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New Year’s Eve Balls


In the early 20th century, many North Dakota communities held balls to celebrate the New Year. They often used the occasions as fundraisers for charitable causes or specific funds. For example, when the residents of Williston wanted a band in 1901, they held a New Year’s Eve ball to raise funds. Over sixty couples attended the ball to hear the brand new orchestra play; they danced into the New Year to “exceptionally good” music, which the band played until three in the morning. The Williston Graphic reported that the residents “…may well feel proud of the band and of her orchestra.”

At the turn of the century, Mandan ladies banded together to form the “Ladies of the Library,” a group devoted to the creation and maintenance of a Mandan public library. They held an annual New Year’s Eve Library Benefit Dance at the Mandan Opera House. In 1903, Lochner’s seven-piece orchestra furnished the music, and a light supper was served at 11 o’clock, right on the opera stage.

Although a number of charitable balls were held each New Year’s Eve in Bismarck, the most popular by far was held for profit. During the 1910s and 20s, the McKenzie and Patterson Ball was one of the most anticipated events of the year for Bismarck society. Women looked forward to showing off their new fashions, while men looked forward to the scrumptious buffets that were served into the wee hours of the morning. Everyone looked forward to seeing people from all over the state, as people traveled large distances to attend. Although the balls were hosted by the McKenzie Hotel, participation grew so large that the nearby Patterson’s Hall was requisitioned to hold the overflow and the buffet spreads. The evening began with dancing, with a dinner buffet served later. Hours later, after more dancing, a “break of day buffet” would be served around 5 a.m. The hotel was decorated each year in elaborate fashion, and hundreds of noise-makers and party hats were handed out to the couples in attendance. In 1920, the hotel introduced a new draw to the popular event: cameramen were hired to film the entire dance with the new technology of motion pictures.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


The Bismarck Tribune. December 30, 1920: p. 6.

The Bismarck Tribune. January 3, 1921: p. 5.

The Bismarck Tribune. December 31, 1921: p. 5.

The Bismarck Tribune. December 31, 1918: p. 5.

The Bismarck Tribune. December 27, 1921: p. 4.

The Williston Graphic. January 2, 1902: p. 1.