Preparing for the annual Beaufort Ghost Tours about two weeks ago, Casey Chucta opened her closet to a chilling realization: the dress she had made and worn for over 15 years as the Belle of Beaufort was missing.
Chucta, as she would soon find out, had forgotten about the dress after taking it to the dry cleaners last November after the tours that benefit Beaufort CAPA had ended. She only realized it was gone as she prepared for the first ghost tour of the season Oct. 16.
"I just took it to the dry cleaner and promptly forgot about it," she said. "I didn't think about it again until October."
Chucta was devastated to learn last week that her dress had been donated by Tuckers Dry Cleaners of Beaufort after she failed to pick it up within six months. On Sunday, she posted an online plea for help to the Salvation Army of Beaufort Facebook page, hoping to track down the dress's whereabouts.
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Chucta said she made the dress about 20 years ago to participate in events with her father, a traveling historian who would wear period clothes as President Ulysses S. Grant. She also made clothes for her husband and their two children to wear.
The photo she posted of the dress on Facebook was from an event at Penn Center, one of the first times she wore it. The dress is slightly different than pictured in the photo; a collar she made for the Penn Center event was later removed, she said.
An employee of the dry cleaning company responded to her Facebook post that multiple attempts were made to contact Chucta before the donation, but Chucta said she had no recollection of a phone call or a voicemail from Tuckers. Had she received a call, she would have immediately gone there to pick it up, she said.
The owner of the store, who declined to give his name, said the company has to hold on to items for six months by law. Once that period ends, the company contacts the customer and holds the items another three months before donating the clothing.
However, the owner said he and the store's manager did not believe she had brought the dress in to be dry cleaned last November after seeing the picture of it.
According to Chucta's ticket, two items were brought in: a normally-priced dress and a coat. The dress she wore likely would be significantly more expensive because it would have to be hand-washed, he said.
"We never cleaned that dress," he said. "She's highly mistaken."
But Chucta said she was told when she dropped off the dress that the final charge could be higher. She likely wouldn't have taken the dress elsewhere, as Tuckers is the closest dry cleaners to her home
Finding out where the dress ended up may be difficult since Chucta is still unsure to whom the dress was donated. The dry cleaners' owner said his company donates to the Salvation Army and CAPA primarily, but a Salvation Army employee told Chucta the dry cleaners hadn't donated there after the organization's move to a building on Robert Smalls Parkway in April. Chucta's dress would have been donated long after that move.
Chucta said she's hoping someone will see the dress and contact her. She said Monday she did not want to admonish the dry cleaners, she just wanted to find out where the dress ended up. As the Ghost Tours come to an end Friday, Chucta will finish the season wearing another one of her homemade dresses.
"I don't want to see a local business hurt or fail, I just want the dress back," she said. "I'd guess there are 1,000 people in town that have a picture with me in that dress. It's got a lot of history."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.