Metro-East Living

Belleville Museum Day gives public a chance to learn about local history

Otto Wegener married Ethel Schiermeyer in 1934. Her wedding dress, along with this hand-colored photo, will be on display Saturday at the Labor and Industry Museum in Belleville as part of an exhibit on wedding attire from the 1860s to the 1960s.
Otto Wegener married Ethel Schiermeyer in 1934. Her wedding dress, along with this hand-colored photo, will be on display Saturday at the Labor and Industry Museum in Belleville as part of an exhibit on wedding attire from the 1860s to the 1960s. Provided

Belleville newspapers used to publish lengthy stories about weddings on their social pages, complete with detailed descriptions of bridal gowns and flower arrangements.

The story about Sue Wegener’s wedding in 1965 noted that her gown was handmade by her mother.

It was “styled on empire lines with a peau de soie bodice and a sheath, floor-length skirt of re-embroidered cotton lace over peau de soie,” the News-Democrat reported. “A chapel-length (train) appliqued with lace was attached at the shoulders.

“The former Miss Wegener wore an illusion veil descending from a pearl crown and carried a white Bible beneath an arrangement of orchids and stephanotis.”

Sue’s 51-year-old dress has yellowed but is otherwise in good condition. It will be displayed Saturday at the Museum of Labor & Industry along with a photo exhibit on Belleville wedding attire from the 1860s to the 1960s.

Saturday is the first of two Belleville Museum Days planned this year. Five sites will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with free admission, refreshments and educational activities on the theme “The Civil War and Beyond.”

The Labor & History Museum exhibit is called “Wedding Attire — From Black to Brown to White.” Most of the dresses shown in photographs were handmade.

“Up to the 1900s, women wore black to get married in,” said Collections Coordinator Judy Belleville. “It was a dress they could wear all the time. It was frugal.”

Some of Judy’s favorite photos show brides in the 1890s wearing dresses with giant bouffant sleeves.

Children show up in wedding parties for the first time in a 1913 photo. A trend in 1918 was for brides and attendants to hang flowers on ribbons around their necks instead of carrying them.

“The Adam Karr family had very elaborate weddings,” Judy said. “They were wealthy people. Look at these flowers (the size of funeral sprays) and shepherd’s hooks. This was just way over the top for the 1920s.”

The exhibit includes photos of Sue’s sister, Elaine Wegener, their parents, Ethel and Otto, and their grandparents, Eduard and Sophie Schiermeyer, getting married.

Ethel’s ivory satin gown from 1934 is on display. It is floor-length with a flared bottom, slightly bouffant sleeves, a cowl neck and sash with a rhinestone clasp.

“As kids, we saw the dress a number of times,” said Sue, 73, a retired elementary schoolteacher. “We used to play in it, and she had satin shoes as I recall.”

Ethel also wore an embroidered and beaded cap attached to a long net train. Otto borrowed his brother’s car for their one-night honeymoon in St. Louis.

When Sue got engaged 31 years later, she and Ethel went to several shops looking at wedding gowns before they came up with her custom design.

“I think it cost $37,” Sue said. “My mother saved all the receipts.”

The blacksmith shop also will be open at Labor & Industry.

Belleville Museum Days also will spotlight the Gustave Koerner House, Victorian Home Museum, Emma Kunz House and Ebeling-Mauer House.

An exhibit at Gustave Koerner focuses on Gen. James Shields, Koerner’s lifelong friend and law partner from 1837 to 1841. He fought in three wars and represented three states in the U.S. Senate.

“Shields encountered Southern hero Gen. Stonewall Jackson twice in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862,” according to a press release. “Shields defeated Jackson at Kernstown, March 23, 1862, but was defeated by Jackson at Port Republic, June 8, 1862.”

Reenactors from Hecker Camp 443 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War will be on hand to answer questions.

St. Clair County Historical Society’s Victorian Home Museum and Emma Kunz House will follow the theme “Amazing Victorian Technology.” On display is a 1890 gramophone, telegraph model, Wimshurst machine (early electric generator) and stereoscope.

“Explore the amazing technology of the past, featuring demonstrations, games and crafts,” reads the invitation.

Belleville Historical Society’s Ebeling-Mauer House also will be open in West Belleville, where an archaeological dig is taking place. Visitors can hear music and see demonstrations and an extensive bottle collection.

Local historian Bob Brunkow will lead “Echoes of the Civil War” walking tours at 10:15 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the neighborhood

“Walking tours will feature homes and information on four Civil War veterans who were neighbors in West Belleville after the war, and seven saloons,” according to publicity.

At a glance

Here’s what you need to know about Belleville’s Museum Day:

  • Hours — 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
  • Admission — Free at all sites
  • Labor & Industry Museum — 123 N. Church St. Contact is Judy Belleville at 618-234-7862 or
  • Gustave Koerner House — 200 Abend and 127 Mascoutah Ave. Contact is Jack LeChien at 618-235-6471 or
  • Victorian Home Museum — 701 E. Washington St. Contact is Will Shannon at 618-234-0600 or
  • Emma Kunz House — 602 Fulton St. Contact is Will Shannon at 618-234-0600 or
  • Ebeling-Mauer House and West Belleville — 1106 W. Main St. Contact is Bob Brunkow at 618-236-7481 or
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