GUTHRIE — Let the historic record be straight once and for all. Gov. Charles N. Haskell knew how to party. On the eve of the inaugural statehood ball, Oklahoma's first governor was faced with a pressing decision. First lady Lillian Haskell balked at the notion of spending $350 on a one-of-a-kind ball gown, a silk masterpiece designed in Paris and originally displayed as a robe at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Our humble first lady saw the dress as fanciful, opulent and daringly ostentatious. Gov. Haskell agreed. He then purchased the dress. "We're going to buy that dress,” Haskell told his wife. "How many times are you going to be first lady at an inaugural ball for the state of Oklahoma?” Naturally, the governor had a valid point, and good horse sense won out. This is just one of the treasured family stories that trickled down over the past century to Margaret Haskell-Potter, a great-granddaughter of Gov. Haskell and his wife. Haskell-Potter honored her famous ancestors Saturday night by attending the Centennial Statehood Ball in the Legislative Hall of the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple in Guthrie. Haskell-Potter did so in high fashion. The Tulsa resident graced the ballroom floor with a replica of Lillian Haskell's dress. "My dress will only be reminiscent of the original dress,” Haskell-Potter said with a modesty her great-grandmother would have admired. "Mine is a replica. ... I can say this, my dress cost a whole lot more than $350.” Haskell-Potter laughed at the irony, reminding us all of her spunky bloodline if not the absurdity of inflation. "I'm very excited,” Haskell-Potter said. "I was very close to my grandmother, Frances — Governor Haskell's daughter — and she told me all the old family stories. All these people were real people to her, and she used to talk about Statehood Day all the time. They were very proud of that day. "And so on a personal level it's very exciting to be re-creating it in a sense. I feel very honored. I'm a proud Okie.” Haskell-Potter wasn't be alone. She was joined by about 20 other Haskell relatives, including her two children — William Haskell-Potter, 28, and Rachel Haskell-Potter, 23. "This ball has sort of turned into a Haskell family reunion,” quipped Valerie Haynes, director of the Guthrie Museum Complex. "I think it's great.” Haskell descendants were among the more than 600 folks who received invitations to the centennial gala — a list that included Gov. Brad Henry and family, his Cabinet members, every Oklahoma legislator and Oklahoma Centennial Commission Executive Director Blake Wade. The centennial ball took on historic proportions of its own in July when Henry sent in his RSVP. Henry also likes to party. So does first lady Kim Henry. Both entered the hall beneath a canopy of swords held aloft by military honor guards. "This is incredible,” the first lady said minutes after her arrival. "This is living history.” The governor was feeling especially patriotic as he stood in the atrium of the historic Legislative Hall. "This is a special event,” he said. "Not only to commemorate the centennial, but also the inaugural ball with Gov. Haskell. ... This whole year, I think, has really invigorated that Oklahoma pride.” A festive atmosphere certainly infused the hall. Cameras flashed as strangers took pictures of strangers in brilliant period garb, exchanging pleasantries and warm smiles. The fashions were nothing short of stunning. Lisa Sorrell, a Guthrie bootmaker, made her own fashion statement with a leather skirt and vest, a cowboy hat and, naturally, a pair of boots she created. Linda Greenshields, a retired elementary school teacher from Red Rock, took a different fashion route. She donned a traditional Edwardian red dress, complete with a brooch, black gloves and the heart of a romantic who has long dreamed of living in the 19th century. "This is my element,” Greenshields said. "When I'm here, I'm in a movie set.” Mary Jo Allen of Wellston spent six months making her faux turn-of-the-century dress. Allen and her husband, Chuck, attended a militia ball last week in Chandler and stumbled into an invitation for the centennial ball. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Mary Jo Allen beamed. State Attorney General Drew Edmondson agreed. Flanked by his wife, Linda, Edmondson quipped: "We've managed to make it to all the events. Odds are we won't be around for the next one.” He then added: "And OU just got an interception and a touchdown, so everything is great!” The touchdown wasn't by design. The decorations for the ball were. Theresa Dewhurst volunteered — some said foolishly — to organize the centennial ball last November, knowing it would most likely be the social event of the year. The idea of authentically re-creating the historic statehood ball left her curious and engrossed in research. The president of the five-member Centennial Ball Committee eventually lifted some historic details from a precious few eyewitness accounts still in existence, such as two published in the Nov. 17, 1907, edition of The Oklahoman. One account noted how Gov. Haskell, his family and the receiving party stood against "a background of palms and tall chrysanthemums” while a full string orchestra played from the balcony of the old Guthrie City Hall. The aroma of roast duck wafted through the air. So did a sense of history. "The perfumed air was radiant with happiness,” one reporter noted on that memorable occasion. "Every face was expressive of joy, and softened laughter filled the big ballroom. Brilliantly lighted by myriads of electric globes half hidden in encircling vines. Filled with gaily gowned women and conventionally garbed men, the ball scene was one of movement and beauty.” The Oklahoman's sporting editor, meanwhile, walked away from the statehood ball in his plaid suit to write his own memorable version of events. "I'm king of the bowling alleys and my credit is good at the bat house, but when it comes to the society game, I'm a flounder,” he mused. "I don't shine.” Mostly, the old scribe confessed to becoming weak-kneed at the daring fashions displayed by the women that evening — gorgeous women who "sashayed in and had forgotten their dickeys too.” "There was a real Edwardian fashion presence that night,” Dewhurst noted. "But there were also a lot of low-cut dresses worn by women who were on the cutting-edge of fashion for their day.” Dewhurst and her fellow committee members sought to capture that same sort of pioneer spirit and authenticity for the centennial ball.
Traditional dance cards were issued to each guest, as was a wine glass to commemorate a black-tie affair that cost $100 per ticket.
Guests were greeted in the atrium by the Woodwind Ensemble of the "Governor's own” 145th Army Band. As guests migrated down the hall, they were serenaded by the Metro String Quartet of Guthrie and then greeted by the Al Good Orchestra of Oklahoma City in the grand ballroom.
There, amid a brilliant collection of magnolia leaf vines, guests beheld a five-tiered cake decorated with a myriad of Oklahoma icons and seven different fillings to tickle the taste buds.
And, yes, the aroma of roast duck once again wafted through the air, compliments of Guthrie's Dominion House and chef Mary Hoch. So did a sense of history.
"I'm totally excited,” Dewhurst said. "This will be a centennial ball Oklahoma will never forget.”
Above: The first governor of the 46th state, Charles Haskell, was shown on a cake at the ball on Saturday. By BILL WAUGH, THE OKLAHOMAN