Partying with Anna House children and the ghost of August Belmont

On May 8, 1907, August Belmont gave a dance and cotillion in the Turf and Field Club at Belmont Park prior to that season’s racing. Supper was served at midnight; trains to bring guests home departed at 3 a.m.

Belmont’s guests, I think it’s safe to say, enjoyed themselves, entertained as they were by a live orchestra playing some of the host’s favorites, hobnobbing with the social elite in the inspiring setting of Belmont Park.

I doubt, though, that they had as much fun as the nearly 400 children who came to the Turf and Field Club on Saturday, December 10, to choose gifts to give to their family members for Christmas.

For the 10th year, the Belmont Child Care Association hosted a holiday party for the children of the backstretch workers; thanks to generous donations from BCCA supporters and the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, the children could browse among thousands of gifts, picking out presents to put under their Christmas trees, before being permitted to choose one gift for themselves.

Dozens of volunteers acted as Christmas elves, escorting students through the room and wrapping and labeling packages; as children waited to come inside, they were entertained by a balloon sculptor and ate donated cookies and Christmas treats.

The little ones clutched lists with the names, ages, and sizes of family members; as I escorted Kelly into the room, her eyes widened at the display, and when I asked for whom she wanted to shop first, “Mommy!” was her decisive and exultant response.

Siblings shopped as their parents waited outside in the lobby, darting around tables and hiding their selections from each other so that the gifts would be a surprise on Christmas morning.  ­They deliberated over options: would Papa like a watch or a sweatshirt? Would my sister like this sweater or that necklace? I didn’t hear a single child ask to choose her own gift before shopping for her family.

Thanks to everyone who contributed generously to make this event such a success, and especially to the New York Racing Association for contributing the space, the ornateness of which made a special event even more festive, as we looked out from the fourth floor onto beautiful Belmont Park, as August Belmont’s guests did.

We didn’t have an orchestra, or a special supper, or a train just for us.  But I’ll bet that August Belmont would have smiled to see the children glowing with holiday spirit, no less merry than his guests were more than a hundred years ago.

The good photos here are courtesy of Lili Holzer-Glier; the mediocre ones are courtesy of yours truly.

7 thoughts on “Partying with Anna House children and the ghost of August Belmont

  1. Teresa
    You have always been such a wonderful champion of Anna House activities! Kudos to you and everyone for their generosity!
    LindaVA — Merry, merry, happy, happy! Martine & Red

  2. So you see, despite all those unsavory rumors to the contrary, NYRA does have a Merry Ol’ Soul spirit hidden deep inside. Way, way up in the Turf and Field Club, that is, far from the judgemental eyes of high-season prognosticators and New York-racing critics; during the dark-quiet of a chilly December, it opens its Belmont Park arms to the BCCA and the best of the U.S. Marine Corps. Talk about understated!

    Thanks for bringing this side of our business so cleverly to the front. Yes, I think August Belmont would have been front-and-center, having fun with the kids!

  3. I obviously took some poetic license here, as the original Turf and Field Club is long gone…but still. 🙂 Holidays are for flights of fancy.

    And thanks very much, Mr. Belmont, for making it so easy…

  4. Thanks, Marshall, for your comments. NYRA and NYTHA are year-round supporters of the children of Anna House. Without the help we receive from EVERYONE at NYRA, especially Joanne Adams, we would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in repairs and other costs. NYTHA always has been very generous to us, and never forgets the children at holiday time with a nice donation for our elves to use for shopping.

    We also want to thank all of our many donors, from the person who sent in $2.00 for our holiday bazaar to Gretchen and Roy Jackson, who just donated $150,000.00. Without their caring, Anna House would not be the wonderful early childhood education center it is. Come visit us someday. We are open every day of the year.

    The BCCA

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