Found along I-75: someone's wedding dress
Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.
They are one-day-only dresses for once-in-a-lifetime moments.
Chosen with care and imbued with the dreams of brides and the best wishes of loved ones, a wedding gown holds a unique place in a woman's heart and a family's history.
Every dress tells a story.
So what, then, is the story behind item B-12-12-0061-001 in the Florida Highway Patrol's evidence storeroom?
Trooper J.P. Lander had just completed a traffic stop along Interstate 75 around 3:13 p.m. on May 6 when he saw the sun glinting off something shiny in the median up ahead.
He drove a short distance to a spot around mile marker 374 near County Road 234 and found a large, gold-colored box lying in the grass, he wrote in a report.
Nestled in the large, dented cardboard box was an artfully folded, voluminous white wedding gown.
There was no name or address or any identifying marks on the box, just a sticker reading — in elegant cursive — Preserved and Heirloomed.
Lander took the box to his boss, and eventually the dress made its way to Judy Moreland of the FHP. On June 6, she published a legal notice in The Sun that the agency has someone's lost property and intends to dispose of the dress, through donation or sale, if no one claims it.
So far, she said last week, no one has come forward.
The box is sealed in plastic wrap, and Moreland said she is reluctant to cut it open and mess with the dress. The clear cellophane window reveals what appears to be a vintage gown, size unknown, that has been professionally preserved. It is carefully wrapped around a torso-shaped form, with the maker's handiwork on display.
Moreland said she has no idea about the value of the dress but ventured, "It looks like it's worth thousands." She noted the hand-stitched beads and pearls on the bodice as well as the string of buttons along the sleeves. "Machines can't do that," she said.
A veteran wedding photographer pointed out the headband and veil, also adorned with pearls, the slightly yellowed satin, the puffy shoulders and estimated the dress to be from the 1980s.
With few clues to go on, the mystery of the gown raises many more questions than answers. Perhaps the most intriguing is how what is presumed to be a family heirloom wound up on an interstate highway median: Was it blown out or thrown out?
There was nothing else nearby, so it's probably not something left strewn on the road after an accident.
And despite the dents on the box, Moreland figures it's unlikely that it somehow flew out of a buttoned-up vehicle cruising along the highway at 70-plus mph.
"I think they would've noticed," she said.
Maybe, she suggested, someone had a flat tire and unloaded items to get to the spare, and simply forgot to repack the dress. It would be difficult to miss a large, golden box sitting in the grass, however. It certainly caught Trooper Lander's eye from a distance.
Then there's a mischievous theory: The dress was found not far from the Micanopy exit, notorious for the landmark adjacent to the off-ramp, Cafe Risque.
Could it be that an angry wife came across her man's vehicle in the strip club's parking lot and declared the honeymoon over?
Moreland hopes the owner sees the newspaper ad or this story and contacts the FHP (754-6288) by Sept. 6 with proof of ownership. If not, the gown either will be sent to Tallahassee to be auctioned or donated to a local charity to be sold.
"I hope it's someone local, not someone who was driving through on their way to Miami or up north," she said.
"I'd really like to return it to its owner. It means something to someone."
One thing that is certain — the gown is now the most unusual thing Moreland has had brought to her off the highway by a trooper.
The previous winner? A box found in Marion County that contained dozens of New Orleans Saints bobblehead dolls.
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