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Exhibit brings together history, wedding fashion

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Stacy Vogel
August 13, 2008
— A faded and wrinkled wedding dress lies draped across the corner of a couch in the Milton House Museum.

Its high neck, yellowing silk and matching shoes make you think of black-and-white photos featuring women with stern expressions and men in tall hats.


But you have to imagine who wore this dress down the aisle because the staff at the Milton House doesn’t know.


The dress is one of dozens on display at the Milton House for a new exhibit, “To Thee I Wed.” It features wedding dresses of all colors, sizes and styles—from a blue and brown plaid dress from 1852 to a beaded peach gown from 1998.


Cori Olson, executive director, was inspired to create the display after throwing a bridal shower for a museum volunteer, she said. Olson’s own wedding dress, a simple white gown from her 1998 elopement, hangs against a wall in the exhibit.


When the Milton Historical Society formed in 1948, locals dumped off piles of unlabeled donations, including many wedding gowns, Olson said. To this day, the society doesn’t know who owned some of the dresses or when they were worn.


“Our goal is to find some more detail and give these artifacts a soul,” Olson said.


Dresses borrowed from local women round out the exhibit.


One corner tells the story of four generations of a single family.


Marita Leeder, 72, Janesville, loaned the museum homemade dresses from her grandparents, her parents, herself and her two daughters. She even included her husband’s wedding suit.


Sewing wedding dresses at home was once common, and it has become a tradition in Leeder’s family, she said.


“I think that’s just kind of unique about the whole thing,” she said. “I love to sew, my mother loved to sew and my one daughter, Linnae, loves to sew.”


The exhibit is a neat way to learn about wedding history, Olson said. Vera’s Bridal provided a booklet about wedding fashions through the years.


As you walk through the exhibit, you can trace changes in wedding style. The oldest dresses aren’t even white—white didn’t become standard for weddings until after Queen Victoria wore a white wedding gown in 1840.


A trio of dresses from the 1870s and 1880s shows elaborate ball gowns with ruffles, ribbons and hoop skirts in deep brown, gold and green tones.


Agnes Hanauska, 97, Milton, is the oldest living bride whose dress is featured in the exhibit. She wore the velvet, wine-colored gown for her Nov. 16, 1937, ceremony.


“I just figured if (the museum) wanted it, it was all right with me,” she said. “I could wear it again, but I didn’t need it.”


The museum hopes to create a booklet or CD cataloguing each dress in the exhibit, Olson said. Some of the gowns are in rough shape and might not last much longer.


“We know for a few of them, this will be their last time out of boxes,” she said.


IF YOU GO

What: “To Thee I Wed” bridal exhibit.


When: 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily through Monday, Sept. 1. After that, it will be open weekdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday, Sept. 12.


Where: Milton House Museum, 18 S. Janesville St., Milton.


Cost: The exhibit is free. Tours of the museum cost $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $3 for children.


More info: Call (608) 868-7772.



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