder also began to feel a-cold. He was supplanted by Rex F., who supplied the music for the remainder of the evening. Rex accompanied himself with a series of clog dances and jigs, which drew all the children from the fire and the fire-works.

He varied the tempo of his rendering each minute, so that "Mr. Dooley" came with an unexpected pathos, and "The Holy City" was disguised into rag-time. Then, as the lights burned low and the fireworks became charred ends and sticks, a Virginia reel on skates was selected to round off the evening. End to end bowed gravely, then circled back to back, and so through their evolutions, which
were more graceful than any hardwood floor ever saw, because performed in curves instead of steps. And the grand finale came when the adjutant and his lady shot down the line at an automobile clip, under twenty arches of Christmas greens, extending from partner to partner, while Rex ended his Strauss waltz in a burst of hurdy-gurdy speed and melody. Then, being not a little chilly, we all trooped in from the ice to a vigorous and ample open fire in the dining-room. We sat before it for an hour or so, then all other lights were put out and, as the fire died down, we crowned the evening
with a Ghost Party, wherein each member of the circle told a tale of true happening that contained a shudder.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.