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San Clemente Journal

The Mystery of the Wedding Dress

Jan 04, 2024 10:32AM ● By Tom Marshall

Shannon Quayle (L) and Daisy Howell with the dress at the Coral Thrift Shop.

by Tom Marshall

A year and a half ago Pastor Mark Barrett of Calvary Church of South Orange County was cleaning out a barn in the central valley after his mother, Lorelei, passed away. Among her possessions he found an old wedding dress and pair of shoes, still in good condition along with a pressed bouquet of wedding flowers and a floral headdress. He knew they weren’t his mother’s. 
“We don’t know why, but we think my grandfather obtained the dress at a rummage sale decades ago,” explained Barrett. 

Bernice Wallin married Andrew Anderson in Chicago in the fall 1911.

 This summer they donated it to their church fundraiser for victims of the massive fire in Lahaina, Hawaii. The dress was not purchased, so they donated it to The Coral Thrift Shop in San Clemente.

“We often have people from the Hollywood movie industry come in looking for antique items for their sets or wardrobes, so this didn’t seem too unusual for us,” stated Daisy Howell, president of the thrift shop’s board of directors.

Shortly after it was put on display for sale as a Halloween costume, a customer told them the dress was from the Victorian era and would be prized by a museum. Removing the dress from display, staff wondered how they could trace the history of the gown.

A day later, the Pastor returned with a box of documents that belonged with the dress.  Therein lies the tale. According to a picture and a copy of the marriage certificate, the dress was worn by bride Bernice Bet Wallin when she married Andrew Anderson, both of Chicago, at their wedding November 11, 1911 at Maiden Rock, Wisconsin. The parents of both the bride and groom had immigrated from Sweden in the mid to late 1800s. Andrew and Bernice soon left Chicago for Los Angeles as both were into music. They never had children, so that branch of the family tree ended.

“At that point, I just knew we had to find out if there are any living descendants of the larger family,” said Shannon Gayle, a Coral volunteer. She contacted her cousin Lisa Parkin a former Dana Point resident and longtime genealogist. Magically, within hours Parkin located two descendants, one still living in the Chicago area. The bride’s brother, Roy, had remained in Chicago and it is his great granddaughters who were contacted by Parkin.

“We were shocked. We had no idea the dress existed,” exclaimed Melody Miles from her home outside Chicago. The board of directors of Coral Thrift Shop have agreed to send the dress and documents to Melody and her sister, Kristina Whited of Colorado.

“My mother is ecstatic. We are going to display the dress, picture and documents on a large poster board with our extensive family tree in our home.” Coincidentally, the great granddaughters are also into genealogy.  They have been able to trace their family roots as far back as two generations before coming to America from Sweden.

At one point Andrew and Bernice’s families owned a neighborhood candy store in Chicago and some nearby farmland. They sold it all with one of Melody and Kristina’s forbearers drinking up the profits in a couple months, according to Melody. The two sides of the family didn’t speak much after that. Oh, and that farmland today is the town of Glen Coe, a ritzy Chicago suburb.  
Included in the documents was an undated hand written letter from Bernice apparently written while on her deathbed. It detailed where all her important papers were located, including her will and insurance policy. The letter also notes that her parents and grandparents lost everything except a handful of clothes and a soup plate during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Ironically it took 152 years and another great fire (in Hawaii) to bring this family tale and heirloom back to light. 
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