Even the organizers of the Sanitary Fair Hop admit that the name leaves a lot to be desired.

If nothing else, the members of the Living History Society of Minnesota figure that they can use the odd reactions the name produces as a teaching device.

"The Sanitary Commission was a forerunner of the Red Cross. It raised money to help soldiers and their families," said Betsy Connolly, the member of the organization's board who is organizing the event.

Her group is hosting a re-enactment of a dance that was held in 1865 as a fundraiser for the widows and orphans of local soldiers killed in the Civil War. The Oct. 9 event is one of the first of many that will be held over the next five years as the country marks the 150th anniversary of the war, which started in 1861 and ended in 1865. "The Sanitary Fair of 1865 was a huge event," Connolly said. "It was held in downtown St. Paul on a site that is now the Science Museum of Minnesota and RiverCentre. Anybody who was anybody in Minnesota was there."

As a living history society, the organization's emphasis is on re-creating the past. If you attend the hop, you aren't supposed to just watch the dancing, you're expected to join in.

Don't know how to dance 1860s-style? They've got that covered, too, with a pre-dance workshop that will include dance instruction as well as a briefing on the dance hall etiquette of the day.

Modern-day clothes are recommended for the workshop. You don't have to wear period clothes for the dance, either, but many participants will.

"We always say that period clothes are admired but not required," Connolly said.

In keeping with the charitable spirit of the 1865 event, the Living History Society is donating the proceeds from the dance to the Boys of '61 Memorial, named after the volunteers who answered the call to arms at the start of the Civil War. It's also the name of a group of modern-day volunteers hoping to pay homage to those soldiers.

"Part of Minnesota's history that we're very proud of is that we were the first state to respond to President Lincoln's call for soldiers when the Civil War started in April 1861," said George Luskey, the group's president. "We hope to create a lasting legacy to those soldiers that Minnesotans can look at and enjoy for years to come."

Admission to the dance includes a buffet of foods from that era. There will be a silent auction, baked goods for sale (the main way that the 1865 event raised money), tableaux ("living pictures," Connolly calls them) created by history buffs and re-creations of the speeches given at the original fair.

"It was such a big deal that the newspapers carried full transcripts of the speeches," Connolly said.

The original Sanitary Fair was a multiday affair, with the Saturday night hop -- "They used 'hop' to distinguish it from a formal ball," Connolly said -- serving as the closing event.

"It was gigantic," she said. "It raised about $12,000, which was a tremendous amount of money in those days."

According to an online inflation calculator, it's the equivalent of about $167,000 today.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392