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Seamstresses on parade
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By Jennifer Strobel
By JENNIFER MILLER STROBEL
When Myrtle Eley agreed to represent the Colonial era in a Fredericksburg parade, she made her dress the way her Colonial foremothers would have. She sewed it herself.
The accomplished seamstress (standing, left) proudly wore the long, flowing dress and waved to crowds along city streets from her perch on a float representing the Discovery.
The Discovery was one of three ships that set out on the voyage leading to the founding of Jamestown in 1607. In 1957, Eley joined her fellow citizens celebrating Virginia's 350th anniversary.
According to a May 11, 1957, Free Lance-Star newspaper clipping, the parade was called the "Rebel Rally."
The article noted that on parade day, people were "up at dawn scrubbing the streets and hanging out their Confederate flags. Housewives stitched miles of calico into colonial costumes.
"An estimated 20,000 spectators lined the parade route. A slight drizzle began shortly after Grand Marshal W. C. (Dan) Daniel, national commander of the American Legion, got the 'Rebel Rally' going."
Eley's co-worker Margaret Courtney stood at her side on the float. Eley won first place and a $25 gift certificate for her dress; Courtney won second.
The two were longtime employees of the Leggett department store at 1010 Caroline St. in Fredericksburg, and later Belk at Spotsylvania Mall. Eley was also a seamstress in the alteration department at Leggett in Culpeper, and at JCPenney in Fredericksburg.
Eley, a lifelong resident of Richardsville, worked at Belk until retiring in her mid-80s. She died in 2001 at age 92.
Courtney, who had an interior decorating business, still lives in Fredericksburg.
Eley's daughter-in-law, Verna, shared the photo and newspaper clipping with the Flashback column. Verna Eley herself is part of Fredericksburg's business history. A Stafford County native, she worked for Washington Woolen Mills, a men's clothing store at 819 Caroline St., from 1956 until its closing 25 years later. She then worked for Burton's Automotive on U.S. 17, not far from Berea where she grew up. She now lives in Richardsville in Culpeper County.