The Lake-Going Tea-Tray: 1912

ocean going tea tray


If you’re hungry while taking a dip in the surf all you need to do is to make a sign and a couple of garcon persons’ll set the food ship afloat. Standing waist deep in the cool ocean it’s a cheery sight to see a tray loaded with sandwiches and cakes and cups of hot tea or broth come sailing out. The idea originated with a new York society belle and it is almost as popular as swimming. A five o’clock tea served in this way is called at the beaches a two-bells, keeping to ship lingo.

 ocean going tea tray waiters

With Lake Erie’s nice, firm, strong waves right at her own door, shall Cleveland’s society maid be deprived of the joy of giving the newest form of social function—a tea party on the water?

She needn’t be, for a New York girl has tried out an ocean tea party, and all that is necessary to its success is a nice seaworthy tray and plenty of water on which to launch it. The guests wear bathing suits, quite naturally, seeing that the function takes place far from shore, and according to reports the initial affair was a success.

It is the very latest summer fad—a tea party on the waves.

It’s surely more inspiring than monkey dinners, dog luncheons and “reversed” repasts, to mention only three diversions of the smart set. And hygienically considered it is a fad that will win praise from all quarters. It is safe and sane, and moreover it is a fad that can be taken up by bathers all over the country. All that is needed for it is an ocean going tea tray. And such a craft can be built by even an amateur carpenter in a couple of hours.

The originator of this new fad is Miss Charlotte Van Cortland Nicoll, a New York society girl, and a niece of De Lancey Nicoll, the famous lawyer. Miss Nicoll, who is spending the summer at Long Beach, gives a tea party in the ocean every Friday afternoon for her friends, and from the attention it has attracted it is evident that her idea will be widely copied.

The fad originated in a very simple manner. Every time Miss Nicoll went in bathing she noticed that the salt water and the exercise increased her appetite. As it took a long time to dress after coming out of the water before she could get something to eat she thought it would be a good plan to eat while she was in the ocean. Two or three dainty sandwiches, a cup of tea and a few little cakes would make her dip far more enjoyable and as such a repast on the beach would attract attention she conceived the idea of an ocean going tea tray. With such a craft she could have her tea far out in the water.

Miss Nicoll outlined her idea to the hotel carpenter, who built a seaworthy craft with a high poop deck to hold the teacups and commodious deck space forward and amidships for plates of sandwiches and cakes. The afternoon its keel was laid it was launched with appropriate ceremonies.

Miss Nicoll dispatched notes to several of her young friends inviting them to her first ocean tea party the following afternoon. Chaperoned by Mrs. S. Morris Pryor, Miss Ina Pryde, Miss Ruth Boomer, Miss Bertha De Forest and Miss Nicoll had tea in the ocean just as Miss Nicoll planned.

The fact that there was a high sea and that a wave washed over the bow of the tea tray did not interfere with the success of the affair. The sandwiches needed a little salt anyway. The high deck protected the tea and the craft outrode the storm with ease.

Miss Nicoll and her guests swam around for about half an hour before the ocean going tea tray was carried down to the beach by two hotel waiters and launched by the life guards.

Life guards launching the tea-tray

Life guards launching the tea-tray

Their appetites were exceedingly good, for when the craft was towed in to shore she was floating very high. The first ocean tea party was such a success that Miss Nicoll decided to make it a weekly affair, and throughout the summer she will entertain her guests that way.

The Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 18 August 1912: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: But what of those admonitions, constantly drummed into the ears of the young to never go into the water directly after eating?

A monkey dinner was given at Newport by Harry Lehr, court jester of the Gilded Age. A trained chimpanzee named “Consul” was the guest of honour. He also held a “dog’s dinner,” where the pampered pets of the wealthy came dressed in formal clothes and were fed and tiny tables.  His practical jokes, hoaxes, and excesses were widely reported and were the source of much unfavourable comment. A “reversed” repast was one which began with the coffee and cheese was and finished with soup or consommé.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.




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