By Robert M. Sarwark
For the first time since 2018, the Grant Park Neighborhood Association’s (usually) annual fundraising gala, known fondly as the Mothball, took place on Friday, October 21st, at Upstairs Atlanta. Both 2020’s and 2021’s events were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Mothball first began in the early 1980s as a means of thanking all those who had shown their homes — and thus helped to raise funds — at the newly instituted Grant Park Tour of Homes. The tradition is thought to have been inspired by Inman Park, which had initiated its own real-estate renewal — and tour of homes — a few years earlier, in the mid 1970s. “Mothball,” furthermore, is a tongue-in-cheek play on the Butterfly Ball of our arguably tonier neighbors to the northeast. Though some long-time Grant Park neighbors estimate that the first Mothball took place in 1982, others interviewed for this article reckoned that the gala more accurately first dates to 1984.
At any rate, this irreverent costume party with a side of drag show was solidified into its current form by the mid 1980s, as offered by Michael Jennings, a Grant Park homeowner from 1980 until 2017. “Everybody [always] had a really good time,” he said over the phone from his current home in Pensacola, Florida. “The straights and the gays mixed.” In fact, Jennings, his husband Jerry Facenda, and many of their friends in the local LGBTQ community were the ones responsible for introducing the drag element, as an extension of the HIV/AIDS charity events they had been holding at their home on Hill Street.
Fittingly, this year’s theme was “1980s Prom: Footloose and Fancy Free.” Revelers donned their finest fishnet stockings, high-tops, wide lapels, and other period accouterments and danced to the soulful and saxy sounds of ETHEL, an Atlanta dance/variety duo found regularly at Grant Park’s Elsewhere Brewing. The drag show this year was provided by Queen Mona Lott and her dance team: Kitty Love, Drew Friday, and Mr. Elle Aye. Catering was provided by Firepit Pizza Tavern and Grant Park Coffee House. All leftover foodstuffs were donated to FreeFoodCommune on Memorial Drive the following day by GPNA volunteers.
On behalf of the Mothball planning committee, current GPNA president Catherine W. Manci was happy to report that this year’s event was a success. “We met our goal to raise money for the community and had a great time doing it,” she added. Funds raised will go towards providing grants to local nonprofits.
The winner of this year’s Miss Mothball competition was Teana Nicol, of Grant Park. Amazingly, Ms. Nicol had worn the same red, ruffled prom dress both at this year’s Mothball and at her very own prom…in 1986.