“Mr. Frederick W. Rogers, ’83, the chairman of the Promenade Committee of the Class of ’83, has written for the News the following interesting account of the Promenade of 1882: ‘Junior Prom, at Yale a quarter century ago, probably aroused as much interest, enthusiasm and pleasurable anticipation in the undergraduate world as the more elaborate affair of today given under that name.
Although every class in turn regarded its Prom. as the ‘best ever,’ each succeeding class committee thought up some new features to add to the attractiveness and enhance the beauty of the scene until Junior Prom. of today, I am told, rivals in brilliancy the setting of some old world court ball, and its fame has gone abroad through all college communities.
To go back to our own time, when the much-loved Noah Porter was President of Yale, or Consule Noacho one might say, to give it the flavor of the required classics of those days, the Prom. Committee was chosen during the fall term of Junior year. Soon after this, the committee met and, according to the unwritten law, the two members receiving the highest number of votes from the class were chosen chairman and floor manager, as each might be better fitted for the duties of the respective offices.
The chairman attended to all the business details and his duties were practically over when the evening of the Prom. arrived: the floor manager was expected to do the honors with all the polished manner and graces with which a floor manager of a Junior Prom. at Yale is supposed to be endowed.
With Monday, the sixth of February, 1882, Prom. week arrived and with it the invited guests poured into New Haven. All serious work of the college curriculum was suspend and even the candidates for the ‘Varsity crew were permitted to break training.
The Fence was thronged with those students who were not actually engaged in meeting guests at the trains, to watch the continuous stream of arrivals at the New Haven House. Monday evening a concert was given in Carll’s Opera House by the Glee Club, of which Harry Williams, ’82, was leader and Dick Peabody was the ‘warbler.’
Among the numbers on the program were, ‘Eli Yale,’ ‘Bold Fisherman,’ ‘Neath the Elms,’ ‘Peter Gray,’ and some rather ambitious solos, ‘George Washington,’ of course, was but twenty-six years younger than he is now. After the concert some adjourned to the New Haven House, there to chat and to induldge in a little informal dancing.
For ’83’s Promenade Committee, the most strenuous task in the preparation for the great event of the following evening was about to begin. Carll’s Opera House was to be used for the first time for dancing, and as soon as the audience at the Glee Club concert had filed out a squad of workmen marched in, led by Mr. Carll himself. Every chair in the ‘pit’ had to be removed and a solid floor had to be fitted and laid over it, level with the stage.
The winning eight-oared shell in the ‘varsity race at New London the previous June had to be swung across the proscenium arch, where all the fair guests could admire it. The piers of boxes had to be decorated with Yale trophies, and the whole interior of the opera house draped in bunting. It was a quarter before eight on Tuesday evening when the last workman disappeared, and at eight o’clock the guests began to arrive.
During the daylight hours of Tuesday, our visitors were shown about the Campus, taken to the boathouse, then comparatively new, and to see the crew candidates rowing on the machines in the old gymnasium – there was no rowing tank in those days. Possibly some of the Nine might be practicing in their ‘cage’ alongside the rowing machines. A few of the men gave small ‘teas’ in their rooms, late in the afternoon.
There was no additional ‘private boxes’ constructed, so the men upon their arrival at the Prom. formed little groups of their intimate friends and a portion of the orchestra circle was allotted to each group. Landers’ Orchestra, the best in New York at that time, furnished the music for the dancing, and was stationed at the extreme back of the stage, from which the scenery had been removed. A brass band was placed on the top of the right hand tier of boxes and played all through the ‘intermissions.’
As there were some enthusiasts who danced during these, a portion of the floor was reserved for them. The band was composed chiefly of Germans and the committee had been forewarned that a plentiful supply of their national beverage was absolutely necessary to keep them in good humor. About one o’clock word, word came down that this supply and the band were exhausted: a hurried message to Traeger’s resulted in the arrival of both.
The refreshments were served at midnight by Redcliffe, in the first balcony, after which dancing was resumed and continued merrily until some time between three and four o’clock, when ’83’s Junior Prom. was over.
Very late breakfasts were in order on Wednesday, and the afternoon was chiefly occupied in ‘talking it over’ and resting up for the Class German to be held that evening. There was a sort of languor pervading the dancing on this occasion, but it was not to be missed by any means and was thoroughly enjoyed by every one. Thursday saw the departure of most of the fair invaders and college life once more began to run its normal channels.
The total receipts from tickets sold for ’83’s Junior Prom. were about $2,300. How this sum compares with the sum received today from the sale of Junior Prom. tickets and private boxes I know not. I do know that all our receipts were expended in trying to make ’83’s Prom. and Class German a great success.”
-Excerpt and (top) image courtesy of Yale Library’s Yale Daily News Historical Archive, “In Days Gone By: the Junior Prom. of the class of 1883, a description of this festive occasion of a quarter of a century ago,” by Frederick W. Rogers, January 19, 1909