Friday, July 25, 2014

Family with Plymouth roots donates century-old gown

May 31. 2014 11:05PM
By James O’Malley

About Plymouth Historical Society

Organized in 1986, the historical society originally operated out of a room in the Plymouth Public Library. It moved into a defunct church at 115 Gaylord Ave. in 1994. The building, constructed by coal miners in the 1870s, houses memorabilia, antiques and relics of Plymouth’s long-gone industry. President Steve Kondrak said the society works on a shoestring budget, surviving on donations and memberships. It currently has about 400 active members.

The Plymouth Historical Society is open from 12 p.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays.

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PLYMOUTH — It’s an Irish good luck custom, John Frantz swears.

“The dress was worn and left on the baby until the baby peed in it,” he said. “So forty-some people have peed in this dress.”

The dress Frantz was talking about was made by seamstress Teresa Cronin for the christening of her sister’s first child in 1908. Over the next 106 years, it travelled the eastern seaboard, and has been “christened” at least 42 times.

Saturday, the gown made its way home, when descendants of the late Cronin donated the heirloom to the Plymouth Historical Society. About 30 family members gathered from Pennsylvania, Florida, New York and New Jersey to see the garment change hands.

Frantz, who wore the gown in 1941, said the decision to give up the century-old, two-piece number was not an easy one, and the family considered a few historical societies before settling on the one in Cronin’s hometown of Plymouth.

“I would think Teresa would be very pleased with this. It’s the right place for it to be,” he said.

Cronin’s descendants painted her as a talented woman who could sew together just about anything, from clothes, to hats, to upholstery. The intricate frills and laces, they said, she wove by hand.

In its more than 100 years, the sturdy dress endured some yellowing, as well as bumps and bruises, sporting a few tears, Frantz, of Mercersburg, said. But he said an expert in clothing and fabric warned him the aging threads will soon begin to simply fall apart.

The gown’s fragile state stands as the primary reason for its donation, he said, otherwise the family would have continued using it.

“When you look at the handwork Teresa did,” Frantz said, “it’s astounding.”

He and his cousin, Teresa “Terry” Sipsky, of Stuart, Florida, spearheaded the effort to donate the gown.

“It was a labor of love,” said Sipsky, who wore the gown in 1952.

About a year ago, she said, she contacted the Plymouth Historical Society to gauge the group’s interest in the garment and make arrangements. Then last December, she began the exhausting work of researching her ancestry and compiling her family history, Sipsky said.

Like any good drama, the entire time-consuming affair came down to the wire, she said, when the gown’s encasement nearly wasn’t finished in time for Saturday’s donation.

But the brief event went off without a hitch, and the family adjourned to lunch before heading their separate ways.

Now that it’s over, she said, “I can breathe a little better.”

Sipsky said she takes after Cronin (her grandmother and namesake) with her interest in crochet and needlework.

Teresa Cronin lived to be 72 years old, passing on her birthday in 1958.

The gown now resides behind glass in a wooden case next to a photograph of its maker, safe from the march of time and the bodily fluids of infants.

Visit the Plymouth Historical Society to see the christening gown among rooms full of donated antiques and displays with local ties.

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