Not about Valentine’s Day

Because you can–and will–get that everywhere else, and I wish you much chocolate and flowers and smoochy stuff. But today I want to tell you about what I did last Saturday. It was a Regency Drag occasion at Riversdale House Museum where we had a historical whodunit event at which about thirty guests had to guess the instigator of the horrid event in the study with a poker.

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From left to right, sitting,  Mrs. Merry (with historically incorrect long underwear you can’t see because it was cold outside), our hostess Mrs. Rosalie Calvert (wearing an extremely lovely Indian silk gown), and Mrs. Lowndes (don’t let that demure exterior fool you). Standing, Mr. Foster the current English ambassador, our host Mr. George Calvert of Riversdale, Kitty the maid, and the wicked smuggling extortionist Col. Barclay (who made a lovely corpse).

I have no knowledge of the other participants’ underwear but by golly, don’t we look authentic! Most of the others were extremely well-informed and serious historical reenactors (I think I was given a line about “non-intercourse acts” as a test of my moral fiber. It refers to trade restrictions). We all played known historical characters who may or may not have committed murder.

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Elizabeth Merry (attrib. Richard Cosgrove)

Mrs. Merry was the wife of the former English ambassador who became entangled with Aaron Burr and was sent home in disgrace.The Merrys did not have a happy time in the Federal City. They were shocked that Thomas Jefferson received Mr. Merry in his carpet slippers (that is, Jefferson wearing his own slippers) and Mrs. Merry was slighted when, at an official dinner in their honor, Jefferson made a serious breach of protocol in escorting another woman to the table. Mrs. Merry then began a boycott of official social events but became well known for her own hospitality.

According to Cokie Roberts in her book Ladies of Liberty, there was a rumor that Mrs. Merry, who came from a modest background, had been a barmaid at a Suffolk tavern. In a quest for upward mobility, she married the local squire, and as a rich widow, picked Anthony Merry as her next husband, a hot commodity in diplomatic circles. Napoleon’s nickname for Merry was Toujours Gai because of his dour disposition. And Mrs. Merry’s maiden name was Death. I bet she spent a lot of time correcting people on its pronunciation.

The evening was a lot of fun, pretty much like writing except you didn’t have to write anything down–but then you couldn’t go back and erase and rewrite–and while there was a temptation to go off on tangents, we had to remember to casually drop clues into the conversations.

So unless you participated in a historical whodunit recently and would like to share details, please tell me how you celebrate Valentine’s Day.

 

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