Say ‘yes’ to lost dress as family searches for their mom’s missing wedding gown

ISO: One 1958 wedding dress, white, tea-length, short-sleeved and cut in the classic “New Look” style (fitted bodice, yards of skirt) of the ’50s. Possibly still in its original box from the dry cleaners. Originally worn by Patricia Hildahl (nee Cox, from Oakes, N.D.), whose family is looking for it after it was lost amid a series of moves.

Value: Priceless, as grandchildren would like to wear it walking down the aisle for their own weddings in 2020.

As much as I love browsing through antique shops, certain items there always make me a little sad. One is old family photos. The other is wedding dresses.

I always wonder what could have happened in someone’s life that they lost items that many consider irreplaceable. Were there no relatives left to claim these photos of chubby babies and smiling families, all shined up in their Sunday best? What rift was big enough to cause a wedding gown — the expensive, carefully chosen garment selected for one of the most important days of a woman’s life — to be unceremoniously dropped off in the back of a thrift store?

In most cases, divorce is the culprit. But in some situations, the dress has simply been lost, and the family would do anything to find it again.

Such is the case for the family of Patricia and C. Curtis Hildahl. Their daughter, Margaret London, of Minneapolis, recently emailed me in the hopes that we could “crowdsource” a search for her mother’s bridal gown. Margaret apologized for the quality of the photo — a picture of an old black-and-white photo.

Even so, North Dakota is essentially one sprawled-out small town, so it’s possible — especially with the incredible reach of social media — that someone out there has spotted the dress. Here is their story, as told by Margaret:

“My parents, lifelong West Fargo/Lake Lizzie/Fargo residents, recently celebrated 61 years of marriage. A few years ago, my mom, Patricia Hildahl (nee Cox, from Oakes, N.D.), moved into a memory care facility after being diagnosed with Primary Progressive Aphasia. My dad, C. Curtis Hildahl, maintains good health in Fargo and a home near her facility.

“I visit my parents regularly from my home in Minneapolis. I’ve helped them with moves from the West Fargo house, to the Lake Lizzie house, to the Fargo house, then to another Fargo house, then to the memory care facility. All were very emotional moves, especially after my mom started developing dementia and lost her ability to speak.

“During all my childhood, my mom kept her wedding gown stored under her bed in the original box from the dry cleaners. Somewhere along the line, my siblings and I dropped the ball & lost track of the dress. My dad can’t remember a thing.

“Now, we have three weddings coming up in summer of 2020: my late sister’s (she had multiple sclerosis) daughter and son, and my own daughter. Sadly, my mom won’t be able to attend the weddings. It would be so remarkable to have the dress, as one or more of the brides might like to wear it in ‘Granny’s’ honor.”

Got a tip? Email me at tswiftsletten@gmail.com or write to: Ryan M. Johnson, Features Editor, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, PO Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

We are also searching newspaper archives for the original wedding announcement, just in case this helps us track down a former wedding guest. I know it’s a long shot, but it’s not an impossible request — especially for a bunch of North Dakotans!

Let’s see if we can bring Patricia’s dress back to the Hildahl fold.


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