Christening gown spans 111 years

Twenty-five family members have worn it

Handing down special mementos is a tradition in many families, and for one family, it is a very “delicate” matter.
For Barb Cepek, the tradition is a cherished christening gown, made by her paternal great-grandfather’s sister, Kate Mulroyan, as a gift for Mulroyan’s niece’s christening.
Catherine and George Bell were married in 1910 and Mulroyan made the gown for the christening of her niece, Florence “Dolly” Grace Bell, who wore it in 1911.
“It is called the Bell Christening Gown,” Cepek said. “That was the gown that everybody wore.”
The Addison resident said all of Florence’s siblings wore it as well: Ruth Catherine (Bell) Henley; George Richard Bell; and then Janet Marie (Bell) Schall, the youngest sibling and Cepek’s grandmother.
As best she can tell, Mulroyan was married and had five children, but she never used the gown for her own children’s christenings, “since it was a gift,” Cepek surmised.
“Florence was the first one to wear it,” Cepek noted, but ironically, “Florence never married, and had no children.”
It was handed down through the family ever since—and was worn by Florence’s nieces, nephews and their descendants.
Recipients included Cepek’s own father, Albert William Schall Jr., who was christened in 1944.
“Back then, baby boys wore the gown,” she noted. The last boy to wear it was christened in 1999.
Cepek wore it in 1964, as did her siblings, Karen Ann (Schall) Noesen in 1966, William Michael Schall in 1969, Margo Lynn (Schall) Whiteside in 1978 and Pamela Jean (Schall) Brestan in 1980.
Cepek’s daughter, Nicole Leslie Siemers of Lombard, wore it in 1991.
Most recently it was worn by Morgan Leslie Siemers, Cepek’s granddaughter, who was christened in May.
“I have the history of the gown in my grandmother’s handwriting,” Cepek explained, which is how she was able to establish the path of the gown’s recipients going back so far.
Her grandmother’s notes also indicate the mention of a “Deacon Mike,” who baptized five of the recipients, including Siemers (#18).
When asked how it has held up all these years, Cepek said the cotton-linen gown has been hand-washed, and she has used a paste made of baking soda to remove any stains, and it is hung to dry.
“The gown is very delicate. It’s very thin” after 111 years, she added.
“It has to be wrapped in blue tissue paper,” Cepek continued, and is now being stored in a box at Siemers’ home.
Cepek is also not sure of the gown’s future, and if it can or will be worn again, so “We might retire it … it is so fragile.”
However, the legacy of the gown itself is anything but fragile. It points to a strong tradition that, no matter the fate of the gown, will never fade.