Positively the Heartland: Douglas County Historical Society preserves historic clothing

Posted at 7:04 AM, Oct 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 08:04:01-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — In Douglas County, clothes that are decades to more than a century old are helping to stitch together our community's past.

Douglas County Historical Society collections assistants Elise O'Neill and Lisa Kammerer carefully unpack donations that have come in over the last 65 years. Pointing to the construction of the bodice of a dress more than 120 years old, O'Neill said, "You definitely don't see that in a department store."

The Society's executive director, Kathy Aultz, describes their mission as collecting, preserving and sharing Douglas County history with the public.

Clothing donated fills in the gaps between photos and newspaper articles, adding additional context.

"You can tell the story of the past by the stories of the artifacts, the stories of the items. The families that owned them, the families that used the items. We can't ask people from 1898 what the Trans-Mississippi Exposition was like, but we can learn about it by looking at this precious heirloom that's been donated to us," she said.

"As a lover of history, it's magical because, in some cases, you don't know what you're going to find," Kammerer beamed.

The dress worn to the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition was donated by Maude Gerow's family. In her couture ensemble, the then-41-year-old Kansas native was one of 2.6 million visitors.

Other interesting donations include the World War I uniform of Benard Bergman, who survived the conflict and dedicated his life to farming in eastern Nebraska, and a varsity-style Aksarben jacket that belonged to Ralph Bradley. The jacket led to the story of how the Boys' Club was founded by Jake Isaacson, who used it to keep the boys out of trouble and instill a sense of civic pride.

Pieces are packed in archival boxes or stored otherwise to keep air and moisture at bay.

"Whoever donated this to us cared about this object and we should treat it with exactly the same care. You can feel that emotion from the object, too. It's very tangible," O'Neill said.

To connect with the Douglas County Historical Society, visit this website.

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