© Mark Peterson/Corbis
Toward the end of the 19th century, the world was in the grip of the Long Depression. From 1873 to 1896, high unemployment, low prices and low economic output reigned [source: Lynn]. Enter Mr. and Mrs. Bradley Martin of New York. The wealthy socialites supposedly were trying to help New York's flagging economy by throwing a lavish ball on Feb. 10, 1897 [source: Just Luxe].
Seven hundred of America's richest folks were invited to the grand affair, held at the posh Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The hotel was transformed into a glittering space reminiscent of France's Palace of Versailles; the most popular costume for female guests was Marie Antoinette. Guests were invited to nosh on whatever they liked from the hotel's pricey menu [sources: Just Luxe, Ellis]. Attendees likely thought little of such extravagance; the New York World reported a dozen guests were worth more than $10 million each, while another 24 had $5 million fortunes. Only a fraction of the 700 guests weren't millionaires. The cost of this lavish soirée? A cool $369,200, or about $9 million when adjusted for inflation [source: Galante and Lubin].
Not surprisingly, the country was outraged at such extravagance coming on the heels of a 20-year depression. The backlash was so severe, the Martins fled to Great Britain. Today, their ball is considered the final hurrah of America's Gilded Age [source: Galante and Lubin].