Lafayette Ball plans return

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 20, 2003

MURFREESBORO – Bring out the black ties and nightgowns, there’s going to be a grand ball once again.

The Murfreesboro Historical Association will resurrect a 14-year sleeping tradition that got its start some 178 years ago for an occasion that never really happened in totality.

The Lafayette Ball, started in 1973, made a wonderful 18-year run in the town of Murfreesboro and seemed so fitting to the town’s deep roots to colonial times and their ever-growing desire to preserve the past.

The original story begins in 1825, but quite possibly the best part doesn’t take place until 148 years later.

The story begins during a rainy, cold spell in late-February 1825 when the French Ambassador, the Marquis de Lafayette, was scheduled to visit the town of Murfreesboro.

The town’s people had been at work to put together a grand reception for the once noted &uot;America’s Marquis,&uot; but as fate would have it, a main portion of the planned event would never take place… or not until 1973, that is.

Lafayette came to America in June of 1777 because his &uot;heart was enrolled&uot; in the American colonies declaring their independence.

Just a young man, barely out of his teens, Lafayette’s personality was well received by a particular American officer named George Washington.

Lafayette would go on to become known as the &uot;hero of two worlds,&uot; partly because of his involvement in the Virginia campaign and his participation in the final movements that led to General Charles Cornwallis’ surrender in Yorktown in 1781; along with his rank as a major general in the French Army under Louis XVI – the very king he would later prevent from escaping from prison.

By 1800, however, Lafayette’s personal fortunes were gone and after a brief encounter with French politics, he was awarded a large piece of land in Louisiana and in 1824, the U.S. Congress made him an honorary citizen and invited him to tour all 24 states.

Lafayette was old and very feeble at this point in his life, but his ambition was to visit each of the states.

He did make it to North Carolina, but on the day he was to arrive in Murfreesboro, the weather refused to cooperate.

Getting stranded just north of the town in Virginia, Lafayette was delayed.

As earlier mentioned, the people of Murfreesboro had worked diligently to arrange a huge reception, banquet and a ball.

As history now tells us, Lafayette was so late arriving due to the weather, the reception was held, but the ball was cancelled.

In 1973, as members of the Murfreesboro Historical Association began trying to come up with ways to raise money for their organization, the idea was brought up to have the ball that was cancelled in 1825.

It was 148 years late, but nevertheless, it was still a grand ball.

The first two women to chair the Lafayette Ball, Mrs. Henry &uot;Billie&uot; Burgwyn and Mrs. A.A. &uot;Spec&uot; McLean, were determined to make it as &uot;grand&uot; as it could be.

&uot;This event was one of the biggest events in Murfreesboro in its day,&uot; said Peg McLean, daughter in-law of &uot;Spec&uot; McLean and the newly appointed chairperson for the Ball.

&uot;They made no exceptions to going the extra mile to be elaborate and from what I have been told, the Ball set a standard that would become tradition for the next 18 years,&uot; she added.

&uot;And understand, the Ball was only held ever other year,&uot; she said.

Joining McLean to announce the resurrection of the Lafayette Ball was Norman Buskill, president of the Historical Association. &uot;I was not here when they held the last Ball in 1991, but from all I have been told, this was by far a very special social event,&uot; he said.

A storm in 1991 or 1992 caused damage to the old Murfreesboro High School gymnasium, and the decision was forced upon the Association that no Ball would be held in 1993.

As one year grew into the next and work to restore the gymnasium roof prolonged, the biennial event eventually was dropped – but not forgotten.

&uot;This has been something I think all of the Historical Association has wanted to regroup on over the years,&uot; McLean said. &uot;It’s just been one of those things that needed someone to just say, ‘we’re going to do this,’ and then go do it.&uot;

Well, doing it is now the plan and for the first time since 1991, Murfreesboro will once again host the Lafayette Ball complete with pre-ball cocktail parties at various homes in town; and McLean got the nod to chair the event, following in the shoes of her mother in-law, Spec, in 1973.

&uot;These will be big shoes to fill,&uot; McLean said. &uot;I’m nervous, but I so excited about and we have some great people who have volunteered to serve on various committees, that I just know this will be a great event.

McLean said the entertainment committee has chosen one of the hottest Beach Music and Top 40 bands on the circuit, the Men of Distinction, to play for the Ball.

The date is Feb. 21, 2004 and invitations (tickets) are available.

The event costs $150 per couple and anyone interested in obtaining an invitation (ticket) or to get more information, can call the Historical Association at 252-398-5922.