Historic dress on display in Rugby

By  | 

RUGBY, N.D. - The museum in Rugby unveiled a royal piece of history this morning.

The Prairie Village Museum now has a ceremonial dress once worn by Queen Victoria on display.

Marie Downing Williams was eighteen years old when she was making a delivery to the royal palace, and caught the attention of Queen Victoria, who asked her to join her service.

She worked alongside the queen for the next 15 years as her personal dresser, eventually falling in love with a man who dreamed of owning his land.

In 1886 she requested to leave the queen's service and follow her new husband to America. The queen begrudgingly consented, but did not let her leave England empty-handed.

"Marie came over to Ellis Island and was asked by the people when she got here what she wanted to do with her luggage. She said, 'I don't have any luggage' and they said, 'but you do,' and there were nine trunks of property," said Laurel Hanson, the great granddaughter of J.P. Widmeyer.

The dress was one of the many items the Queen gifted to her in those trunks, along with many other household goods, like fine china and silverware.

Stephanie Steinke, the Collections manager at Prairie Village Museum, said that Marie used those items throughout her life in Rolla, but she also gave them away and sold them to people.

Steinke says it is likely this dress into the hands of its next owner, Mrs. J.P. Widmeyer, the wife of the Rolla physician, as payment for medical care.

But, when she died, her granddaughter decided it should be displayed for people to appreciate.

So, in 1977 she donated the dress to the Rolla Public Library where it had been until this year.

Over the past couple of months a display has been set up at the Prairie Village Museum for the historic dress.

The Prairie Village Museum is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.