Lost and found: Oakdale woman’s missing wedding dress discovered

After decades of searching, Margie Conway Lonetti never thought she’d see her wedding dress again.

But after reading a recent story in the Pioneer Press about two brides who were reunited with their wedding gowns thanks to detective work by a Woodbury dry cleaner, Lonetti decided to start sleuthing again.

Her high-necked, lace-and-satin gown with the empire waist, puffy sleeves and long white train was a show-stopper when she and her husband, James, married on Oct. 17, 1970, at St. Luke’s Catholic Church in St. Paul.

“It was the first dress I tried on,” Lonetti, 75, said of the dress, purchased at Dayton’s Oval Room in downtown St. Paul. “I just thought, ‘Oh, this is the most beautiful dress I have ever seen in my life.’ ”

After the wedding, the gown and cathedral train were cleaned, boxed up and stored at her parents’ house. When her cousin Anne Conway Johnson announced she was engaged nine years later, Lonetti’s mother brought the dress over for her to try on.

“She liked the train, but not the dress,” Lonetti said. “She was working part time at Dayton’s, and a clerk from there called her and said, ‘We have a dress that we can give you for $10,’ so her wedding dress was only $10.”

A photo of Margie Lonetti in her wedding dress on her wedding day is seen in a photo album in Oakdale on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. Margie’s dress had been missing for almost 50 years and was recently discovered in a box in a relative’s home. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Somehow, Lonetti’s dress and train went missing after the festivities. Relatives searched through the years, but couldn’t locate it, Lonetti said.

After reading about a wedding gown mix-up that the new owner of Woodbury Cleaners helped solve, Lonetti started wondering if the dry cleaner who cleaned her cousin’s dress could have made a mistake and given Lonetti’s wedding gown and train to someone else.

“I called my cousin and left her a message saying, ‘Do you think maybe you left it at the dry cleaners or there was a mix-up? Do you remember the name of the dry cleaners? I could call them,’ ” she said. “That was the hunch we were going on.”

Johnson was out of town, but listened to Lonetti’s message when she returned home the next day. She couldn’t remember the name of the dry cleaner, but she went to a “box in her cedar closet in her basement that was labeled ‘Mom’s dress,’ ” Lonetti said.

Inside the box was Johnson’s mother’s wedding dress and Johnson’s wedding dress. “And lo and behold, there was another dress still in there,” Lonetti said. “That’s when she realized, ‘This must be Margie’s dress.’ All those years, they looked in all those houses they lived in through the years, and they never never could find it. It’s just so incredible that after 50 years, my dress has reappeared.”

When Johnson called Lonetti with the news, “she said, ‘Margie, are you sitting down?’ ” Lonetti said. “She said, ‘Can you tell me what your wedding dress looked like?’ ”

Margie Lonetti looks at the lacework on her wedding dress at her Oakdale home on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. Margie’s dress had been missing for almost 50 years and was recently discovered in a box at a relative’s home. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

As soon as Lonetti started describing her gown, Johnson knew she had it. “These were the words that came out of her mouth: ‘Margie, I’m looking at your dress now.’ Oh, my gosh, I screamed. I just screamed. My poor husband! He thought someone had died.”

Now, the dress hangs on a hanger outside their bedroom closet at their house in Oakdale. “It’s the first thing I see in the morning, and it’s the last thing I see in the evening,” she said.

On Thursday, the Lonettis drove to Stillwater to have the dress examined by Treasured Garment Restoration, a division of St. Croix Cleaners that specializes in cleaning and preserving antique fabrics.

“It’s in great shape,” said Heather Allgood, team lead. “It has a few caramelized sugar stains on the train and bodice, which is in line with gowns we see from this era. It has strong tensile strength, so we would expect the stains to either lighten or perhaps go away completely.”

Lonetti was thrilled to hear the news, but she said she wasn’t ready to part with the dress just yet. She plans to bring it back in a few weeks. “I asked if they had a spare room or if I could bring a cot,” she said. “No luck. They don’t need a cleaning lady, either.”

The Lonettis have five children and “eight and ¾” grandchildren; their ninth grandchild is due in a few weeks.

Maybe one day, Lonetti said, one of their granddaughters might want to wear the restored dress or incorporate some of the lace in their own dress.

“I never really appreciated all the lace and the beautiful pattern until I got it back,” she said. “It was so fleeting, and we never really appreciated it at the time. As the years go by, you do even more so.

“I call it the ‘Lazarus wedding dress’ because it has risen from the dead,” she said. “It is just truly a miracle. It’s restored my faith in what is possible for others — and for me.”

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