On a cold, blustery morning on Oct. 17, 1977, Betty Buff shrugged on her coat and headed to the South Carolina Statehouse.
She stood outside on the capitol steps and waited. It was an important day.
It was the day she and the other officers of the South Carolina Extension Homemakers would meet U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond and present him with the Bicentennial Quilt.
The women-only volunteer organization had made a hand-embroidered quilt to celebrate the nation's 200th year. A club in each of the state's 46 counties had contributed a square representative of its county.
Horry County's square depicted sunny Myrtle Beach with a red-striped umbrella.
Jasper County's square had a deer head, a nod to its annual Deer Festival.
And Beaufort County's square? It's difficult to tell what was embroidered from the one existing photo of the quilt, but the square has what appears to be an outline of the county with a sweetgrass basket and an oyster, both iconic images in the Lowcountry.
It was a textile narrative of what made each South Carolina county special. The Extension Homemakers were giving it to Thurmond to take to Washington, D.C., where it was to be displayed at the Smithsonian Institute.
Smithsonian records show that the quilt was on display from Nov. 1-18 in 1977 and was subsequently sent back to South Carolina. That was 37 years ago. The quilt hasn't been seen since.
"Nobody seems to know where it went," Buff said.
Now 87, Buff is the only surviving member of the group that gave the quilt to Thurmond.
"Right now, there's probably not more than 10 of us who know there was a quilt," she said. "But at the time it was being done, it was a project that was very well supported, and everyone was excited about it."
The South Carolina Extension Homemakers was organized at Winthrop College 1921. It was created to extend the resources of the land grant universities to the people of South Carolina, providing educational programs in agriculture and home economics. The organization is now called the South Carolina Family and Community Leaders and has broadened its mission to all areas of community improvement, with more than 2,000 members from across the state.
In 1977, quilting was something many of the members did on the side, said group treasurer Bobbie Earle of Laurens County.
"We did make a lot of quilts at one point in time," she said. "We had a lot of older homemakers, and those ladies used to make quilts and raffle them off. Most of our quilters have passed away."
The Bicentennial Quilt, also called the State Quilt, was by far the most intensive quilting project the organization did, Earle said. And most likely the last.
"We have hunted it off and on for years. It was a beautiful quilt. Now the picture is all we have."
The first member to realize the quilt was missing was Pat Gates, who helped organize the quilting project and get it on display at the Smithsonian. Gates was thought to possess the most knowledge about the quilt and the group's history in general. Her county of Sumter was one of the first in the state to have an Extension Homemakers group.
"I told Pat I would find the quilt no matter what," said Patricia Breznay, who was president of the organization from 2003-2005 when Gates began looking for the quilt in earnest.
Gates had been Breznay's family friend for more than 50 years, and Breznay promised to help.
Gates passed away last year. Breznay is still looking for the quilt.
Breznay put notices in the yearly newsletter asking if anyone had seen or knew of the quilt's whereabouts. She searched the organization's meeting minutes and archives stored at Winthrop's library. She contacted the Smithsonian. No one had any information about the quilt's current whereabouts.
"There's no telling where it is," she said.
Buff is confident the quilt is still around.
"I want to think it's in someone's closet and no one knows what it is. I don't feel like it's been destroyed," she said.
Both Buff and Breznay said they hope that with continued effort, the quilt can still be found.
"It's a really historical piece now. That's why I'd really like to see it located," Buff said. "For the history of our organization, if nothing else. But the squares depict the history of South Carolina, too."
Follow reporter Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.