12 Feb 2018


Lost Capitol Hill: The Merry Bachelors

The history of the Hill is littered with many and varied clubs and associations. Some, like the Masons, are still with us. Others, like the Odd Fellows Club, still exist but have disappeared from the Hill. And then there was the Ugly Club, which has – probably rightly – disappeared entirely. It is probably for the best that today’s subject, the Merry Bachelors, has also disappeared. However, some of the descriptions make it sound as if they were a club whose members and guests had a lot of fun.

The Merry Bachelors introduced themselves to the citizens of Washington in 1854 with an advertisement for their “First Annual Ball,” which was to be held at the Odd Fellows’ Hall on 8th Street SE early the following year. The Evening Star of January 18 gave further details:

Our pleasure-loving friends are on the qui vive for the grand ball of these disciples of Momus [. …] We are informed that the managers are beseiged [sic] by the friends of lady applicants, for invitations, and that many of the most charming belles of Washington are positively engaged to attend. We are not surprised at this furor of excitement among the fair sex, in view of the fact that the Merry Bachelors are the handsomest body of young gentlemen in the eastern section of the city.

The writer presumably was using the more modern meaning of Momus as an avatar of harmless fun, rather than the original– where he personified satire and mockery.

Apparently, the ball was a great success, as the Star reported thereafter that a “brighter, fairer, merrier party was certainly ever bounded by the four walls of any ball room in Washington.” The party went on “until the gray dawn of morning.”

The Washington Sentinel added one tidbit to their account

The concluding scene, however, served them right. A “bachelor’s pound-cake” was handed round to the ladies – in other words, a nicely-baked corn-pone – with the slices of which the recipients pelted the bachelors, much to the amusement of the spectators.

The advertisement that announced the Merry Bachelors to the citizens of Washington (LOC)

Later that year, the Bachelors organized a “Pic-Nic” at the White House pavilion, down the Potomac near Mount Vernon. It was not all fun and games at the Bachelors, as shortly after the picnic, a “Jno. N. Clapham” was unanimously expelled from the club – for “non-payment of dues and fines,” and shortly after that, the club gave $25 to help those suffering from Yellow Fever in Portsmouth and Norfolk.

Occasionally, the club also ventured into political activities, such as a supper they held in 1857 to celebrate the election of James Buchanan (pictured) to the presidency. Under the direction of Lemuel Gaddis, their president, the members toasted Buchanan and Vice President-elect Breckinridge, as well as the Constitution and the Star Spangled Banner. Gaddis, who had helped rescue the cornerstone of the Washington Monument ten years earlier, was to have long career on Capitol Hill. He would eventually be buried in Congressional Cemery.

The club did not survive the Buchanan administration, however. Whether it was the marriage of Lemuel Gaddis in 1859 or the recession that swept through the country before the Civil War, on February 21, 1860 the star reported that the Merry Bachelors had been unable “to procure suitable music” and were thus postponing their ball. Indefinitely, as it turned out: No further mention is made in newspapers of the time.

And, in contrast to other endeavors of the time, this seems to be one that should not be revived.


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