Friday, January 6, 2012

Singularly Handsome Men

One of the interesting things about writing non-fiction is that people wear clothes. They wear real clothes, made of real fibers, and they had certain ways in which clothes were worn.

I suppose people wear clothing in non-fiction as well, but there is more leeway in non-fiction. Things don't have to be perfect. They should be as accurate as possible in non-fiction, however.

After Mr. Lincoln became President Lincoln, March 4, 1861, there was an Inaugural Ball. There was only one, not the myriad choices of today, and it was held in a tent set up just for the occasion.

John Hay, George Nicolay, and Elmer Ellsworth went to the dance--together. This was one time that Ellsworth was not in the military. He had resigned from the U. S. Zouave Cadets, and was not yet in the Union Army. So--he had to wear regular dress clothes instead of a uniform.

I spent days looking at books and advertisements of menswear of the time, and at pictures of both Mr. Hay and Mr. Nicolay, as well as Mr. Ellsworth.

Hay seemed to favor lighter colors, soft grays, beige and camel, and he favored a more casual cut to his pants and jackets.

Mr. Nicolay was very prim and formal, staying with darker colors, and stiff, white shirtfronts. He preferred propriety over style.

Elmer Ellsworth hovered somewhere in between. He loved color and style, but he was also a bit of a dandy. There was always had something about his clothing that made him stand out, just a little, from the crowd.

Writing the scene where the three friends enter the tent together was very compelling. I could imagine the dual feelings each one had. They had worked so hard together to get Lincoln elected. They had gotten him to Washington safely under very stressful conditions. Now here they were, and all of that was behind them, finally.

But the future? That was still a clouded crystal. Each man's future was different, but all three were entwined. There was no inkling that one of them would be dead in less than three months, or that the other two would be a heartbeat away from one of the most unsettling times in the history of America.

There were only three young men, in perfectly tailored, yet individualized, evening dress, looking through the tent door at their immediate futures.


  1. Oh, to see them walk into the tent must have caused more than one lady's breath to be taken away. Some of the ties they could have done without. I think the color was to show the individual style in the gentlemen's personalities. EE case it was a celebration of life without offending anyone.

  2. What a perfectly lovely comment! I agree completely. This was one of my favorite things to write so far. Seeing them in my mind definitely took my breath away--Hay in his brown velvet, cut longer, and his creamy linen; Nicolay in crisp black and white, cut much like the illustration, starched cotton shirtfront and white pearl studs; Ellsworth in silk and wool black, cut longer, but tailored to look its best, leather boots shined to mirrors . . .

    I just see them so clearly! Such hope and promise in early 1861--and yet we know what happens.

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