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].