The Media Studies Experience: Restoration Ball Throughout the Decades

We are pleased to feature a guest post by Susan Gravatt, Fourth-Year Media Studies major/Religious Studies minor and blogger for The Media Studies Experience.

Saturday, March 22, 2014, from 9pm to midnight on Peabody Lawn, students will come together for the 51st Annual Restoration Ball. Each $25 ticket enables students and alumni of the University of Virginia to support the restoration of the Rotunda.

Just as the Rotunda has seen numerous changes and renovations in the past, the Restoration Ball itself has evolved in unusual and surprising ways since it began in the 1960s. In sifting through materials at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, I had the unique opportunity to step back in time and follow the history of this grand occasion.

(Photograph by Susan Gravatt)

One of the many posters from the Restoration Ball Ephemera collection, 1981. (LD5680 .R87 R47. Photograph by Susan Gravatt)

I’m not sure exactly when I first heard about this year’s Restoration Ball, but I do know that I found out about it through the now-standard event invitation service that Facebook provides. While posters certainly may be on Grounds (though I have personally not seen any), the Restoration Ball ephemera collection includes a series of posters from the 1960s to the 1980s. Some of the posters feature photographs of the Rotunda while others, like the one above, showcase a drawing or sketch.

Part of me is somewhat sad that these posters are not more abundant today. As I flipped through and photographed these older relics in Special Collections, I couldn’t help but wonder what materials will enter the library to mark the 51st event? Will Special Collections print a screenshot of the Restoration Ball website or the Facebook event? There is a certain nostalgia or romanticism that this poster and the others like it evoke, but checking out the online information about this year’s ball doesn’t have the same effect. Having the ability to hold a poster in my own hands made an event prior to my own birth come to life for me.

(Image by U.Va. Digitization Services)

Restoration Ball in the Rotunda, May 15, 1965 (RG-30/1/10.011. University of Virginia Image by U.Va. Digitization Services)

Before my visit to Special Collections, I did not realize that the Restoration Ball took place in many different locations throughout the years. As the image above shows, many of the earlier balls were actually held in the Rotunda!  According to the primary sources I consulted, by the 1980s, there was a permanent move away from the Rotunda and to Newcomb Ballroom, Peabody Lawn, and other larger, open spaces across Grounds that could accommodate a growing student body. Although I am excited to attend the event myself tomorrow evening, I must say that I am envious of those who danced in the Rotunda. For now, I’ll have to live vicariously through this photograph of past students who enjoyed that luxury. But what I wouldn’t give to have attended the ball in 1965…

Restoration Ball Dance Booklet (Photograph by Susan Gravatt)

A dance request booklet for Restoration Ball guests. (LD5680 .R87 R47. Photograph by Susan Gravatt)

Inside of dance request booklet.

Inside of dance request booklet. (LD5680 .R87 R47. Photograph by Susan Gravatt)

Although I spent almost an hour combing through the various articles and objects in the ephemera collection, the dance request booklet is, perhaps, my favorite find. Because tomorrow night’s Restoration Ball will be my first, I’m not entirely sure what to expect. However, I suspect I will not make song or dance requests to a deejay or live band by writing them down in a booklet. This nifty item enabled guests in the past to do just that.

My research on the Restoration Ball this week left me feeling the way that I do many times after leaving Special Collections. I always wonder how much students would enjoy this rich resource if they really understood the depths of its archives. Special Collections is not a building full of artifacts but rather a home for treasures that gives students a taste of both the history of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.

Special Collections makes history real and exciting because it enables me to put my student experience in a broader context. I am attending the Restoration Ball in 2014, yes, but I am becoming part of a tradition that has spanned for decades. Special Collections documents these histories and activities that are intrinsic and central to the core of student life at the University of Virginia.

But if dancing and Restoration Balls aren’t your thing, I guarantee that if you spent time in Special Collections, you would discover surprising parallels between the past and your time and interests at U.Va., and beyond.

My research in Special Collections gave me one more reason to get excited about my first Restoration Ball and the 51st for the University of Virginia, tomorrow night.



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