- Historic Sites
You Are Invited To A Mischianza
Saluting a departing general, the British dazzled Philadelphians with the grandest party the city had ever seen; the tiny army that had toppled the general bided its time nearby
August 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 5
At the third repetition of the challenge a flourish of trumpets was heard; and another herald, wearing a tunic representing an erupting volcano and attended by four trumpeters, galloped into the lists. He displayed the motto “I burn forever.” The two heralds briefly parleyed; the Black Herald bade his trumpets peal and announced: “The Knights of the Burning Mountain present themselves here, not to contest by words but to disprove by deeds the vain-glorious assertions of the Knights of the Blended Rose, and enter these lists to maintain that the Ladies of the Burning Mountain are not excelled in beauty, virtue, or accomplishments by any in the universe.”
A parley was sounded; the two lines of knights confronted each other. The chief knight of the Whites threw down his gauntlet; the chief of the Blacks directed his esquire to pick it up. The knights received their lances from their esquires, saluted one another gracefully, and retired to what would now be the goal lines. At a signal they took their career, lowering their lances. They met at full gallop, each shivering his spear against his opponent’s shield. One presumes that the shivered spears were of cardboard. In a second and third encounter the contestants discharged their pistols at one another but without hurting anyone. They then drew their swords and exchanged apparently ferocious blows. The marshal of the field intervened, doubtless, says André, “deeming the Ladies so fair and the Knights so brave that it would have been impious to decide in favor of either.” Only the two chief knights continued to engage in single combat, until the marshal of the field parted them, declaring that “the Fair Damsels of the Blended Rose and the Burning Mountain were perfectly satisfied with the proofs of love and the signal feats of valour given by their respective Knights; and commanded them, as they prized the future favours of the Mistresses,” to desist instantly from further combat. Obediently they passed under the triumphal arch nearest the house and took their stand beyond, in a line alternately black and white. The company passed before them, receiving the salutes of the champions.
The guests traversed a formal garden before the house. They mounted a flight of carpeted steps, entered the house, and found themselves in a spacious hall, newly painted in imitation of sienna marble with festoons of white marble. This was the handiwork of John André and his friend Oliver DeLancey. Here were served tea, lemonade, and other cooling liquors. The knights entered and fell on their knees before their ladies, who unpinned their prepared favors and transferred them to their joyful swains.
One of the adjoining rooms was reserved for the pharaoh, or faro, table. On entering the room one observed over the chimney a painted cornucopia exuberantly filled with flowers of the richest colors; but on exiting one perceived over the door another cornucopia, shrunk, reversed, and empty. It was reported that the faro bank opened with two thousand guineas, not play money but British gold. The symbol of the voided cornucopia was appropriate. General Howe loved the gaming table, and his love was reciprocated. But a number of his young officers, lacking his luck and skill, were ruined and had to be sent home.
The company now passed to the ballroom, which, to judge from its size, must have occupied one of the dependent structures. It was decorated in
a light elegant style of painting. The ground was a pale blue, pannelled with a small gold bead, and in the interior filled with dropping festoons of flowers in their natural colours. Below the surbase the ground was of rose-pink, with drapery festooned in blue. These decorations were heightened by 85 mirrors, decked with rose-pink silk ribbands and artificial flowers; and in the intermediate spaces were 34 branches with wax-lights, ornamented in a similar manner.
The mirrors and candelabra were borrowed from Philadelphia residents and to general surprise were all returned intact.
After a light collation and the dance, darkness descended, and the fireworks were announced. All crowded to the windows and to the terrace before the house, overlooking General Howe’s triumphal arch. Fireworks were yet a novelty in Philadelphia. These began with a magnificent bouquet of rockets and continued through twenty set pieces. Toward the conclusion the interior part of the arch was illuminated with an uninterrupted flight of rockets and bursting balloons. The military trophies on top of the arch were bathed in strange brilliance. The bombshell and flaming heart on the wings sent forth Chinese fountains succeeded by firepots. The figure of Fame appeared at the top, spangled with stars and blowing from her trumpet in letters of fire and in impeccable French the words Tes lauriers sont immortels . The display concluded with a general sauteur, or outburst, of rockets.
(One wonders if the fireworks show did not cause a psychological backfire. The conspicuous waste suggested, no doubt intentionally, the contrast with Washington’s army, which lacked explosives as it lacked clothing, boots, and medicines. All the guests had friends, if not sons or brothers, on the rebel side. The rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, must have made them think of death.)