Eclectic? Yes. Homage? Yes.
BAR HARBOR—They wear numbered badges. Their guests must show an invitation or they aren’t allowed inside. A guestbook and invitation checker is stationed at the front door. Part barn dance, part social affair, part homage to the past, the annual Hayseeders’ Ball occurred between winter storms Friday night at the Atlantic Oceanside.
It was once billed as one of the two major social events for Bar Harbor’s year-round residents.
The eclectic event had been on hiatus thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the big banner with the dances listed may have been missing, but there was still music, the “Grand March” entry of the Hayseeders and spouses at 8:30 p.m., and time to dance, try some salted cod, and catch up with friends. The event is invitation only and in the recent past there have been invitations to be had, but it wasn’t always this way.
In a 1916 Bangor Daily News, the regular correspondent detailed the ball writing,
“Bar Harbor has one institution peculiarly its own, which has never been quite duplicated by another place, although some colorless imitations have tried from time to time. This is the annual Way Back or Hayseeders’ ball, when costumes of a bygone day resurrected from the garret, when the met get out their farm clothes and old-time rigs, and the girls hunt up the prettiest of the old-time styles and spend the evening in an all-around good time.”
Back then, the event was held in the Bar Harbor Casino and seven hundred tickets were snatched up and many were left wanting. It’s not quite the same now. But there are still only 40 members of the Hayseeders and all are still men. They each have a badge. Some badges have been passed down through the generations of Bar Harbor men. Many of the current Hayseeders come from outside of Bar Harbor and they meet as a group once a year prior to the event.
A clip in the January 17, 1900 issue of the Ellsworth American says that the ball that year was at Knowles’ Hall. The clip comes six years after “The 40 Hayseeders” was formed in an attempt for residents to have their own fancy parties as a bit of a spoof for the wealthier summer visitors. The food was and is not amazing unless you like a lot of plain donuts and salted cod. The dress is meant to be outfits prior to the 1960s, hence the events’ other name the Wayback Ball. Many deliberately dress up like “hicks” and farmers to show the contrast from the summer visitors in the Gilded Age. Similarly, the invitation and signs are full of intentional misspellings.
A “hayseed” is an unsophisticated person, a bumpkin, someone who is not considered elite, unintelligent, a dolt, someone who has seeds of hay in their hair, on their clothes, maybe even in their teeth.
The Bar Harbor Casino was decorated with lanterns and wagon wheels, yokes, harnesses and farming tools to go with the theme. According to the February 21, 1954 edition of the Portland Press Herald, one guest wrote to a friend after going to the ball, “There’s no dullness there in winter, from Eden to Odd Fellow’s Hall; and you never can know your Bar Harbor by leaving each year in the fall. For ‘tis until the season is over that the home folks get going at all, and the night of nights in Bar Harbor is the night of the Hayseed Ball.”
According to the blog, The History of Mount Desert Island, the casino was located at the corner of Cottage and Bridge Streets. A New York Times article says it was originally meant to be built on the corner of Mt Desert and Main Streets.
There have been some resignations from this last list, but as of February, Hayseeders included: Tommy Allen, Matt Bartlett, Art Blank, Steve Boucher, Earl Brechlin, Jon Carter, Richard Cleary, James W. Collier, John Collier, Robert Collier, Daniel Daigle, Bob Davis, Jeff Dobbs, Shaun Farrar, Richard Fox, Michael Gurtler, Sean Hall, Dale Harding, Rob Jordan, Terrance Kelley, Jon Levesque, Seth Libby, Joel Linscott, Jeff Miller, Edward Monat, John Mountford, Robert Packie, Paul Paradis, Alexander Phillips, Steve Powell, Allen Sawyer, Charlie Sidman, Ken Smith, Tim Smith, Les Spurling, Mike Staggs, Bill Townsend and Chris White.
Check out a video prior to the event by Steve Peer, Katina Anne Stanwood and Jc Neel.
Link to MDI Historical Society image.
Shaun Farrar, one of the two current contributors to the Bar Harbor Story (and my husband) is a member of the Hayseeders. Many thanks to Tammy Packie for taking photos of the event and sharing them with us.
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