Timeless Celebration: Baker Mansion Marks Museum’s 100th Anniversary With Bridal Retrospective | News, Sports, Jobs
Baker Mansion opens its 2022 season, kicks off a new exhibit, and kicks off a year-long celebration — all Memorial Day weekend.
“We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of (the mansion) opening to the public as a museum and we encourage residents to step back in time and embrace the history of Blair County,” said director Kate Rimbeck of the Blair County Historical Society. “History is so important, and we want to make it fun and interesting so people can learn from it.”
This can be seen in the new exhibition “Two centuries of wedding fashions 1830-2020”, where curator and board member Julia Schokker rediscovered previously donated wedding dresses, investigated the couples’ stories, obtained dresses on loan, then recruited a group of volunteers to curate a retrospective of bridal fashion, local traditions and stories.
“It took a village to achieve this”, said Susan Field of Hollidaysburg, who has offered a lifetime of expertise as a self-proclaimed “crazy, crazy creative” with particular expertise in altering wedding dresses and as an award-winning visual display manager at Nordstroms when she lived in California.
Field used her talents to pin, tuck, and stuff dresses to give them a fuller, more realistic silhouette on dress forms.
“Working with these dresses was such a thrill,” Champ said. She also lent the company her unconventional wedding attire from her 1992 wedding on a sailboat in Newport Beach, California. Several other more modern dresses are a 1970s mini dress and a piece by famous 1980s designer Jessica McClintock.
“It’s a great representation of bridal fashion,” Champ said.
Dresses are accessorized with gloves, shoes, umbrellas, hats and more that add visual interest and context. These are complemented by artifacts, such as dress patterns and a 1941 album of cards and gifts, which speak volumes about the society.
For example, Schokker said, among the gifts are several ashtrays.
“No bride of the 1940s would be without an ashtray in her home”, she said, noting that ashtrays aren’t that popular today.
The exhibit also ventures beyond what brides wore and into mother of the bride ensembles, travel outfits and more.
Joanie Sweeda, a member of the Blair Garden Club, from Altoona, said she and other members had helped “to create a more inviting nuptial event atmosphere,” adding floral and decorative touches throughout the mansion and to dress displays creating bridal bouquets, hanging curtains, arches and more.
The exhibit has grown in breadth and depth, Schokker said, since she first discovered boxes of dresses in a storage area more than a year ago. She and historian Michael Farrow, president of the Blair County Historical Society, have painstakingly studied couples and traditions from long ago such as “tinning the groom” where co-workers playfully kidnapped the groom, tied pewter cooking utensils to him, then brought him home.
According to an August 15, 1914, Altoona Times news clipping, William Moore, a carpenter/draughtsman, married Elsie Cramer, a worker at the Schwarzenbach Huber silk mill, and thought he had escaped the tinning ritual. Instead, his colleagues at Altoona Railroad were patient and waited several weeks after the couple’s wedding before tinning.
Local researchers found the company had the original 1892 dress worn by African-American bride Sarah Jane Parker – a dark brown two-piece with a fitted bodice and wide skirt – worn when she married William Nelson Molson, a Civil War veteran who was a lifetime member of the Masonic fraternity and the oldest African-American Freemason in that region.
“We don’t just have the dresses, we have the stories of the real people who lived history,” Schokker said. “It’s a wonderful fashion exhibit, but it goes beyond fabric pieces and fashion trends.”
The display also shows how women have changed physically.
In 1890, 23-year-old Nellie Dean, daughter of HC Dern, owner of the Altoona Tribune newspaper, married Frank Oliver Dern. The peach colored embellished dress has a 19 inch waist.
“It’s hard to believe someone so small was 23 because she had the height and shoulders of a child,” Schokker said.
The women’s short stature was due to childhood illnesses such as rheumatic fever and poor nutrition typical of the time and explains why so many women died in childbirth, she said.
Some three dozen dresses are on display throughout the museum, most in a newly renovated basement accessible by stairs. Some dresses deemed too flimsy to hang from mannequins rest on beds, and a World War II display on the second floor features three dresses, sewn from wartime parachute material. The double parlor contains the dresses of the mother of the bride.
Many of the vintage dresses had been packed away in boxes awaiting rediscovery and hadn’t been seen since 1989, Schokker said. Many needed careful repair and steaming due to their age and fragility. She also requested and received dresses on loan from area residents to fully represent the period.
Volunteers Nicole Roefaro and Karen Weigand spent many hours earnestly and carefully smoothing out the fragile fabric.
“There’s something magical about a crease that’s been on a dress for 80 years” said Roefaro. “I almost felt like I was violating it by removing the pleats. But that was part of the dirty work of making everything shiny and the best it could be. The dresses were really brought back to life.
Roefaro donated a 1950s black rotary telephone and vintage magazines to help accessorize and provide context for the main exhibit.
An avowed fan of the 1940s, Roefaro said her favorite dress came from an earlier era, the 1890s.
“The style is so different and I love it. This bride had style. It’s feminine and the one who wore it looked stunning on her wedding day. she says. The elegant bride was Alice Ramey, who married William LeRoy Nicholson in 1894, Schokker said.
Field said she is looking forward to opening weekend to see the reactions from visitors. She plans to be appropriately dressed in vintage clothes from her personal collection.
“People will not be disappointed. I expect them to go ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’” she says.
Grand Opening Festivities
Baker Mansion, the former home of the ironmaster at 3419 Oak Lane, opens May 27 for tours with opening festivities scheduled for Sunday, May 29, featuring children’s games, prizes, food and the first in a series of concerts and bi-weekly events throughout the summer. The first concert begins at 2 p.m. and features The San Tones, a 20-piece orchestra that plays music from the 1940s to the 1980s.
“We chose them to launch us because their music will appeal to all generations and all ages”, Rimbeck said.
The season kickoff will also feature Pappy’s Popcorn and freshly baked corn, Meadows ice cream and other food for sale. Visitors can tour the mansion, see the renovated basement, and view the newly renovated museum shop. The shop features new items for sale, such as custom blended tea by The Skirted Solder, a Portage company, in honor of Hetty Baker, wife of ironmaster Elias Baker. Interest in The Bakers and The Bakers Mansion exploded in popularity thanks to the hit CBS series “Ghosts.”
Rimbeck encourages area residents to visit Baker Mansion as exhibits and exhibits show various aspects of life in Blair County, including a WWII room, nursery, and Italian heritage exhibit.
Additionally, she encourages people to document their own history.
“Each person is equally important” she says.
If you are going to
What: Two centuries of bridal fashion at the Baker Mansion
When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and
Sundays, from May 27 to December 18
Where: Baker Mansion, 3419 Oak Lane, Altoona
Cost: Admission to view the bridal display is $5 for adults and $1 for children; can be combined with a visit to the museum for $15. Tours of the mansion are $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12. Group tours with special rates are available by emailing [email protected] to make arrangements.
2 p.m. May 29 — a free concert by the San Tones Orchestra on the lawn of the Baker Mansion; bring your own seats; refreshments on sale at the museum shop.
7 p.m. June 15 – Bridal Fashions and Traditions, a free lecture by Julia Schokker at ArtsAltoona in The Sanctuary; Free but donations are welcome.
More information: Visit www.blairhistory.org/events for the full list of concerts and events.