Historical wedding dresses on display in April

Mattoon Historical Society using fundraiser for replica train depot
Luke Reimer

In an effort to raise funds for a replica train depot, members of the Greater Mattoon Area Historical Society are organizing a wedding gala fundraiser.

The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 29 at Chet and Emil’s, 388 Main St., Birnamwood. The gala will feature many wedding dresses from all the way back to the 1800s until recent times.

“We are displaying wedding dresses from the late-1800s time period,” said event organizer Gail Marten. “We have a dress from 1921, we have them from 1934 — all the way past 2000.”

Included with the dresses, Marten said that images of those who wore the dresses at their weddings will be displayed, as well.

“We have mothers and granddaughters — for example, we have my mother’s dress, my dress and my daughter’s dress,” said Marten.

Along with the dresses and the photographs of those wearing the dresses, history will be provided about the wedding traditions from each time period.

“For example, the wedding cake was established during the ancient Greek and Roman times,” said Marten, giving a small taste of the history that visitors can expect to learn. “The groom would break the bread over the bride’s head to symbolize her submission, the end of her purity, and to represent good luck and fertility.”

Marten applauded the community for their willingness to help out with this event, including donating dresses and pictures for the gala.

As she is assisting in collecting and researching history, Marten said reading about some of the wedding traditions has really stuck as interesting history with her.

“Everything that is based on warding off evil spirits — all of those wedding traditions are kind of fun to look at,” said Marten. “What we are going for is to blow (visitors’) socks off. We are displaying these dresses and giving tributes to the families.”

Also at the gala will be a boutique, where vendors have the opportunity to sell their dresses or other wedding clothes.

“We have a boutique if they want to sell their old dresses at a very reasonable price, so people could come in and look at this boutique and see if they want something,” said Marten.

She explained that the event will also feature a 50-50 drawing, a gun raffle and basket raffles, including a meat basket from Nueske’s.

This event is being used as a fundraiser to help fund a new train depot in the village. The historical society is looking to raise about $70-80,000 for the depot. Marten explained that the proposed new train depot will be a replica of the one in Mattoon in 1915.

“In the 1950s, it was moved to a different property, so we just want to rebuild that in Mattoon,” said Marten. “We have the original blueprints and are building it to the same specs.”

In terms of why the Greater Mattoon Area Historical Society is pushing for the replica train depot, Marten said that it all comes down to love for the history of Mattoon.

“George Mattoon put this railroad in here,” said Marten. “We were one of the first in this community to have a railroad — I think he was from Sheboygan and wanted to ship his lumber.”

Marten said she hopes visitors to Chet and Emil’s on April 29 will leave knowing a little bit more about the history and traditions of Mattoon.

“Maybe this will make them more inquisitive to the history in this part of the area, because it is so fascinating when you dig into it,” said Marten.