- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Even after 150 years, Kari Noell’s family christening gown is still being put to good use.

Seven-month-old Mason Jennings Noell recently wore the gown to his baby dedication, exactly 100 years after it was first worn by Bertha Batchelor. Noell, Mason’s mother, said the gown was created by Mrs. Rackley, whose first name has been lost in the family lore over the years, in anticipation of the birth of her great-grandchild. The gown was sewn a little too early though: Rackley created it in 1863, but it didn’t get worn by baby Batchelor until 1914.

It’s seems safe to assume, though, that the gown still looked good as new in 1914, because 100 years later it’s still in great shape. The secret to its longevity, Noell said, is in the actions of the women involved in the dedications over the years. On their special day, children generally didn’t wear the outfit for more than 15 minutes. These days, when a family member is done using the dress, it goes to Noell’s grandmother, who cleans it and puts it back into a cedar chest.

Even with the safety measures taken, it is unlikely the dress could have withstood five generations of babies using it without Rackley’s careful craftsmanship.

“She definitely did a good job, because it’s held up for a very long time,” Noell said. “You can’t go out and buy this.”

Rackley travelled five miles on a horse and buggy to buy the material for the gown from the five and dime store in Nashville, N.C., where nearly all of Noell’s family lives to this day. Rackley crocheted all the lace on the gown by hand, stitched every button hole and used her cotton flour sacks to create the slip.

Noell said the gown ended up getting worn by everyone: her mother, her grandmother, her cousins and her mother’s cousins, to name a few. It’s hard to say why this habit started or continued, but it always felt important, Noell said. At some point, it became a tradition.

In some ways, baby Mason broke away from tradition. His dedication at Mike’s Farm was the first to take place outside of a church. And while most babies in the family were dedicated by three months, 7-month-old Mason was more than twice the standard age.

Part of the reason for waiting to have his dedication comes from the fact that although Mason is her first child, he was Noell’s fifth pregnancy. In his earlier months, he had been fighting off some sickness, and Noell didn’t want to risk exposing him to so many people at such a young age. Mason’s dedication was the first time many of Noell’s family members got to see Mason for the first time, but only after using the hand sanitizer Noell brought to the event. The difficult times that came before Mason’s birth made his dedication all the more special, Noell said.

There’s no way of knowing what number Mason is on the list of people who have worn the gown, but it seems that everyone who had the opportunity to let their child wear the gown took it. There’s no way of knowing how long the tradition will continue, but Noell thinks it should at least continue throughout her lifetime. And because of Rackley’s quality work, Noell believes the gown should be able to handle generations of babies to come.

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Information from: The Daily News, http://www.jdnews.com

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