Hilda’s Chinese Silk Wedding Dress

You’ve inherited your Swedish grandmother’s silk wedding wedding dress from your mother, Elin but no one in the family wants Hilda’s dress. You don’t want to throw away; that seems wrong. Now what?

My sister Julie, who was storing the dress after our sister, Marcy, died in 2017, came up with a great solution.

Elin archives Hilda’s dress

In 1997, our mother, Elin, wrapped the dress in tissue and carefully put it in a storage box, adding an explanatory note, trusting in the future for its safekeeping. More generally, she attached a label to every object in her house that she felt had historical family value. She understood that unidentified objects (and photos) are likely to be discarded once their protector is gone.

Carl and Hilda in Chicago in 1914
Carl and Hilda in Chicago in 1914

Elin’s note: The dress enclosed in this box is a wedding dress of my mother, Hilda Nilsson Barkman. Hilda’s four brothers were all sailors and one of the brothers brought the silk used to make the dress from China. It is genuine Chinese silk. The dress was made by hand in Simrishamn Sweden. Carl and Hilda Barkman were married in Chicago, Illinois, on August 15, 1914. Carl wrote and asked for Hilda’s hand from her father, Johan Nilsson, a sea captain, and he said if he wanted the girl he should come and get her so my father sailed from the USA where he had been living since 1910. It was a big day in summertime when Carl came to get Hilda. They sailed from Helsingborg back to America.

Yvonne holds Hilda's wedding dress, made from silk Hilda's sailor brother brought to Sweden from China
Yvonne holds Hilda's wedding dress, made from silk Hilda's sailor brother brought to Sweden from China

To a museum in Sweden?

Julie thought about approaching the Chicago History Museum to see about their interest in the dress but decided they’d likely have many century-old dresses. Then she remembered Johan, our cousin, had brought a tray from the gift shop at Simrishamn’s Museum of Oesterlen, a regional history museum and Johan had said his father, Peter, “was active with this little museum.” Hmmm. It wasn’t likely the museum would have a wedding dress made from silk brought from China by a Simrishamn sailor, sewn in Simmrishamn, taken to Chicago for the wedding of a Simrishamn emigree, and returned home 105 years later.

Capt Johan Nilsson's house in Simrishman's near the docks
Capt Johan Nilsson's house in Simrishman's near the docks

But would Peter be interested in bring the idea to the museum? Yes they would, after a little selling job, both Peter and his brother Anders.

Anne left, Peter center, our sister Marcy, Julie in Sweden for Christmas
Anne left, Peter center, our sister Marcy, Julie in Sweden for Christmas

But the dress on its own wouldn’t be enough. The museum would need photos, written documentation, and some history so it could provide context for a display. So Julie found 15 relevant historic photos and had them scanned at a high resolution so the museum could use them in displays, posters, and so on.

Carl and Hilda; Elin and Martha, Chicago 1919
Carl and Hilda; Elin and Martha, Chicago 1919

Julie mailed off the dress and note to Peter. It arrived in a few days.

Hej Julie,

Now both letter and box are in our house and all is ok. I have talked to Anders and the Museum and we are planning for delivery in beginning of July. I have more details next week. All the documentation is fantastic and the dress is absolutely lovely.

I come back with more details when date is decided.

Lots of hugs from us

Peter

Then she sent Peter the 15 photos she had scanned as email attachments.

Back in Simrishamn after 105 years in America

Anders and Peter deliver dress and material to Simrishamn museum
Anders and Peter deliver dress and material to Simrishamn museum

In a few weeks, Peter reported on his visit to the museum to deliver the treasures Julie had sent him.

Hej Julie,

Here comes some pictures from the delivery to Simrishamns Museum. As you can see there were two persons involved. One person expert in dresses and her boss.

They were both very impressed from the dress, photos and documentation.

We will have information from them about the intention of the gift. We keep contact with them.

After the delivery we went to Laxgatan 4 for the usual photo in front of the door and stairs from the entrance where Hilda lived before she left to USA.

Many hugs from us

Peter & Anne

Anne and Peter, Britt Marie and Anders in front of our great grandfather Johan's house in Simrishamn
Anne and Peter, Britt Marie and Anders in front of our great grandfather Johan's house in Simrishamn

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