By Katie Graham
This week’s object was donated to HHS by Mr. Cecil Lesile in 2010, but the object’s original owner remains a mystery. The Social Club of New Paltz issued this fan in 1901 to a woman who had a flair for dance hall parties. On the fan there are 49 signatures from local gentleman and several Huguenot descendants. Alongside the signatures of the mystery woman’s autographed fan were the date and type of dance, ranging from a Lancier, Two-Step, and a Waltz. The fan was covered front to back and spans from 1901 to 1902.
The amount of detail on the fan supports evidence that this fan was used as a dance card, which functioned as a way for a man to sign up to dance with a woman so no one would be left without a partner on the dance floor. Accessorizing a dance card is particularly interesting on a fan because the way a woman held her fan in a social setting served as an unspoken language to eligible gentleman. If our mystery woman had rested her fan on her right cheek it meant she accepted an invitation to dance, and in this particular case, permission to collect another autograph to fan out to prospective dance partners.
The New Paltz Social Club held dances at the Village Hall on 16 North Chestnut Street, which is now Barnaby’s Steakhouse. The building was funded by the prominent New Paltz Literary Association and used as a mixed-use community center. Although the title Village Hall insinuates a space for political meetings, politics were spoken of informally, particularly at parties and William Kaiser’s barber shop, which was a Republican hot spot in the 1870s. Downstairs in what is now Barnaby’s kitchen were apartments tucked away from the evening jubilees and daytime theater matinees in the Village Hall’s Opera House. Before the Hall changed hands into the steakhouse it is today, it was a community center for St. Joseph’s Catholic Church from 1929 until 1966, when it became Barnaby’s and the Academy Theatre. While the richly historic building on Chestnut Street may not be frequented with local men and women dancing to a Waltz, Lancier, or Two-Step, personal items like this autographed fan serves as contrast in the changing social settings of New Paltz.
Can you guess Rachel’s object for next week?