An exhibit of historic gowns opened Friday at Duluth’s Glensheen Mansion.
The gowns — 16 in total — are placed throughout the mansion, giving visitors the chance to see up-close their intricate details, like lace, beads and feathers. The exhibit is an opportunity for visitors to learn even more about the women of the Congdon family that occupied the mansion, according to Jane Pederson, marketing manager for Glensheen.
“We feel very fortunate that we are able to really tell the story of the Congdon family … because of all the items that we have,” Pederson said. “This really allows us to tell the story of the Congdon women, because they were incredible in their own right.”
The dresses, most of which are handmade, were the most luxurious ones of their time, Pederson said. The collection on display includes wedding dresses, formal gowns, fur winter coats and day dresses.
Two 1920s party dresses, which may have been worn by the Congdon daughters, are on display on the first floor. One has ostrich feather fringe, and the other has more than 15,000 hand-applied rhinestones and beads on it.
A wedding dress stands on display in the dining room. Visitors can see its long train, embroidered buttons and 18-inch waistline. “A lot of these dresses are in really great condition. Thankfully, they’ve been preserved well and they weren’t totally worn-out,” Pederson said.
It’s difficult to pinpoint who exactly wore which dresses, Pederson said. The main evidence available is from diary entries and Duluth News Tribune archives.
However, the staff is sure about the owner of one dress. Clara Congdon, the matriarch of the Congdon family, is pictured in a cream dress, which has several layers of lace laid across its top.
“I love this dress. Every time I look at it I notice a new detail,” Pederson said. “(I have) a new appreciation for it every time I see it.”
The exhibit also includes four jackets, one of which is made of weasel fur. One of the jackets is a tux jacket worn by Chester Congdon, and it’s complete with a beaver-pelt top hat.
The pieces, which have never been on display together before, were in storage before the exhibit. Glensheen staff spent approximately two to three months preparing the exhibit and selecting which dresses should be on display.
The “Gowns of Glensheen” exhibit is on display now through Labor Day and is included in general admission tickets, which can be purchased on its website.