Leave it to America’s Oldest City’s network of industrious and community-minded volunteers to pull off a sold-out event where both the city’s 16th century founder Pedro Menendez and the illustrious Henry Flagler both would have felt right at home.
The first annual Mariner’s Ball, sponsored by City Gates Productions, with proceeds going to benefit worthy causes such as scholarships for the St. Augustine Lighthouse summer maritime camp and other children’s programs; the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) ; School of the 16th Century; and the Historic Florida Militia – which is the umbrella group for many of the local reenactment groups and covering many time periods of the oldest city’s 447 years of history.
“There’s nowhere like St. Augustine for an event that combines our community spirit with a love for history and just the right touch of the theatrical. And we always love a good party! For anything that benefits our community, we’re on-board, but we like to have a little fun while we’re at it,” said Mia Brewer, one of the ball’s organizers from City Gates Productions.
Sylvia Martin-McGinnis – also of City Gates Productions – commented, “We’re just so excited and pleased with the turn-out. It was a wonderful evening, with funds raised for several worthy causes, but what was most special was the way the community responded. There were so many diverse groups and sponsors who came together, and in all, I think this is a perfect example of how community solidarity can have benefits for everyone.”
Held in the historical setting of Fort Menendez at Old Florida Museum, the evening had all the pageantry and romance of a fantastical yesteryear costume gala with elegant ladies decked out in elaborate coifs and breathtakingly detailed gowns and many of the gentlemen so debonair in their historic finery.
But of course – this being St. Augustine – there were also a few roguish pirates and wenches, Lords and Ladies, a touch of the renaissance and steam-punk, and even a harem girl or two and few cowboys and Indians thrown into the mix. The highlight was a visit from the Royal Family Trio to deliver a “Letter of Marque” to the esteemed Sirs Brian Bowen and Phillip Reed. These worthy gentlemen – both a fixture of many local historic and reenactment endeavors – were instructed to ‘Go forth and defend the honor and dignity of St. Augustine citizenry’, which if you know them personally, you can count on! “However, if a bit o’ booty can be added to Crown coffers – all the better!” McGinnis said.
Also receiving titles of “Lord and lady” of the ball were Scott and Mia Brewer, with the honors bestowed by the Lord John Durash and Lady Roxanne Burke.
By the ambiance of torchlight, couples promenaded and even did a bit o’ boogey-woogie (pirate-style!) to the music of “Mid-Life Crisis”, which was followed by a shanty-sing led by everyone’s local favorites – The St. Augustine Bilge Rats. Throughout the evening, voices raised more than once in song more than once, along with pewter mugs and bejeweled goblets, and all to a timeless rhythm kept by taps from elegantly carved walking canes and even one peg-leg (but exceedingly agile) old salt.
See quadrust.com slideshow: First Annual Mariner’s Ball Part One; and Part Three
More fun and games included over 250 donated prizes, with a scavenger hunt and an imaginative card game mixer where each guest received half a playing card and needed to find their “match” by the end of the ball.
McGinnis was pleased to report this led to more than new friendship, and in fact – for many like Susan Burk – the discovery that her match was a Facebook friend she’d not met before in person.
“I loved the card game best. It was such fun to discover a new friend, or pick up where you left off with friends you don’t get to see all the time,” said Debbie St. Onge, who made a most regal entry along with husband Jamie in her early 18th century ball gown made by the very talented Mia Brewer.
In fact, there was more than one Brewer creation at the ball, and one new resident of the oldest city for whom the ball was her very first time ever in period attire, courtesy of St. Onge. She said she felt “just like a princess” attending the ball in a gorgeous early 1700s style Brewer creation with lace-up bodice, yards of flowing black lace and a stunning overlay skirt of deep, shimmery scarlet and more black accents.
“It really was fun and a magical evening. I got to wear some special jewelry of my grandmother’s that perfectly matched, and I truly felt like Cinderella in such a lovely gown. I’ve never worn such a lovely dress before! Of course, the most wonderful thing about the event was the people. I’ve made St. Augustine my home because the people here are truly welcoming and become more like family the longer you’re here,” she added.
“We’re all exhausted but really proud! Please make sure to watch for upcoming events, because there’s a lot more to come,” Brewer said, adding special thanks to volunteers and co-organizers McGinnis and Michelle Rayna. Rayna is also instrumental in organizing the annual St. Augustine Ramanza events.
The group will also be organizing the Ponce de Leon Ball in April to coincide with celebrations of Florida’s 500th Anniversary coming in 2013.