A Grand Lawn Fete

Iowa’s soft summer evenings beckon us outdoors for parties and celebrations. On June 14, 1897, Henry and Clara Petersen hosted a party for a cause – the Ladies Industrial Relief Society (LIRS) – and they entertained an estimated 2,000 guests!

At their residence in Marquette Heights just above Eighth Street, near Riverview Terrace Park in Davenport, the couple created what by all newspaper accounts sounds like the party of the century to raise money for the “worthy poor” of Davenport. Billed as a Charity Lawn Fete, admission tickets were sent out by LIRS President Phebe Sudlow. People were invited to purchase the tickets at fifty cents apiece for the chance to be a guest at the palatial home of the Petersens where views of the Mississippi River, Davenport, and the entire city of Rock Island awaited them.

Grounds opened at 5 o’clock in the evening with Ernst Otto’s Orchestra providing music. A dance floor, a lemonade well created from a hollowed out tree stump, and electric lights peeping from the trees created a setting “much more beautiful than words can paint”. The Tri-City Railway Company put every available car into use and the Northwest Davenport line was packed as well. Scenery from the Burtis House Theatre was utilized and 1,200 chairs were set up in front of a stage that provided vocal and instrumental musical selections by some of Davenport’s most talented citizens. A newspaper article from the June 18th Davenport Weekly Leader states all the chairs were filled and many in attendance stood to enjoy the evening entertainment.

All this, plus refreshments! The newspaper stated “Robed in all its beauty it will be a place where we can go and enjoy ourselves and at the same time be doing that which will be for the benefit of the poor and needy.“

Ephemera from 1897 LIRS Lawn Fete

The items pictured here are considered “ephemera” – items which are printed for a specific purpose and then usually discarded. Ephemera can help us invoke clearer pictures of historic events. With this ticket in hand, can you picture yourself on a trolley car dressed in your finest summer attire headed for an unforgettable view of the Mississippi River and an evening of music and fun while fundraising? What an evening it must have been!

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3 Responses to A Grand Lawn Fete

  1. Adrian Brown says:

    Oooh! I love it! I found this while searching for images of Davenport…I’m going to read all the back entries now!! How wonderful and fascinating!

  2. Keith says:

    Marquette Heights is now Black Lab Crossing, a native Iowa winery, home of Shabonee and Tiabi II.

  3. wow that sounds beautiful. I too can imagine going back in those time. All the fun to have all the beautiful ladies to talk too ;)

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