The envelopes measured 9inches by 11 inches. The return address in the upper left-hand corner said in impressive script, "Presidential Inaugural Committee, Washington, D.C. 20599."

Two weeks ago, the envelopes began to arrive at the homes of dozens of former Inaugural Committee staffers who had themselves sent out invitations to Inaugural events and handled the ticket distribution thereafter.

One recipient, recognizing the official invitation envolope at once, exclaimed to his wife, "Holy mackerel, they sent me an invitation, too, and it has taken all this time to get here."

He tore open the envelope and read the invitation aloud: "The honor of your presence is requested for the Chester A. Arthur Inaugural Ball, March 14 from 8 p.m., 208 S. Patrick, Alexandria. Black tie optional. Laura Broderick, Jan Gardner, Judy Hammerschmidt."

"The mail service is worse than we thought," his wife said. "Chester A. Arthur took the oath in 1881, not 1981."

However information printed on the back of the invitation made it clear that the postal service was not to blame. It noted that in 1881 President James A. Garfield was shot in Washington's railroad station by disappointed office seeker -- possibly somebody whose Schedule C had not come through yet.

The invitation went on to explain that when Garfield died, the presidency passed to Chester A. Arthur, a party regular from New York who "had been the potentate of patronage" while head of the New York Port Authority, and had arranged government jobs for thousands of the party faithful. However, after he began serving out the remainder of Garfield's term as president, Arthur became a foe of the spoils system and began pushing for a merit system instead. Passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Act in 1883 made Arthur extremely unpopular with professional politicians who thought the spoils system was a much better way to select government employees.

In the summer of 1884, President Arthur was hoping that he would be nominated and elected in his own right. However, the politicians who attended the Republican convention that year had a surprise for Arthur. They got even with the man who had worked so hard for civil service reform. They unceremoniously dumped him and nominated Janes G. Blaine (who was defeated by Grover Cleveland).

Inasmuch as Arthur left office without ever having been honored at an inaugural ball, some of the 1981 Inaugural Committee staff decided to remedy the omission by holding a party for him.

The center of attention at Saturday night's affair was President Chester A. Arthur, of course, but people who had worked with Al Mitchler on the 1981 Inaugural Committee were struck by the great resemblance between President Arthur and Mitchler, who now works for Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.).

Among the 100 or so guests who attended were several who are still gloomily awaiting appointment to jobs in the Reagan administration. One of the "disappointed office seekers" offered the comment, "Even Chester A. Arthur didn't keep job applicants waiting this long."

Nevertheless, it was generally agreed that is was a fine party and that Chester A. Arthur deserves another one in 2081.