It was an auction, but not the kind held in a drafty barn with a silver-tongued caller in blue jeans.
When the private Queen Anne School near Upper Marlboro staged its "Medieval Merriment" night Friday evening, the guests wore tuxedos and sequined dresses. They dined on fettuccine with shrimp and what the menu described as "dark chocolate pate with hazelnuts and meringue in a pool of raspberry coulis."
And they bid on such prizes as a week in an Irish castle, "a Jamaican dream vacation" and lunch for two with Prince George's County Council member Sue V. Mills.
Queen Anne has only 261 students in grades seven through 12, but many of the parents are county business and political leaders. Among them are Peter F. O'Malley, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade; Stephen Hansbrough, chief executive officer of Dart Drug Corp., and Glenn Harrell, president of the county chamber of commerce, who, with his wife Pamela, arranged for the prizes to be auctioned.
The auction offerings and the 200 guests in the artfully disguised gymnasium reflected the well-connected nature of the school.
O'Malley, who presided over a table at which were seated the Harrells and County Executive Parris Glendening, contributed a week's stay at Black Walnut Point, his 60-acre estate on Tilghman Island. Five vehicles, including a 1986 Chrysler Laser and a 1986 Plymouth Voyager, were also auctioned.
"We just had a lot of parents come out of the woodwork," said Pamela Harrell, whose son, Alex, is a Queen Anne ninth grader and whose younger son, Adam, will be entering the seventh grade next fall.
The Queen Anne School, which opened in 1964, is affiliated with St. Barnabas Episcopal Church-Leeland, a stately brick structure founded in 1692. Auction proceeds supplement the private donations and yearly tuition of $4,150 per student that make up the $1.2 million annual operating budget.
The first auction, held last year, had a 1930s nightclub theme and netted $43,000, said Richard Fisher, the school's director of development. The money was used to replace the gym floor and to buy a rehearsal piano and 20 personal computers. This year, the event grossed about $60,000.
During the silent auction portion of the program, the guests sipped cocktails and wandered from display to display, penciling in their bids for about 2,000 items. An autographed picture of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) drew a full list of bids, ranging from $5 to $16.
During the live auction of about 50 additional items, Democratic State Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he had two goals: "Things I want, I'm bidding on," he said. "Things my wife picked earlier, I'm crossing out."
The guests, not surprisingly, were unanimous in their praise of Queen Anne, where the ratio of students to teachers is about 13 to 1 and where students are nearly all college-bound.
"It looks after the individualism of students," said Ted Lesster, an electronics engineer who is chairman of the school's board of directors.
"I transferred here from the public system and I was impressed that you could really learn something . . . . That was a treat," said Jack Bidez, who graduated from Queen Anne in 1972.
"It's a real quality education," said Pamela Harrell. "And it's a good peer group for Alex and Adam ."
School officials, aware that Queen Anne has something of an elitist image, point out that minorities make up 17 percent of the enrollment and that scholarships are available.
"As it relates to socioeconomics, we are not elitist," said headmaster Thomas Southard. "When it comes to quality education, we aspire to be . . . . "