Monday, July 30, 2012

A Birthday Tea for Henry Ford

Detroit is known as the Automobile Capital of the World, so it's only fitting that  Henry Ford's 149th birthday is honored on my blog today.

~ July 30, 1863 - April 7, 1947 ~
[Internet Photo]

When I was working at Tea by Three Tea Room, which I wrote about here and here, the owner asked me to coordinate another dinner tea [High Tea] suitable for couples, similar to the Last Dinner on the Titanic. Given our area's automotive history, I decided it would be fun to plan something centered around Henry Ford's birthday. The date was set for July 23, 2005 [a little earlier than his actual birthday] with the theme, "Hats Off to the Past - A Model Tea."

I chose not to focus exclusively on Henry Ford, the automobile magnate and industrialist, but included his personal life with Clara, his wife, who willingly lived in his shadow, always abetting his experiments, listening to his dreams and believing in  his endeavors - well...most of them!  Because of Clara's steadfast faith in him, Henry nicknamed her, The Believer.

Clara Jane Bryant Ford
[Internet Photo]

Putting the program together required visits to the Benson Ford Research Center Library at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. [A National Historic Landmark complex, consisting of a large indoor/outdoor history museum. It's a must see!]   The research library was a  fascinating experience.   Visits were by  appointment, and information requests had to be made prior to arrival. My belongings [purse, sweater, etc.] were put in a locker. No ink pens were allowed - they provided pencils. And once I put on the mandatory  pair of white cotton gloves they furnished, I was ready to begin perusing the materials that had been gathered for me.

I wanted the menu to  center around any suitable recipes Clara might have liked and/or made, and I was eager to learn if she enjoyed the pleasures of tea. Fortunately, Clara was a saver, which contributed to her informative legacy.  When she died, she left behind menus and programs to every event she ever attended, and countless other memorabilia throughout her lifetime - enough to completely fill the drained,  indoor swimming pool at their Fairlane Estate.  I can't imagine how long it must have taken to catalog everything.   I saw recipes written in Clara's own hand writing, some of which were included in the high tea menu. The files were like stepping back in time and becoming personally acquainted with her.   I discovered she was an avid gardener, enjoyed tea, and loved hosting tea parties - which suited my purposes perfectly since the high tea was going to be held outdoors in Tea by Three's beautiful garden, and portrayed as though it was being held at the Fairlane Estate. Guests were invited to come in period attire [if they wanted to], and a Model A car was on display for photographs.

Regarding tea, Clara wrote in her 1912 travel journal to England: "Tea in Bristol... tea in Devon... stopped at the inn for tea... and in London we were invited to tea at the townhouse of Lady Astor where we met Queen Mary and King George V."

L-R: Me, Cheryl [tea room owner], Reader's - Kerri, Judy and Steve

Heedless of their wealth, Henry, Clara, and their son, Edsel, traveled across the country in their own "Tin Lizzie" as though they were small town tourists. 

Henry had a weakness for afternoon tea which is not surprising given his Irish roots, the fact that he was a big proponent of prohibition, and Clara's appreciation for tea.    He definitely had an inquiring mind at a young age.  The story is told that one day he plugged the spout of his mother's teapot and sat it on the hottest part of the wood-burning stove.   He quickly learned the results of his actions when the teapot burst into many pieces, splashing hot tea everywhere! 

During the entertainment portion of our event, the guests had fun singing a little ditty I found in my research to the tune of In the Good Gold Summer Time:

In the good old summer time,
Oh! Wasn't it just fine,
To sail along in the pouring rain
Through mud and slush and slime.
But don't you care for we all got there,
And that's a mighty good sign
That Ford cars are the best of all,
In any old kind of time!

Below is a photo of the invitation our guests received [postcard size, printed back to back]. The same Fair Lane Michigan Historical Site marker was used for the program cover as well.  Research provided names of Henry and Clara's family members and close friends who would have been guests at their galas, and those names were assigned to our attendees. They were introduced during the program.   Some of the distinguished guests were:  President Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lou; Sir Percival & Lady Catherine Perry; D.W. & Rose Flint; Ernest & Marion Liebold; Eleanor Clay Ford [their beloved daughter-in-law]; Miss. Martha Berry [founder of Berry school near Rome, Georgia]; and Lady Astor.

As for the menu... after Clara read the book, Gone With the Wind, and saw the movie, it became her favorite, so I paired movie titles to menu items.  [Sorry, we were so busy we forgot to take photos of the plated food.]

O'Hara's Salad with Soy Bean Sprouts [Henry was big on Soy Beans]
Tara Plantation Cream Chicken with Wild Rice [Clara's favorite way to prepare chicken]
Dixie Pudding [Sweet Potatoes]
Mammy's Green Bean Almondine
Scarlett's Pineapple Muffins
Melanie's Strawberry Ice Cream
Ashley's Devil's Food Celebration Cake [Devil's Food Cake was Clara's favorite]
And, of course, lots of Tea!

Henry's fascination with the soy bean began in the 1930's.  He once said, "A good cook can prepare a twelve-course meal from soybeans if she knows how."  And Henry did, indeed, host meatless, multi-course banquets featuring soybeans, but I withheld that pleasure from our guests! ;-)  Henry was definitely ahead of his time regarding health and fitness.

The tables were accessorized with blue since it was Clara's favorite color, and fresh flowers enhanced the dining tables as was Clara's customary tradition. A small imitation bird was at each place setting [a favor], symbolizing Henry & Clara's favorite past-time - bird watching and Ornithology.

Henry and Clara were very fond of the theatre, so I put together a script and a Reader's Theatre provided highlights of the couple's lives for the evening's entertainment.

L-R: Kerri, Steve [my son], and Judy [all drama students when they were in college]

Shortly after Henry & Clara celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 1938, Henry was asked how he managed to stay married so long, to which he replied, "Pick a good model, and stick with it!"

Our program concluded with the reading of the poem "Good Night" adapted from McGuffey's Third Grade Reader [Henry and Clara were very fond of McGuffey's Readers], and the song that all  Henry and Clara's old-fashioned dances ended with:

Good night, ladies!
Farewell, gentlemen!
So long, everyone!
We're going to leave you now!

*  *  *

Today I'm joining Antiques and Teacups for Tuesday Cuppa Tea.


  1. So much attention to detail! I am sure this was a memorable event.

  2. Hi Phyllis. How fun! This is a perfect post to link to my meme Tuesday Cuppa Tea. What a fabulous time that must have been! Thanks so much for sharing such a neat happening in the tea world!

  3. Hi Phyllis,
    What an interesting post and what a wonderful job you did putting together the tea. I grew up in Jackson, Mi. and have been to the Henry Ford Museum a few times. I enjoyed learning about the couple. Thank you for sharing and have a wonderful week.

  4. Wonderful post. I have been to Detroit and the museum. I loved it. What a wonderful event this must have been. Happy Tea Day!

  5. Phyllis, my dad is retired from Ford, and just last week I used his (very generous!) Ford discount to buy a new Ford Focus, so Ford is definitely on my brain this week! And I did think of you when I saw the sticker on the car saying it was assembled in Michigan. Thanks for the education about Henry and Clara--I'm thrilled to hear of all the tea references!

  6. My goodness, but you put alot of work into the plans for this one. I am sure it was very effective. Loved the table.

  7. Very good!
    My DAUGHTER has a n assignment and she had to write a biography of Henry Ford, i showed her this website and it helped her alot! Thank you once again!

    Jenny Ta


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