The Pitfalls of New Year’s Day Calls: 1876-1897

New-Year’s Day, Harper’s Bazar, 2 January 1869

Mr. Finkhouser’s Experience as a New Year’s Caller, as Chronicled by Himself.

Young Mr. Finkhouser could have cried with vexation when he got out of bed on New Year’s morning and saw the weather. His heart came right up into his throat, and he only swallowed it by a prodigious effort. He had planned somewhat less than a thousand calls that day, and his line march, as projected, was little less than  Sherman’s march to the sea. He moped, and sulked, and swore under his breath, nearly all the morning, and it was not until nearly noon that he reflected that the carriage he had engaged for the occasion was drawing pay right along, improving every drizzling hour. Then he braced up and determined to call any how. And he arrayed himself in fine broadcloth and linen and went down stairs, and there, sure enough, was the waiting carriage, floating around in the street with a drowned man on the box. Mr. Finkhouser climbed and was slowly dragged away.

We did not have the pleasure of accompanying Mr. Finkhouser on this eventful journey, and his own account of its events were somewhat too confused to be implicitly relied on. But his diary was taken from his breast pocket and its brief entries afforded an interesting study of the gradual transition from the cold formalities and conventionalities of the first calls to the cordiality and hearty friendliness and intimacy of the later and closing calls. Mr. Finkhouser was not an old veteran caller, this being his first New Year’s out, and his diary is all the more interesting on that account. It appears that Mr. Finkhouser, anxious to improve, made an entry of his salutations as soon as he returned to the carriage from each visit, and it is quite apparent that he did his best to improve on every effort. And here is the way he improved:

11:15 A.M. – “Ah-haw-aw, yes, yes. Happy New Year, Miss Dresseldorf. Happy New Year. Happy New Year; many happy returns of the day. Haw, yes, to be sure. Good morning.

11:25 A.M. — “Miss McKerrel, permit me to wish you a happy new year. Tears and clouds in the outside world, smiles and light wherever you are. Thank you. I shall be only too much honored.

It was evident that Mr. Finkhouser thought he had just about got it, as all his subsequent efforts were modeled upon this one. Note by the translator.

11:50 A.M. “Ah, my dear Miss Ballana hack, I have the inexpressible felicity to wish you a happy New Year. The light and smiles of your presence dislocates the sombre clouds and dismal tears of the weather god.”

12:40 – “My dear Mish Binnington, I have thinexpressible felicity t’wish you a happy New Year. The smiles and light, f’your presences dispates the sombre clouds and dismal tears of th’ weather god.”

2:30 p.m.—“Ah! Mdear Mish Washingham, f’y ‘low me t’call you so. I have inexpressible flicity t’wish you Happy New Year. Thlight an schmilesh f’your bri’ presence dishpate the sombre clouds an’ dismal tear of th’ weather god.”

3:45 p.m.—“Howdy, howdy, Mish Milleroy! Wish may have th’ flictable expressitive t’wish ye hampy n’y’er, fack! Th’ bri’ shimlesh an’ light f’your preselece dishlocates clomber souds an’ tearful dismals of threather gog!”

4:30 p.m.—“Howja fine y’self? ic! ‘m all rt. Have ‘nfeliseible ‘spression t’wishye haply newy’r. Hoopee doodle! I guess not! Shimleh f’your presesh dishlocatesh weather gog! Goodby, gubby. Bo good t’yersef.”

And at this point the entries, which continue some distance further, become unintelligible.

Janesville [WI] Daily Gazette 10 January 1876: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In Gilded Age America, the making and receiving of New Year’s Day calls was something of a competitive sport. Society ladies boasted of the number of their callers, while young dandies boasted of their numerous visitations and of the liquid refreshments they had consumed. Mr Finkhouser was unusual only in his candid description of the inevitable dishpation resulting from a day’s rounds.

Drink was only one of the attractions of New Year’s Day receptions; eligible young ladies were the objective of multiple beaux, who flitted in and out, bestowing compliments and bonbons in this early version of “speed-dating.”

[T]he Sunday papers of the time began to print lists of those who would receive, and the houses of those mentioned in the lists were sure to be besieged by numbers of men whom the ladies had never met or heard of and desired never to meet again. Men would go calling in couples and parties, and even in droves of thirty or more, remaining as short a time at each stopping place as possible, and announcing everywhere how many calls they had already made and how many they expected to make before they finished. At every place they drank, and at each place, of course, a different brand of wine. The result was a most appalling assortment of “jags” long before sundown, and a crowding of the police stations at night. Naturally enough the second day of January was always a field day in the police courts, and the judges, some of whom probably had post-calling headaches themselves, were wont to mark S.S. for “sentence suspended,” after the name of every one who could show that he had made a beast of himself in the observance of the “good old Knickerbocker custom.”

The Fort Payne [AL] Journal 6 January 1897: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers every good thing in the New Year!

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 anecdote

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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