This week a scarlet velvet gown that once belonged to former First Lady and Greensboro native Dolley Madison returned to the Greensboro Historical Museum. The gown previously had been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Starting on March 23, 2013, visitors to the Greensboro Historical Museum can view the dress in an exhibit titled “Draped in Legend: a Velvet Dress, a Carriage Trunk and a First Lady.”
So what might make this dress unique among first ladies dresses? Legend has it that the dress might have been made from White House drapes. Here’s the story:
In August 1814 (during the War of 1812) the British invasion of Washington, D.C. and occupation of the White House was imminent. Determined to save items critical to our young nation, First Lady Dolley Madison helped gather important government documents, George Washington’s portrait and, maybe to cover these items, velvet scarlet curtains that hung in the White House. Fast forward many years later to when a conservator was examining the dress that had come to Greensboro along with other Madison artifacts. He noted the dress seemed to be made from drapery weight fabric. Was Madison’s dress made from the very drapes that were saved as she fled the White House? We may never know, but scientific examinations are continuing, and someday we may have a definite answer. You can read more in the June edition of the online Smithsonian Magazine.
I’m looking forward to seeing the dress so I can decide for myself. The exhibit runs through June 16 when the fragile dress goes back into protective care. The Greensboro Historical Museum, just a mile from the Troy-Bumpas Inn Bed and Breakfast, is located at 130 Summit Ave., Greensboro, NC 27401. Admission is free and the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m.