Sense & Nonsense: Bauxite Museum: Storehouse of special memorabilia, including the 'silver dress'

The Bauxite Museum is a delightful place to visit.
Anyone who hasn't take the time to do so is engaging in self-deprivation. The exhibits — and there are many — tell stories that evoke memories of another time that many of us remember fondly.
On one of my visits there several years ago, I heard the story about "Bottle" Wilmoth's famous bowl he took for a Mulligan stew that was to be served to workers at Reynolds mining operations.
According to Melba Shepard's account, each employee was informed he could have one bowl only of the stew. That was enough to inspire Mr. Wilmoth's humor.
When he arrived, he asked if he could be served in his own bowl, which, of course, was permitted.
Then he presented the bowl — a huge mixing bowl that had a capacity to serve a whole family.
There are many exhibits, but none perhaps more engaging than the one everyone sees upon entering the historic Bauxite structure. This is a gorgeous formal gown displayed in a glass enclosure.
The first time I saw the dress, I was intrigued. It looked like something straight off a movie set.
I mentioned this to longtime friend DeAnne Wilmoth when I was attending the Bauxite Reunion last May.
"You don't know the story about that dress, do you?" DeAnne said. "I'm the one who found it."
She got my attention, so I persuaded her to tell me "the whole story," which follows in this space. In DeAnne's words, this is how the famous aluminum dress was discovered after being essentially "lost" for many years.
"For 60 years. I have had the blessing of being best friends with Pat Trimble Patterson and Rita Gaylo Allen," DeAnne said. "We met in the sixth grade at Pine Haven Elementary when I was 10 years old.  At our 25th high school reunion we reconnected and have gotten together every year since.  "Every time we see each other, it is like we have never been apart.  Rita and Pat never change and that is so comforting in my life.  After my daughter Cindy died of breast cancer, they went with my husband and me to Myrtle Beach, where we cried, walked on the beach and opened our hearts to each other.  I will always love them for those special days that were so much a part of our healing.
"We always knew that Rita was 'queen,' Pat was 'smart' and I was funny. Through the years we have continued to allow Rita to be queen. She has stayed beautiful, thin and stylish.
"Pat has continued to amaze us with her wonderfully kind and gentle ways. A number of years ago when we were together for our annual trip, Pat told us that Jayme Smith Dissly had found a dress in  her mother's attic that was a special aluminum dress designed by a famous Paris designer.She said it was made especially for Alcoa and was one of a kind.
"Jayme's mom, Willard Smith, often saved items that no one had room to store.  I said, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if Jayme donated the dress to the Bauxite Museum?'
"Ultimately, Jayme did just that.  But the next time we were together, lo and behold, Pat told us she had the dress and it was in an aluminum suitcase. We all waited as she slowly opened the case and pulled out one of the most beautiful dresses we had ever seen.  It was a peach color and in the light you could see hundreds of silver threads that glimmered after all these years.
"Rita said, 'Let me try it on,' and of course we said, 'yes.'  It fit her perfectly.  She waltzed across the floor with the skirt swirling around her. We were girls again playing dress-up and imagining being the belles of the ball.  She reluctantly took it off and we placed it carefully back in the box, never to forget that magical moment with the 'silver dress.'"
That incident is etched indelibly in the minds of the three women, DeAnne said.
Shortly after the magical moment, DeAnne took the special dress to the Bauxite Museum, where it is displayed on a mannequin in a glass case.
"It will always be a part of my memory," DeAnne said, "and if I close my eyes, I can still see Rita gliding across the floor,  reminding us of days gone by and friends that share our collective memories.
"Pat sent me a plaque that said, 'A friend hears the song in my heart and sings it to me when my memory fails.' I hope I will always remember .... "
Next time you're in the Bauxite Museum area, check out the "silver dress." You'll be glad you did.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.