Civil War Ball features period dances
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HARRISBURG -- At state Rep. Harry Readshaw's annual Civil War Ball in March, gents in Civil War uniforms and ladies in bonnets and long gowns will step onto the floor for dances that were popular in the 1860s, such as the Lancers Quadrille, the Virginia Reel and the Spanish Waltz.
The ball is one of two annual events the Carrick Democrat sponsors to raise thousands of dollars to repair 140-plus Pennsylvania monuments and markers at the Gettysburg national battlefield.
"This will be an important year for us," Mr. Readshaw said. "It's the 10th year that the Civil War Ball will be held in the rotunda of the state Capitol as well as the 150th anniversary of the battle at Gettysburg."
The March 23 ball will be held at the Capitol, so space is limited to 140 people. The sale of tickets -- $35 for a single person and $60 per couple -- has begun.
Not many people today know how to do the reels, polkas, quadrilles and waltzes that will be played by the Philadelphia Brigade Band, but that shouldn't keep people from attending.
Civil War dance lessons will be held before the ball. The Victorian Dance Ensemble, based in the Harrisburg suburb of Camp Hill, will hold classes Feb. 3 and March 3 at the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.
For those who can't attend the classes, a "dancemaster" -- the dance ensemble's Larry Keener-Farley -- will call all the dances and help the dancers at the ball.
"He leads you through each dance by calling out instructions for each new step," said Barbara Mowery, a staff member of Mr. Readshaw's who is helping to organize the event.
Some dances are for one couple, while other dances are for four couples, she said. Dancers from the dance ensemble will take part "to guide people," she said.
Other music planned for the ball includes such Civil War-era selections as "Soldier's Joy" and "Fireman's Polka."
Mr. Readshaw said he won't be wearing a Civil War uniform. He'll be in a standard suit as he and his wife lead the participants into the rotunda in a "serpentine line, called the grand promenade."
James Getty, an actor from Gettysburg, will be dressed as President Abraham Lincoln.
Andy Masich, president of the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh and chairman of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, will be master of ceremonies.
Before the ball starts, tours of the Capitol will be available to those attending the event.
The annual ball grew out of Mr. Readshaw's concern about the condition of the 146 monuments honoring the Pennsylvania regiments who fought in the battle of Gettysburg.
He read a newspaper article about how the National Park Service, which operates the battlefield and national museum there, didn't have enough money to properly maintain all of them.
So he began sponsoring the ball, which was held in Gettysburg before it was moved to the Capitol in 2003.
He also holds another event each September to raise money for the monuments -- a ride by hundreds of motorcyclists that starts at the Capitol and travels 35 miles south to the Gettysburg battlefield. This year's ride is Sept. 28.
"Our first goal was to raise $168,000 to restore the monuments," he said, and that was achieved several years ago.
"That was the first step, and I thought my work was done," he said. "But the Civil War community asked me to raise additional funds to endow the monuments for future generations."
A few monuments were already endowed by different groups, "but I was concerned about those that weren't," he said.
The National Park Service suggested raising an additional $400,000.
"We are a little over $200,000 now," Mr. Readshaw said last week.
In addition to the ball and the motorcycle ride, individuals and groups also make contributions to the monument upkeep. A decorative license plate for the front of a car is sold for $20. Mr. Readshaw is working on legislation to create an actual Pennsylvania license plate in support of the monuments.
The National Park Service has dozens of events planned this year to mark the 150th anniversary of the three-day Gettysburg battle. From July 1-3, 1863, thousands of Union and Confederate troops were killed or wounded in the fighting, which now is considered the turning point of the war.
First Published January 24, 2013 5:29 am