(Posted Dec. 1, 2020)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Messenger
This year would have marked the 15th time women and men dressed in finery reminiscent of the Civil War era danced their way into a new year in the South Charleston Opera House.
The ball gowns, suits and military uniforms will remain in the closet this year as the South Charleston Heritage Commission has cancelled its New Year’s Eve Grand Ball, citing COVID-19 safety concerns.
Participation in the event has been building, especially in recent years.
“We’ve been getting an amazing turnout,” said Julia Sutherly, dance publicist. “The last two years, we’ve been almost to the capacity point with 75 to 85 people. That’s a fantastic number of people to have up there dancing.”
While many of the volunteers who help to put on the ball are from South Charleston, most of the participants are from outside the area. Some are military reenactors, some are history buffs. Some travel from as far away as Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Georgia for the chance to go back in time. The ambiance of the historic opera house, located on the second floor of town hall, is a big draw.
“It’s so authentic in its decor. It really puts the reenactor and the historian back in time in a way that a dance in a school gym or hotel ballroom just doesn’t do,” Sutherly said. “Once someone comes to the ball the first time and dances and sees the environment and fun we have, they come back year after year. I can greet most at the door by name.”
This is the first time organizers have cancelled the event. In years past, they soldiered on through sketchy weather and the one time an Ohio State vs. Michigan football game impacted attendance.
The ball is the latest Heritage Commission event to be cancelled this year. The non-profit also shut down its Christmas concert, which takes place the first weekend in December, its Heritage Days Festival, which takes place in late September, and a presentation on Edward Edwards, famed South Charleston architect, which was to have taken place in March.
All of the events serve as fundraisers for the non-profit. The ball typically brings in $1,500 to $1,800. While some of the other events are free, participants are generous about giving freewill donations.
Sue Mattinson, president of the Heritage Commission, said general support from commission members is comparable to years past, but the organization still feels the loss of revenue from the cancelled events.
“Our business model is gathering people, and we haven’t been able to do that this year,” she said. “We are obviously feeling the effects of not having our regular fundraisers, and we’re hoping that will change next year.”
In the meantime, the Heritage Commission is promoting the sale of its Greenlawn Cemetery booklets and encouraging anyone interested in local history to become members. Membership in the commission is $10 per year and includes a quarterly newsletter. Additionally, flat donations can be made anytime to “Heritage Commission” and mailed to P.O. Box 457, South Charleston, OH 45368.
“One bright spot in our year is that the Springfield Foundation gave a grant of $1,900 to the village to replace two windows on the back of town hall,” Mattinson said.
The two windows, which date back to 1878-1879, sit between the building’s first and second floors and align with the opera house’s dressing rooms under the stage. The Heritage Commission rents the opera house, balcony, two grand stairwells, and the dressing rooms from the village, covering maintenance and utility costs, as well.
The new windows mean the back of the building is much more weather-proof which, in turn, means the costumes the Heritage Commission keeps in the dressing rooms are better protected. It also means lower utility bills.
“The Heritage Commission is just delighted beyond measure,” Mattinson said.
A company out of Dayton installed the new windows, completing the work on Nov. 3.
For more information about the Heritage Commission, cemetery booklets, membership, or making a donation, contact Mattinson at (937) 503-2492 or send email to email@example.com.