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Mrs. Astor's Fifth Avenue Balls

The Astor estate at 840 Fifth Ave. It was built between 1891 and 1896.

© CORBIS

Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor presided over America's high society in the latter half of the 19th century. Wealthy in her own right (her father was a prosperous merchant, and both parents came from colonial Dutch aristocracy), she became even richer in 1853, when she wed William Astor, grandson of John Jacob Astor [source: Brittanica].

The Astors built a multistory townhouse on New York City's tony Fifth Avenue, which became the site of numerous elaborate parties, including an annual ball. The couple limited their annual-ball guest list to 400, and members of New York's high society fought to be on that list [source: Just Luxe]. If you made the cut, you were always in for a treat.

Consider the Astors' annual ball of 1900, held Jan. 29. Guests began arriving for the affair at 10:30 p.m., decked out in their finest: velvet, satin, chiffon, diamond tiaras, strings of pearls. The evening began with dancing, followed by a dinner that included terrapin, pâté de foie gras en crouet, bonbons and champagne. Afterward, a cotillion was held in the home's ballroom, considered one of the most beautiful private ballrooms in America. The music was provided by Lander's Orchestra and the Hungarian Band [source: The History Box].

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