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Two brides find missing wedding dresses 10 years later

Eight-year-old Braden had a proposal for his parents after seeing their wedding pictures through the glass of the curio cabinet.

"Why don't you guys get married again?" Braden asked last summer. Everyone else was in the pictures, and he wanted to be in them, too.

It was decided: for their ninth anniversary, Marie Keeney and her husband, Shawn, would renew their wedding vows in November so their son could be a part of their special day.

Keeney, 45, began making plans. She arranged for Braden to walk her down the aisle in a ceremony held in her backyard once again, all to relive her wedding day for her son.

The only thing left to re-create her big day was to dig out from her closet the sleek, simple ivory wedding dress she fell in love with a decade ago.

"It's perfect," Keeney said. "Not too froo-froo and girly."

With a little more than a month to go until the ceremony, she hauled the bulky cardboard box downstairs and broke the seal of the preservation packaging, opening the dress her husband had sent off to a dry cleaner years before.

To her surprise, the front of the dress was simple and elegant, clean of any ornaments. Instead of a bare back, buttons lined the spine of the dress. Three bustles replaced the three small roses she remembered being pinned just above the skirt of the dress.

The gown was not hers.

All of Keeney's planning came to a halt. She canceled invitations, but most of all, she was heartbroken: Her beautiful ivory gown was gone.

"It made me cry," she said. "And I never cry."

So Keeney began investigating. She traced the dress to where her husband dropped it off to be preserved at Eagle Cleaners, 301 W Platt St., in downtown Tampa. Then she learned that it had been outsourced to Wedding Gown Preservation Co. in New York.

Keeney started to lose hope worrying she would never find her dress again. But even though she deemed her dress gone, she at least wanted to return the dress she had to its owner. She posted pictures on Facebook and even looked up other stories on the Internet of women around the country who experienced a similar ordeal.

"I figured I could at least get back her dress even if I couldn't find mine," she said.

After no one had answers, Keeney reached out to the media for help. ABC Action News WFTS-TV 28 reported the story last month to help her retrieve her dress.

A few days after the story aired, the preservation company found her dress and shipped it back to Eagle Cleaners. "I think it's a miracle," she said. "I can't believe I got my dress back."

• • •

Keeney handed over the dress with hopes that another woman would be just as lucky.

Eagle Cleaners owner David Costa explained that around the time Keeney dropped off her dress, Wedding Gown Preservation Co. lost track of another bride's dress and mixed up the invoices. The other woman was Katherine Stephenson.

He said it was the first mix-up in 13 years of business.

In a tale of two dresses, the two women lived just 3 miles apart in Pinellas County; both had 8-year-old sons. Based on wedding photos as evidence, even their bouquets matched. And they both picked the same dry cleaners across the bay in downtown Tampa.

Stephenson reconciled 10 years ago with the fact that her dress had disappeared. At the time, she was preoccupied with family and health issues.

The missing dress slipped to the back of her mind as time went on, until she saw two missed calls on her cellphone from her mother-in-law with urgent news.

The Tampa Bay Times had contacted her mother-in-law, Debe Stephenson, looking for a Katherine Stephenson who was missing a wedding gown. There was a match: within an hour, Debe relayed the good news to her daughter-in-law.

Stephenson would be reunited with her long-lost gown, the only tangible memory to a time before she lost her grandfather, father, brother and a family friend.

"Several people at that wedding are not with us anymore," she said. "It will be really nice to have something special from a time when they were all in our lives."

Stephenson returned to Eagle Cleaners to pick up her dress last week. It had been gingerly placed in the same box Keeney sent it back in.

She hoisted the dress, admiring the billowing bustles in the back and reminiscing about her wedding day in 2001.

A worker asked if she wanted to send the dress back to be preserved again for no charge. Stephenson hesitated and smiled.

"Now that it's open I can show my husband and son," she said. "I totally get why (Keeney) wanted to do it again."

• • •

The party is back on. The Keeneys' ceremony has since been postponed for their 10th anniversary this November. And Keeney will once again walk down the aisle in the elegant gown she fell in love with a decade ago, her son by her side.

Her dress still fits.

"They say it's bad luck to wear your dress twice," Keeney said, smiling. "But I don't believe any of that."

Contact Colleen Wright or (727) 893-8313. Follow her on Twitter @Colleen_Wright.

Two brides find missing wedding dresses 10 years later 02/11/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 4:41pm]
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