Each autumnal equinox, Historic Oakwood couple Ann Robertson and Hans Linnartz throw an epic theme party to bring their friends together.
by Lori D. R. Wiggins
Twice a year, the Earth’s axis tilts neither toward nor away from the sun, giving us a near-equal amount of day and night, an equinox. In Historic Oakwood, the autumnal equinox is marked by an annual party that starts at sunset, filled with friends and food. Glowing with twinkling lights and decorated in brilliant silks, it’s an event that conjures the moon as a symbol of harmony and unity.
“My husband and I are involve in a lot of different organizations — nonprofits, church, work, politics — so we make lots of friends who are wonderful, but don’t know each other,” says Ann Robertson, who hosts the party with her husband, Hans Linnartz. “One year, we said, Let’s see if there’s some way to bring them together, to give our friends a chance to get to know each other.” After scouring lists of special events throughout the year, they locked in on the mid-September fall equinox.
“Both the equinox and the solstice holidays are celebrated because they are astronomically interesting,” Linnartz says. Plus, Robertson says, not much else is happening that time of year, “and the weather is warm.” It also reminded them of an engaging 2005 visit to Lijiang, China. They happened to be there during a lunar festival and were taken by the fanfare and tradition of family that they witnessed. They decided to name their own event the Equinox Moon Party. Each year, they riff on the theme through fantastical decor, party favors, signature cocktails and more.
The first Equinox Moon Party, in 2017, happened to mark the 100-year anniversary of the Moon Pie, so they handed out the classic treats as favors. In 2018, the theme was “The Moon Shines on Robertson Landing,” as Robertson’s grandfather had discovered moonshine tucked away on some land of Highway 64 in eastern North Carolina when he bought it back in 1948.
“The Tale of the Fortune Cookie” was 2019’s theme, honoring the Chinese traditions around various lunar occurrences. The couple wrote the messages tucked inside the fortune cookies given as favors. (One held a quote from Mary Oliver: “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”)
Like many traditions, the Equinox Moon Party was eclipsed by Covid restrictions in 2020, so Robertson says that year doesn’t count in the party archive. But that year there was a blue moon, making it a fitting celestial carry- over for the 2021 theme.
There was Blue Moon beer, and lyrics to the Rodgers & Hart song of the same name were printed on the party invitations. (They’re keeping mum about 2022’s theme as the party preparations are underway.) To establish the scene each year, they enlist a longtime friend, Deborah Owens, as a set designer, who in turn works with Brian Biddle of ThemeWorks to make the magic happen.
“We’re all about helping people to envision whatever theme they have and help it come to fruition,” says Biddle. “We’ve been able to make this space come alive.” The entire backyard is tented; tables are draped in cinnabar-colored silks, oversize urns are filled with bamboo and props have ranged from mini pagodas to a 3-foot-tall golden dragon.
Last year, there was a waterfall; in years past, there have been full-sized trees. A giant moon is always above the bar. “That’s the show- stopper,” says Owens. “It’s the wow!” Guests mingle and lounge on an eclectic mix of couches, benches and garden stools. Phillip Lin of Catering by Design serves up Asian cuisine in honor of the party’s roots, like noodle boxes, dumplings and stir-fry cooked on site. Robertson’s friend Julia Bryan also helps with the planning. “The highlight for me is the whole process,” she says. “When Ann does something, it’s thorough. When people come to this party, they know she’s thought about everything. We have a lot of fun.”
And while the party’s theme changes each year, the guest list has stayed pretty constant — the goal of bringing together their friends has worked. Sig Hutchinson attends the party each year with his wife, Nancy. “The party brings together an eclectic, diverse group of people,” he says. “Whether you’re talking to their next-door neighbor or the governor, you’re having an interesting conversation.”
That’s just what Robertson was hoping for: a celebration of community, in the spirit of the friendly moon. “It’s neat to draw people together from the differ- ent departments of our lives,” she says. “These are folks that probably would not have connected if they weren’t already connected to us.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of WALTER Magazine