A Black Tie Dinner On Horseback? Inside The Iconic Gilded Age Party

by Christie Grimm · February 23, 2017

Don't you just love rich people? And I'm not talking, the work hard, save wisely, spend liberally rich people. I'm talking the grew up knowing they'd never have to do anything they never wanted to a day in their life, have the bank account to make any insanely silly thing a reality rich people.

C.K.G. Billings - as if the name didn't already drip with dollar signs - grew up in a hyper wealthy Chicago family, a true child of the ultra excessive Gilded Age. With his father's business in the gas light industry, and his involvement in a little up and comer called the Coke Company, C.K.G. spent the latter half of his life making it rain, living out his love of all things equestrian.

And on March 28th, 1903, well let's just say he outdid himself. To celebrate the opening of his new $200,000 trotting stable up near 196th Street (current day Fort Tryon Park), Billings decided to host an intimate little dinner party. On horseback. Such a stir just the whispers of his plan caused, the stress of the media's sure presence caused Billings to switch venues at the last moment.

Not a party of note that decade was thrown without the involvement of Louis Sherry, restaurateur, caterer and hotelier extraordinaire. Sherry, who had planned to cater the event, offered quite the opulent alternative to his anxious client - and so Billings's 36 guests filed into the grand ballroom of Sherry's (think the Polo Bar meets Le Coucou of its day) to find a floor covered with turf,  walls decorated with woodland scenes, and a horse saddled up for each of them, complete with attached trays and saddlebags filled with iced bottles of champagne which riders could sip through a connected tube. All in all, the evening cost upwards of $50,000. So, you know, just a quarter of the project it was meant to fete.

Oh rich people. They do the darndest things.

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