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Feb 21, 2018
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The lady who gave us the cocktail party

May 6th 10:05am, 2010

050410_cocktailglassesHer given name, thank you very much, appears to have been Clara.

A 2007 Wall Street Journal story by Eric Felten credited a “Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr. of St. Louis” as the originator of the cocktail party. In preparing our April issue, which included a special guide to hosting such a party, we couldn’t help wondering about Mrs. Walsh’s identity – independent of her mister.

Felton himself cited a May 1917 St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press report and noted the Walshes’ address as 4510 Lindell Blvd. – ironically, less than a mile from the site of the cocktail party featured in our April guide. Although most online references just echo Felton, one does quote a March 30, 1917, Kansas City (Mo.) Star story about the high-noon gala (while referencing Oxford English Dictionary political citations for the term “cocktail party” that precede 1917). Applying a bit of arithmetic to the Star quotation, incidentally, seemingly sets the date of Mrs. Walsh’s party: Sunday, March 25, 1917.

In any event, Mr. Walsh himself apparently served as president of both Terminal Railway Co. and Mississippi Valley Trust Co. A bit more digging yielded this from Stanford, Ky.’s Interior Journal for Jan. 2, 1906: “The wedding of Miss Clara D.D. Bell, of Lexington, and Julius S. Walsh, Jr., of St. Louis, was celebrated at Bell Place, the home of her mother, Mrs. Arthur Cary. The wedding was attended by hundreds of guests from a distance and was the most notable affair in the history of Lexington society.” In addition to the involvement of Walsh, the timing and high-society aspects of the wedding seem suggestive.

In that regard, whenever bons vivants gather at one another’s homes to enjoy a cocktail or two, they should perhaps drink a toast to a lady not only married to Mr. Walsh but also named Clara.

Photograph by Carmen Troesser

By Bryan A. Hollerbach

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2 Responses to “The lady who gave us the cocktail party”

  1. James P. Higgins Says:
    October 19th, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    More About Clara Bell – I have a photocopy of a 3-column article with photo in the New York Times of Sunday March 25, 1957, that begins, “The Plaza Hotel is going to give a big birthday party today for Mrs. Clara D.D. Bell Walsh who has lived there ever since the hotel opened [fifty years earlier] on October 1, 1907.” It goes on, ” She expects ‘a couple hundred’ friends… Guests will include Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Stanley Holloway, Cyril Ritchard [and others]… Mrs. Walsh is a tall Junoesque figure. Her hair of course has whitened from its original blond. Her health is so good she never gives it a thought, eating whatever and as much as she likes and drinking only pure Kentucky bourbon. ‘Martinis,’ she says with disgust, ‘are rotgut.'”

    Note that the St. Louis house at 4510 Lindell, identified as the site of the first cocktail party, was actually owned by Mrs. Walsh’s father-in-law, (Julius S. Walsh Sr. (1874-1923), who bought it that very year of the party (1917) from the children of its original owner, William Nolker (according to the ‘bygonestlouis.blogspot.com’). Mr. Walsh’s children sold the house in 1923, after Mr. Walsh died. I do not mean to suggest that she didn’t have the cocktail party in St. Louis in 1917, just because she had lived at the Plaza by then for ten years. I just thought you’d like to know more about Clara.

    I discovered all this while researching a biography of Isabelle Palms Buckley (1900-1986), granddaughter of Julius Walsh, Sr.. Dr. Buckley was the Founder (in 1935) of The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, California.

  2. Mrs. Blennerhassit Says:
    June 27th, 2016 at 9:08 am

    Not sure how a cocktail party could be held in 1917 at a house that wasn’t built until 1922… (according to all real estate sites).

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