When former Marshall Mayor Audrey Kariel married the late Louis Kariel 72 years ago, she picked the perfect wedding dress — a simple, but elegant satin gown with tulle.
“I just liked it,” said Kariel. “In fact, I loved it the minute I tried it on. I knew that that was the one that I wanted because I wanted something simple, and it’s a simple dress. And I thought it was elegant and beautiful.”
The dress, which was worn at their well attended wedding at Temple Beth-El in her hometown of Corsicana on April 23, 1950, is still a stunning piece today as it currently stands on display as part of the Harrison County Historical Museum’s newest rotating exhibit titled “Harrison County Fashionistas.”
Kariel, who celebrated her 90th birthday in December, is tickled pink to see it be showcased as part of this rare exhibit.
“I never dreamed when gave it to them that I would live to see them display it,” she blushed, “but my granddaughter had married and my grandson had married and nobody needed to use it, so I gave it to the museum about 10 years ago.”
Bill T. Whitis, a museum volunteer who curated the rotating exhibit, noted how striking the display is.
“This is the first time for the Fashionistas (exhibit), but I’ve been doing a little mini exhibit here in this cabinet area for the past seven or eight months,” said Whitis.
The rotating exhibited showcased a collection of rare historic toys at Christmastime, the history of the first telegraph in Marshall and the legacy of renowned civil rights pastor and Marshall native Rev. Dr. Emmitt Theophilus “E.T.” Caviness — to name a few.
Whitis said they look forward to digging into the archives at the museum’s research center, and bringing them out for the public to see.
“I have people call or email and tell me all the time they find out something they didn’t know about the community,” Whitis said of how educational the exhibits are.
“We’re just going to keep going,” he said. “Anytime that I find something at the research center that interests me that I think people haven’t seen in a long time, I just tend to pull it out and bring it up here for a little temporary display.”
He’s particularly excited about the current exhibit “Harrison County Fashionistas.” Through the exhibit, the museum explores a variety of fashion accessories and styles over the years, starting from the mid-1800s through the 1950s.
The exhibit features not only wedding gowns, but women’s jewelry, hats, and shoes. The items are accompanied by a small synopsis, describing what they are and where they came from. The exhibit items have been up for a few weeks now and will soon return back to their storage containers at the Inez Hatley Hughes Historical Research Center.
The rare exhibit is a must-see, museum officials said.
“The idea actually started out because we had several wedding dressings down there, and as we began pulling them out some of them were very delicate. With some of them we worried they may not be able to stand up on a mannequin for too long,” said Whitis.
He was impressed by the way Kariel’s dress was so well maintained that he decided to create an exhibit, spotlighting her dress as the feature.
“We left Audrey’s hanging out for about a week or so. I said I can either put it in a box or figure out something to do with it. So then I decided why don’t I just do women’s fashion, and I just started researching all of the different items I could find,” he said.
Items included everything from hats to pins worn by local figures from that specific time era.
“We had to put them in a glass case because some of them are solid gold,” Whitis said of some of the items.
The exhibit even includes a pair of women’s shoes that come from the popular downtown Hub Shoe Store, which was a longtime staple owned by the Kariel family, and run by Audrey Kariel’s husband Louis until his retirement in 2001.
“The shoes, those came from the Hub shoe store, so I was able to incorporate Louis into the narrative as well,” said Whitis.
Kariel, who now lives in the Dallas area, recently returned home to Marshall along with her children and grandchildren for a special viewing of “Harrison County Fashionistas.”
The exhibit brought back fond memories for Kariel as she sat and reminisced on her special day and her beloved wedding gown.
“This is satin. It has netting up around the neck and I remember when I put it on, it kind of bothered me,” she chuckled.
“They packed it after I used it. They packed it in storage, and it was beautifully packaged, so I guess that helped it stay,” she said of its longevity.
A love story
Kariel vividly remembers not only the details of her dress, but her veil and the dainty slippers she wore to complement her gown and relax her feet throughout the duration of the celebration.
“I remember they told me at the reception I’ d have to stand up a long time because I did have a nice size wedding and they suggested that I get some house shoes; and they were beautiful and they were satin,” she reminisced, noting the embellishments on them.
Kariel recalled placing a penny in her shoe for a sign of good luck. The gesture worked.
“They were so comfortable. My feet never hurt me,” she teased.
Reviewing the exhibit, Kariel said she’s most happy that they were able to incorporate her loving spouse, Louis, as the two always worked together as a team.
“I wanted Louis in it. It’s my dress, but he is why I came here, and it’s not about me as much as it is about us because we always did everything together,” she said. “We were a team. Anything he was interested in I worked on, and vice versa. We were really a team.
“Oh, I miss him so much. He was such a good person,” she shared.
Photos of the couple’s big day — from their first dance to their wedding cake — are sprinkled throughout the exhibit.
“I did feed him some wedding cake,” Kariel beamed. “We would’ve been married, it’d be 72 years now, but the time he died it was 69 years. We tried so hard to make it to 70, but we didn’t.”
She’s, however, thankful for their 69-year union and cherishes their love story, which is quite interesting in itself. The couple met while pursuing their education at the University of Texas in Austin.
“He had the ‘orangest’ blood of anybody I ever knew,” Kariel grinned. “He really loved the University of Texas and his daddy also went there.”
She teased how they felt destined to be together after learning that both of their parents ironically shared the same wedding anniversary.
“We found out that both of our parents had gotten married on the same day and the same year, March 11, 1923. But we didn’t marry on that day because my mother did not let us,” said Kariel. “She said we needed our own day… we needed to select our own day, so we married April 23, 1950.”
Although they selected their own special day, the couple still enjoyed celebrating both anniversaries every year.
“We always celebrated both anniversaries,” said Kariel, sharing their favorite way of celebrating their parents’ wedding anniversary was feasting on one of her father’s favorite treats.
“My daddy liked chocolate ice cream sodas, and we found out that the best one you could find was in Jefferson,” said Kariel. “So for years, that’s what we did because my daddy loved chocolate ice cream sodas with chocolate ice cream; as we got older, we’d share them.”
Being able to return home to Marshall to view the exhibit was heartwarming for her, as the town still holds a special place in her heart.
“I return home as often as I can and my heart is still in Marshall. I can’t help it,” said Kariel, noting she lived over 70 years of her life here and poured her heart into many historic projects here.
“Our roots in Marshall go back so far,” she said, noting it even goes all the way back to her husband’s relatives, the Joe Weisman family, who were not only one of the first business merchants, but also Marshall’s earliest Jewish families.
“Louis’ dad was born in 1896. His first relative came here in the late 1840s. So I have loved Marshall and Harrison County,” she said.
“Marshall has just been in my blood; in Louis’ blood. I’ve adopted his family. I lived here 72 years. I studied it and I’m well-versed in our history,” she said.
Kariel, who still serves on the Harrison County Historical Commission, said she cherishes her years as chairman of the Texas Historical Commission. She also cherishes the projects she’s championed such as the construction of Marshall Public Library, the saving of the Marshall Depot, the celebration of Marshall’s 150th birthday in 1991, and the restoration of the 1901 historic Harrison County Courthouse.
“I’ve been studying (Marshall and Harrison County) since my first project, Marshall Public Library, which was long before I was a commissioner,” said Kariel. “Then when I became mayor, I used all of my historical information. I never gave a speech that I didn’t use the history…because that’s what I knew and that’s what I loved.”
“I know this wonderful history this community has and it goes far back,” she said, noting how relevant the history is.
“Marshall plays a world stage. We have so many wonderful people, now and in the past, who have made their mark on the world. I have studied most of them,” Kariel said, naming historical figures such as civil rights leader James Farmer Jr., former first lady Lady Bird Johnson, renowned journalist Bill Moyers and Isaac Van Zandt, who served as the Republic of Texas’ ambassador to the United States and worked for the annexation of Texas to the Union.
“I never have gotten over how wonderful our history is, and it’s not important just to Marshall; it’s very important to state history and unfortunately the only way that other people can know about our history is if our people write about it, and I encourage anyone out there who is interested in historical subjects to please try to research their subjects and let the world know how wonderful our home is,” she said.
To be able to have her own history showcased in at the historic courthouse, a place she so diligently helped restore, means the world to her.
“It’s very meaningful for me to be able to come back and see it,” she said of the courthouse, affectionately called the town’s crown jewel. “It’s very beautiful and it’s the heart of our community. I’m very proud of our museum. I’m proud of our county commission.”
The museum invites the public to come and view “Harrison County Fashionistas” and continue to learn more about the county’s illustrious history.