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Article updated: 2/7/2013 7:40 AM

Collector restores wax wedding 'crown'

By

DECATUR -- It's hard to imagine what brides wore nearly 120 years ago, but Decatur sisters Toni Skelley and Martha McNamara were able to look into the past when they received a wedding headpiece their grandmother, Pauline Bucher, wore when she married in 1895.

"Our mother had it when our grandma died, and then when our mother passed away, I got it," Skelley of the a delicate wax crown adorned with tiny white, wax blossoms. "I wanted to use it in my wedding, but we realized it was too squished to use."

Nearly three years ago, the sisters turned to Nancy Torgerson -- a talented seamstress who has been collecting antique clothing for nearly 20 years -- to help restore the headpiece and use it in presentations, and on Sunday, they were able to see it again in all its glory at the Macon County Conservation Area as Torgerson spoke on 19th- and early 20th-century wedding dresses and accessories.

"When I got the wax crown from Toni and Martha, these were black," said Torgerson, pointing to the white blossoms on the headpiece and addressing an audience of about 40 people. "I didn't want to damage it, so at first I just used a Kleenex to see if I could get the black off, but that didn't faze it. . so I ended up just using my thumbnail and was able to get all of the black off. It was probably placed up on a shelf so nothing would happen to it, but with people cooking with coal back then, they turned black."

In addition to the wax crown, Torgerson displayed everything from gloves, wedding shoes and men's wedding vests to antique wedding dresses she has restored over the years.

"In the 19th century, women wore their best dress as their wedding dress," she said, gesturing to a display of a gold dress from the 1830s, a maroon dress from the 1880s and even a black and brown striped dress from 1859. "They would then re-use their dresses."

Torgerson noted that white dresses did not become very popular until the late 1800s.

McNamara said the presentation brought back a lot of memories for her.

"Our grandma lived with us for years when we were little girls and we have such good memories of her," she said. "Being here today, I felt like I was going back in time. I really enjoyed it."

"I like doing this presentation because people respond so positively to it," said Torgerson. "I didn't start out collecting wedding things specifically, but I ended up collecting a lot of them because wedding things are the things people always save. They're special."

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