MERCER Baptism gowns displayed

The preservationist said it takes about 30 minutes to preserve each christening gown.
MERCER, Pa. -- For the past year, Marge Crompton has been soaking, washing, hanging and pressing a line of clothing she calls priceless.
Crompton, a preservationist with the Mercer County Historical Society, has been preserving and preparing dozens of christening gowns -- some of which date to the mid-1800s.
"It's quite a lengthy process," she said. "But it's worth it because they look wonderful."
The gowns and other items related to childhood are to be displayed this weekend during Mercer's Victorian Days.
Admission to Victorian Days is free.
Activities begin at noon Friday, 10 a.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday.
Activities: In addition to the historical society's "Children of Yesteryear" exhibit, Victorian Days activities will include entertainment, tours, a Civil War encampment, an arts and crafts show, and a classic and antique automobile display, among other events.
The historical society's exhibit opens at 10 a.m. each day. Other items featured will include a miniature tea set, dolls and furniture, and a doll house. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted.
"It's a wonderful time and a wonderful event to see so much history," Crompton added.
For example, the gown Crompton has chosen to feature in the exhibit is more than 150 years old. She said it was worn by six children in one family and has the patches to prove it. She added that all of the gowns have been researched and historical information about them will be provided at the display.
She said that because the gowns are so delicate, they had to be soaked in varying degrees of cold water, washed in warm water, rinsed separately five to seven times, pressed with a big towel, hung to dry and pressed with a warm iron.
"No washing machines," she said, because the gowns are too fragile.
And she doesn't alter the gowns. It takes about 30 minutes to preserve each one, she said. They are then stored in an acid-free box and layered and separated by acid-free paper.
"If they're patched or stitched because they at one time needed to be repaired or restitched, we leave them the way they are. Every patch, every mark, every stitch or alteration, that's history and that says something about people, and that's important."
House tour: Meanwhile, Victorian Days visitors can take another glimpse of the past during the house tours.
The event, which is sponsored by the Mercer Business and Professional Women's Club, will showcase a one-room schoolhouse, a bed-and-breakfast and three homes of architectural or historical interest.
Tour hours are from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $7 and will be available at the Victorian Weekend Information Booth Saturday and Sunday and at all the featured tour sites the day of the tour. For more information, call (724) 662-3883.

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