Dress up day

A party of tenscore was borne back into the past Saturday evening on Millionaires’ Row.

The band played and the cocktails flowed as gold-hatted, pink-suited dandies and debutantes flapped all evening on Bob Elion’s lawn under a clear late September sky.

The “Gatsby Affair,” presented by Preservation Williamsport, let two hundred people feel, like Nicole Diver, that trains begin their run in Chicago “and traverse the round belly of the continent” to support their shopping sprees; the gala let them play at dissipating like the millionaires of the Roaring Twenties, if only for an evening.

Lest the wrong impression be got, these attendees were not careless people, smashing things up. Even as the hors d’oeuvres flew off trays, the oyster bar emptied of its delicacies, as the hilarity increased, the dancers and drinkers supported Preservation Williamsport’s fight against the dissipating effects of time on the physical heritage of our region.

For historic buildings, unlike Jay Gatsby, do not have an idea of themselves that they are faithful to until the end. They do not put time and money into themselves, hoping to keep up a facade that will attract a long longed-for Daisy Buchanan from the green-lit dock across the bay.

Buildings need people to care for them, and that was why all these usually normal folks came together to dress up like the glittering wealthy of the time when America first felt its growing power and abundance, those rich that Scott Fitzgerald chronicled in his books and stories like “The Great Gatsby” and “Tender is the Night.”

Preservation Williamsport is now raising funds to replace the slate roof of the Rowley House Museum, a home dating to 1888 which it cares for, a $250,000 project that so far has not gained any benefactors who made a fortune selling whiskey out of drugstores during Prohibition.

The group “likes to do one big fundraiser a year,” chairman Edward Lyon said, and they decided to have a Gatsby-themed event since the book got its most recent film treatment this spring and the style of the period was in the headlines.

There was no 12-foot juicer at the Affair, like in Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation, and there was no bay for late-night swimming or hydroplanes for morning rides.

There was, though, a swinging outfit put together just for the event, called Terry Wild and the Gatsby Boys, made up of seven veteran musicians from the region steeped in the music of the Twenties and Thirties. Along with the ragtime piano of Tom Wetzel, the outfit kept toes a-tapping all night.

The group never practiced together; instead, Wild sent charts of popular songs and mp3 recordings from the era to the outfit.

“All of the songs were played or popular in the Twenties,” Wild said. “Most of which are familiar to people. There are a lot of tunes people don’t realize were from the Twenties: “Whispering Margie,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Somebody Stole My Gal.” Stylistically the Twenties did things differently. There was a lot of two-step, foxtrot, what we’d call straight four play, funky drumming. With the tinny sound and the wood blocks and the cowbell.”

To the two-step and the cowbell, the dancers stepped on, reaching out to a future that can only become with the preservation of the past.