The most expensive party in American history takes place at the newly opened Waldorf Hotel in New York City on Feb 10th 1897. This elaborate costume ball is attended by nearly 1,000 of New York’s wealthiest citizens, many billionaires by today’s standards, all dressed in costumes celebrating European royalty. In a single night they drink their way through 4,000 bottles of the finest champagne, and gorge on a 28-course feast fit for any king, even Henry VIII. But this epic display of excess comes during the worst depression America has known, and not everyone is applauding the show.
The host of the night is Cornelia Bradley-Martin, heiress to a vast fortune and a woman on a mission. She hopes to provide a much-needed stimulus to New York’s lagging economy—and to be crowned “Queen” of an exclusive high society known as The Four Hundred. But she’s given herself only three weeks to prepare this astonishing event. The logistics alone for such a massive party are remarkable even by today’s standards, and to add to the challenge, on the very night of the ball a snowstorm descends upon the metropolis.
Today, the same hotel still puts on huge events that parallel this famous party. The annual Viennese Opera Ball is one of the highlights of New York’s social calendar and attracts dignitaries, diplomats and debutantes. Six hundred guests gather every year paying up to $25,000 per table to charity in celebration of a European tradition that goes back nearly two centuries. But what are the parallels with the famous Bradley Martin Ball and what are the differences?
Jes Gordon and Marcie Ruddell are two of New York’s elite party planners. They both put on parties costing millions of dollars. So how would they cope with planning America’s most expensive party if they had just three weeks to make it happen? A thousand invitations need to be sent before the advent of email, beautifully tailored dresses have to be produced by hand, and food needs to be delivered and kept fresh without the help of refrigeration. Perhaps most challenging of all, a battle for public opinion must be won…or there may be consequences for the night’s epic indulgence.
This one-hour special goes inside the machinations of the Bradley Martins’ record-setting costume ball in America’s number one metropolis to learn what it takes to party like the rich and famous.
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