It was a bittersweet Christmastime for me this year. My family, whom I love spending time with, got to hang out and have a blast, but we also spent a good amount of time deciding what to do with my recently deceased mother’s possessions. One afternoon as we were going through her clothes, we came upon her wedding dress, and as we were unveiling it to the whole family I sensed a myriad of emotions from all of us—wonderment, respect, pure historical interest, the amazing happiness that must have existed inside that dress on her wedding day and the sorrow of missing one whom that piece of fabric has not touched since it was the centerpiece of a bride’s wedding day on June 16, 1962. It’s amazing what emotions a dress can produce decades after its only night in the lights.
When I heard that Oaklands Historic House Museum in Murfreesboro was going to have an exhibit of vintage wedding gowns, I knew that seeing them and learning about their stories would bring some of those same emotions (albeit in a less personal way) to myself and well as many others. I was not disappointed.
This is the 4th annual Wedding Dresses Through the Decades show, with almost all of the displayed dresses never before seen by the public since they were worn on the wedding day. Beautifully displayed in one large room by eras, each dress is somehow tied to Murfreesboro, many worn in weddings right here in our little ’Boro. What makes this a must-see for historians, brides to be, and anyone looking for something different to do for a change are the stories behind the dresses. No, these are not random dresses found at a thrift shop with unknown history and a theorized year. For dresses worn since the mobile camera was invented (and yes, there are dresses there from before that era as well), most have a picture with the bride wearing that exact dress, and furthermore, have a short interesting note next to the display. Speaking of cameras, feel free to bring yours (or just your phone) and join all the new “brides to be” from near and far as they take pictures of different parts of different dresses as they start to design their own wedding dress (wonder if that’s what the bride of Frankenstein did . . .).
The exhibit starts with a dress first worn by 19-year-old Elvira Lyman on June 23, 1847 (a Wednesday wedding, believe it or not) and worn 60 years later by her daughter in 1907, and continues in a counter-clockwise direction through the Civil War, Depression era, and ending in the modern era with a striking white dress highlighted with a black train.
The dresses come from all income brackets, with no dress the same, and included is a 1973 handmade backyard-wedding garden dress, Murfreesboro City Schools Director Dr. Linda Gilbert’s dress from 1969, a blue velvet dress from 1928 and a 1955 dress with a train so long it could ride the track all the way to Nashville and never leave Oaklands. There are some great accessories occasionally displayed as well, including wedding hats, veils and a vintage wooden case with wedding boots, stockings and gloves from 1864, and even one wedding suit that was worn by a man with a life so interesting that the History Channel did a feature on him. It is a self-guided tour, but be sure to ask Oaklands’ Mary Beth Nevills and her staff to tell you that story and any others you are interested in, since they have worked with each person who brought in the wedding dresses, and in many instances know some additional background that can bring these dresses even more vividly to life.
What: Wedding Dresses through the Decades exhibit
Where: Oaklands Historic House Museum
When: Through March 8, Monday–Saturday 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; Sunday 1–4 p.m.; open late several Fridays (see website for specific dates)