Hi there, I'm Beca! I am a Student Creative Coordinator at Glensheen, graphic design and marketing student at UMD, and hardcore fan of Lake Superior.
Let’s be real, Glensheen probably hosted some pretty rad parties back in the day. Walking through the enormous mansion, it’s clear that the Congdons thought of their house not just as a home, but as a venue. The house itself isn’t the only piece of this story, though. Along with a 39 room mansion and a LOT of furniture, we also have smashing party dresses, ravishing fur coats, and some first-class gowns that give us a glimpse of what life was like in Glensheen’s heyday.
This impressive collection has given us the unique opportunity to curate our new summer exhibit, Gowns of Glensheen. The exhibit is free with the purchase of a general admission ticket, so as you tour Glensheen this summer, be sure to spend a little extra time with your exhibit dossier, which gives a more in-depth look at each dress.
Whether we like it or not, our clothes tell the world the story of us: where we’ve been, where we’re going and who we want to be. For example, one of our more recently busted myths at Glensheen is that Clara Congdon only wore black, which gave the implication that she was the stern, solemn mansion matriarch.
This dress (one of my personal favorites) was worn by Clara on her son, Walter’s, wedding day. Look, color! While we don’t have this type of documentation for every single piece, (Darn you Facebook, where were you back then?) we have been able to deduce their place in time through each dress’ fabric and style.
This party dress, for example, is likely from the 1920’s as evidenced by its loose fit. This is a distinct deviation from the corseted waists of the late 19th century, a look that quickly came back into style in the 1930’s. Many of the pieces in our collection are incredibly intricate. This sea green velvet dress is designed with exactly 15,278 rhinestones and beads, (yes, we counted) all of which are individually sewn on.
My personal favorite, this formal gown was likely belonging to a Congdon family member in the early 20th century. A newspaper article talks about a flowered gown worn by a Congdon in 1917.
The exhibit doesn’t only feature formal gowns, however. This silk day dress with a mother-of-pearl clasp gives us a look at what the Congdons and other upper-class individuals wore on a regular Tuesday. As an added incentive, the Gowns of Glensheen dossier also includes fun facts about the process of making coveted material like silk (SPOILER ALERT: Worm spit).
For many of the dresses in this exhibit, photos truly cannot do justice. One of the wedding dresses, made by Gimbel Bros in one of their first years of operation, MUST be seen in person to be appreciated. The same goes for many of the incredibly detailed pieces in the exhibit, including fur coats and capes for those chilly Duluth winters.
On top of fox and rabbit fur coats, the Congdons also draped buffalo hide across their laps while traveling. In fact, one of the sleighs in the carriage house has straps specifically for fastening the buffalo hide in.
Speaking of the carriage house, guests who post photos of the exhibit on social media using #glensheen or #gownsofglensheen have a chance to win specialty tour tickets. One of the specialty tours that you could win is the Nooks & Crannies tour, which allows you to explore the upper level of the carriage house where the Congdon’s carriages and sleighs are stored today. Get cracking folks!
Even though the floral formal gown is still my favorite, if I could wear any dress from the collection it would be this black lace and netting party dress. Turns out my own personal color pallet is a little more muted than Clara’s, and I’m a sucker for simple elegance!
Gowns of Glensheen officially launches this Friday, June 14th, and will be available through September 2nd. In addition, extended tour hours start July 1st and go through August 24th, so there’s no excuse to skip out on this great experience!
To learn more and purchase tickets, visit glensheen.org