On The Road Again…
For almost 7 decades, Kappa Kappa Gamma has sent a pair of precious and historic candlesticks on the road (or in the air) for significant Fraternity events – specifically the installation of new chapters and the Candlelight Banquet at General Convention. After logging so many miles, those candlesticks sure could tell a magnificent tale!
The tradition began in 1935, when Charlotte Barrell Ware, Boston, Grand President, 1884-1888, was attending the Alpha Province Convention. At the closing banquet she spontaneously passed one of her candlesticks (since left to the Fraternity) to the delegate from the oldest chapter in the province and one to the youngest, to hold as a symbol of the eternal flame which lights the way for each generation to seek the attainment of Kappa’s high ideals. Inscribed on the candlesticks is a quote from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, “How far that little candle throws his beams. So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” The Ware Candlesticks were retired after the 1998 General Convention because of their fragile condition. The Wells Candlesticks, given by the Atlanta Alumnae Association in memory and honor of Jean Hess Wells, Georgia, Fraternity President, 1976-1980, are now used for the Candlelight Banquet.
Just as New York jeweler Harry Winston used the United States Postal Service to deliver the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History in 1958, Kappa Kappa Gamma is occasionally forced to ship our precious candlesticks to installations and Conventions. However, when possible, the candlesticks are hand-carried in a vehicle or on a plane for safety and security. Tales of adventure and woe abound among the staff members at Fraternity Headquarters who have found themselves in charge of the famous candlesticks.
For the installation of a chapter on the west coast in the 1950s, the staff member tasked with traveling with the Ware candlesticks decided to wrap them in her mink stole and carry them onto the plane. Her plan was a good one as the airline lost her luggage, leaving her to attend the events wearing her travel clothes, a mink stole and carrying a pair of sterling silver candlesticks.
In the 1970s, the Ware candlesticks were held at the border between Canada and the United States. It was just for a day while the volunteer who was carrying the candlesticks to a chapter installation on the east coast took her family to Niagara Falls. The customs agents were suspicious of the trailer filled with all of the installation and initiation equipment. Rather than unpack the entire trailer (candlesticks and all), the agents agreed to let them unhitch the trailer at the border and claim it when they returned to the United States later that day.
After the events of September 11, airline security was drastically heightened. As the Archivist/Curator, it was my duty to carry the Wells and the Ware candlesticks to the 2002 Convention in Orlando, Florida, for display in the Heritage Exhibit. Imagine my attempt to explain four large metal objects with solid lead weights in the base that set off all sorts of alarms at the security checkpoint in the airport. I cried a little inside when the security guard held the candlesticks as a weapon and inquired about their purpose.
For years the Ware and the Wells candlesticks have inspired a sense of reverence and tradition among our newest sisters and among those attending the General Convention. They have kept the Fraternity and Foundation on the forefront of the latest, most secure and efficient modes of shipping. And they even inspired a short comedy film made by the Fraternity Headquarters staff in the year 2000 that told the tale of the “Pink Lady Cleaning Service” and the Pink Lady’s efforts to abscond with the “Warever Candlesticks.” The symbolism and the beauty that surrounds our traditions at installations and the Candlelight Banquet would endure without the gorgeous candlesticks; but they sure do add a touch of history, mystery and magic!
~Kylie Towers, Archivist/Curator