- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - The past is so much more present if you can wear it.

Stylish, too, judging by the neat cut of the century-old coat now being modeled for us by 7-year-old Aidan Baker of Decatur. The brownish/black mix wool coat, all clean lines and topped with a black velvet collar, had belonged to his late great-grandfather, Francis Beery, who had worn it when he was a boy in about 1918.

Family lore says the coat was sewn for him by his mother, Minerva, which, if true, would make her a seamstress Armani would have been happy to hire.

“I like it,” says Aidan, shrugging the coat on and off to show the fit. It encases him like a 100-year-old glove, perfect across the shoulders, sleeves hanging at his wrists like it was made to measure. “And it’s comfortable,” he adds.

He cut quite a dashing figure, wearing the coat out for the first time to the Millikin University’s Vespers concert at Christmas, which he attended with dad Ryan, Mom Katana, and sisters Emma, 11, and 9-year-old Mara. The coat is mainly worn for outings like this, church or other special occasions, and no one who sees it has any idea it was first worn when Woodrow Wilson was president.

“It’s not too bad, is it?” asks Aidan’s proud dad. “The fashion looks just as good today as it did 100 years ago.”

To understand how closeted history like this can persist through multiple generations, you have to undress the familial philosophy of Ryan and Katana Baker. The dad, a lawyer, makes a strong case for knowing your bloodlines and mentions casually that he had a forebear on the Mayflower and another of his ancestors, Arthur Middleton, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. But for all his august family lineage, he can’t dress his ancestral advocacy in any carefully preserved ye olde clothing.

The heritage fashion line comes exclusively from his wife’s side of the family, the Beerys. They first arrived in the New World in 1727 and ancestors were homesteading in Cerro Gordo by 1850. The parents of Katana Baker, Marlene and Arnold Schultz, still live in the family farmhouse which, rebuilt after a fire, dates from the 1920s.

Katana Baker explains that her grandfather, Francis Beery, lived in a Cerro Gordo home barely a quarter-mile down the road from the farmhouse. The antique coat that clad part of his childhood was found sitting safe and sound in a cedar closet after he died on Christmas Day in 2000 at the age of 88.

Katana Baker, who hadn’t yet given birth to the young man who would see it worn again, had just known she wanted to keep something her grandfather had deemed worthy of keeping.

“It’s wonderful to still have it,” says Baker, a counselor with Decatur School District. “I grew up on the farm in Cerro Gordo, surrounded by the past, and we take the children out there as much as we can now because we want them to have that connection, too.”

There are bits and pieces of history everywhere in the Baker family home, and many are still being worn and used. Big sister Emma, for example, slipped into a pair of her great-great-grandmother Minerva’s lace-up boots and pronounced them “comfortable.” Mom explains that Minerva was, in the fashion of the time, “a very little” woman.

“Emma wore them when she was being Laura Ingalls Wilder for Halloween one year,” her mom explains.

She’s talking about all this in the looming shadow of a tall, walnut china cabinet that had first arrived at the familial Cerro Gordo homestead on the back of a covered wagon. Not far away is another inherited piece, an ancient rocking chair. When it was sent off to be refurbished, the expert doing the work came back with an ancient quilt that had been stuffed inside covers as a seat cushion.

“A horde of gold coins from the 1800s would have been nice, too,” says Ryan Baker. “But it was just the quilt.”

A knee-warmer from the days of open carriage and one-horse sleigh rides, the worn but serviceable quilt is one more treasured piece of yesteryear the family plans to hang onto. “Another connection to the past,” says Katana Baker. “And we appreciate those connections more and more as we get older.”

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Source, (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/1CILXCP

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Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com

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