Repurposing and recycling are two terrific ways people are able to cut back on waste and dream up creative new things for an item’s second shot at life. Whether it’s furniture, wine bottles or blankets, the sky’s the limit when it comes to designing something new from something old and used.
Betty Morgan had lived next door to a boy named Edwin, who ended up being shipped off to battle in World War II. It turned out Edwin was leaving behind a few ladies interested in marrying him when he returned from the war. But only one particular lady had caught his eye — Betty. Nonetheless, Edwin was focused on the mission ahead of him and staying alive in a violent war full of casualties.
“I never dated him when he was in the service. He and his friend from Boston, a really good friend who called him Doc, teased him about getting letters from all these girls. He asked him, ‘Which one do you think you’ll marry?’ He said, ‘I’ll probably end up with that farmer across the street. That was me.”
When the war finally ended and Edwin was ready to ship home, the soldiers were encouraged to send home souvenirs from their time spent in Germany fighting for freedom. Edwin and his buddies crated up guns to send home along with other items, he shared with the Columbus Museum. But one particular souvenir ended up becoming something absolutely beautiful in the end.
“We came across a hangar that was on fire. We pulled this guy’s plane out of the hangar and it had no propeller on it. We never saw a plane with no propeller. All our planes had propellers. That was one of the first jets the Germans had before we had them. I grabbed a parachute out of that plane and when I sent it home to my mother and father, I didn’t know what to do with it. I never dreamed it would ever become a wedding gown.”
When Edwin returned home, his foretelling of a future bride came true. He ended up becoming engaged to Betty, the farmgirl next door. But with silk, rayon and other wedding gown materials in strict rations, they weren’t sure just where they would find a gown. That’s when Betty’s mother-in-law had the brilliant idea to use Edwin’s parachute from the war as the material for Betty’s beautiful gown.
“I didn’t think it was a very good idea; I didn’t think it would be pretty. We took it up to a tailor and he said he would take all of the gores out and the swastika, but leave in the German soldier’s name and the company he was in. We only had to pay $18 for it, which was a very good deal.”
Betty’s gown ended up being transformed by a very talented tailor from a wartime parachute into a stunning, flowing and magical masterpiece. The dress was so spectacular that it ended up being included in the exhibition Objects of Wonder at Ohio State University. Hers isn’t the only gorgeous gown that has caught historians’ attention though.
When Major Claude Hensinger of Pennsylvania leaped out of his B-29 bomber during World War II, he relied on his parachute to save his life as he deftly glided down toward the ground. Claude and the others in his crew had just dropped bombs over Yowata, Japan, but their engine caught on fire on the way back to base. They leaped for safety over China, knowing that they could be detected and attacked by the enemy once on the ground, according to We Are the Mighty.
While nursing an injury from landing on a pile of sharp rocks, Claude clutched his parachute tightly. It kept him warm and helped stave off the bleeding. Finally, the stoic soldier was saved and shipped back home to the United States where he returned to his native Pennsylvania and reconnected with a childhood friend named Ruth.
They began dating and in 1947, Claude dropped to one knee and proposed marriage to his sweetheart. But he asked for her hand in marriage not with an engagement ring, but instead with his lucky parachute. He asked her to fashion her wedding dress from the dirty and bloody nylon material.
Ruth had no idea how to refashion a parachute into a wedding dress, but once she laid eyes on the gown worn by Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind, she instead patterned the dress to match that and designed a veil and bodice to match. Ruth herself sewed the skirt, even using the parachute strings to lace the skirt higher in the back than in the front.
The happily married couple stayed together for 49 years before Claude passed away in 1996. During that time, Ruth permitted two other generations of women in the family to be married in her gown, which is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History.
Watch Betty and Edwin share their story of young love and a miraculous wedding gown in the making in the video below.
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