Valdosta Daily Times

February 17, 2013

Inside Valdosta’s decades-old masked ball

Caitlin Barker
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — As Mystery Ball members walked into the Valdosta Country Club Friday evening, it seemed as if they were stepping foot directly into the heart of New Orleans.

The 2013 theme for the annual Mystery Ball, was “Mardi Gras.” Tables were decorated in purples, greens and golds, beads hung from the ceiling, and mannequins playfully dressed in elaborate masks greeted arrivals in the foyer of the country club.

The dining room tables were elegantly decorated with gorgeous silver containers filled with porcelain Mardi Gras jesters and gold-sequined crowns with baby’s breath.

As members gathered around the dance floor, the anticipation grew as they waited to see what the magical mystery women would be wearing this year.

For generations, the Mystery Club has held a ball in Valdosta. A ball where the women dress in masks and costumes then greet their husbands.

Friday, as the women of the Mystery Club lined up for their “big parade” onto the dance floor, excitement from the guests enchanted the room.

“It’s a lot of fun. They all come out in costumes. You can’t see their faces,” Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce Chairman Tom Gooding said. “They have masks on and come out and dance with their husbands.”

As the master of ceremonies Merrill Guice introduced them, the women strutted onto the dance floor, playing inflatable instruments just like a jazz band on Bourbon Street.

Each mystery woman wore Mardi Gras colors, wearing black slim-legged pants and a purple tunic, adorned with many assorted gold, purple and green Mardi Gras beads.

An emerald green sash was tied on their hips, as they wore an emerald green wig, along with large gold hoop earrings. They also displayed beautiful masks, decorated with theme-colored feathers.

“I’m having a great night, had a great meal. We’re invited guests and we come every year,” Mayor John Gayle said.

As they continued to dance with their parade of instruments, their introduction began to wind down and the mood became sentimental. The women of the Mystery Club searched for their husbands and started to share a romantic slow dance.

The couples danced to “You Are The Best thing” by Ray LaMontagne. Husband Hamilton Tillman enjoyed holding his wife and mystery woman close.

“It’s an old family tradition,” Tillman said. “My grandmother was a charter member.”

As the ladies took a break, they were reminded why they keep their identity hidden every year at the ball. It’s all part of the fun.

“We’re always excited, always have a lot of fun together,” one Mystery woman said. “We all help each other, put our wigs on together. It’s a tough job. I find myself smiling behind the mask, just because it’s so much fun.”

Fun that will continue next year as surely as it has continued in Valdosta for decades past.