Gatsby Gala—An Affair To Remember At Harkness Park

This elegant event is a fundraiser for Friends of Harkness, which will use the money to restore the greenhouses so the park can grow its own plants for the gardens and for the plant sale fundraiser held every May.

Attire in-keeping with roaring 20s theme is strongly encouraged!
Attire in-keeping with roaring 20s theme is strongly encouraged!
Do you ever feel like you were born in the wrong era—as if, perhaps, you might been more at home in the roaring 20s, as a flapper or a gangster, dancing the Charleston and sipping illicit cocktails at a Speakeasy? 

If you've always wondered what it might have been like to be a guest at one of those high society parties you've only ever read about in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby, now's your chance to find out. 

On September 28, Friends of Harkness will be hosting a Gatsby Gala at Eolia, the mansion at Harkness Park. The evening will start at 5:15 p.m. with champagne cocktails, naturally, followed by an elegant sit down dinner catered by Cloud 9 of Old Saybrook.

The party will take over the entire mansion, with a tent set up outside where the Swinging Dick Campo Orchestra will be playing music from the era and dancing duo, Prudence Sloane and Joel Silvestro, members of the Stardust Dancers & Company, will demonstrating dances from the 1920s and big band swing.

David Lewis, a Friends of Harkness board member who is co-chairing the fundraising event, said the theme of the evening was inspired, not by the release of the film The Great Gatsby earlier this year, but by the house itself. 

"The house, to me, is magical," said Lewis. "What inspired me was the era of the house and the house itself, as it’s right across from Long Island [the setting for "The Great Gatsby]."

Named after the island home of Acolus, Greek God of wind, Eolia is a Roman-renaissance revival-style building that was built in 1906. When Mary Harkness bequeathed it to the state of Connecticut in 1951, the mansion's 42 rooms were restored based on photographs taken in 1926.  

Asked whether the house will be decorated in keeping with the '20s theme, Lewis said, "The house is pretty elaborate. The fireplace and tables will be decorated—of course, the biggest decoration will be the attendees."

The dress code for the evening is elegant attire, but period dress is strongly encouraged and, Lewis said, "some people are getting very excited about it."    

Lewis said that, to the best of his knowledge at least, this is the first time such an event has been held at the mansion. It seemed fitting to have a party this year, he added, because Connecticut is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its parks system and Harkness is celebrating its 70th anniversary as a state park. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman is honorary chair of the event.

The gala is being held as a fundraiser for the Friends of Harkness, an organization formed in 1992 that is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the Harkness Estate and to the provisions of Mary Harkness's will. 

"The money will be used for the ongoing restoration of the greenhouse, and why that’s important to the Friends of Harkness is we will be able to grow our own plants for the gardens as well as for the annual plant sale in May," said Lewis. "The greenhouse is the first major capital improvement and it will help us for years to come [because it] will enable us to continue to raise money for other projects."

Tickets for the gala, as you might expect, aren't cheap. It's $135 for a single, $250 for a couple, but that includes dinner, dancing, and an open bar. So far, the price hasn't proved to be much of an obstacle as tickets are selling fast. You can order them at Eventbite, but do it soon because tickets are limited.  


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