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Woman dedicates herself to history, Peabody

Staff writer

Susie Schmidt has a different relationship with history. To her it is not just events written in a book that have no bearing on her life. Schmidt lives history.

She has been a seamstress for 40 years and she currently specializes in crafting Victorian era clothing. Her husband, and Peabody City Council member, Tom Schmidt, participates in Civil War and other historical reenactments. Schmidt has made clothing for many women who participate, from Civil War era ball gowns to hoop petticoats. She has also made women’s clothes for Operation Celebration.

“I enjoy reproduction because I like making things that are over-the-top,” she said. “It’s kind of like a cake. Victorian stuff you can really gussy up.”

The house where Schmidt lives is recognizable in Peabody for its pink hue. A successful rancher built it in 1900. Schmidt was the cleaning lady in that house for 20 years before the Levy family decided to move to Wichita. She inquired about purchasing it and the Schmidts have lived there for the past 11 years.

“And I’m still the cleaning lady,” Schmidt joked. “The people I worked for I was really good friends with. (Mark Levy) was really happy to sell it to someone who loves that house as much as he did.”

While Tom Schmidt works as the office administrator for Trane in Wichita, Schmidt spends much of her time as a community organizer in Peabody. She is president of the Peabody Main Street Association, she is a leader with the Partners of Peabody Parks group, and has a Peabody Community quilting project.

“We raised money for the community,” Schmidt said. “Bought some playground equipment.”

Like with clothing and with her home, Schmidt works to preserve Peabody’s history. She was instrumental in the plan for the Baker Furniture buildings. The desire is to return the building to its original 19th century facade. She is trying to help Peabody establish itself as a tourist destination with its 19th century downtown.

“We don’t want to just fill buildings; we want businesses that will work together,” she said. “We’ve had state and national Main Street people evaluate Peabody. We asked, ‘How do we sell ourselves?” One of the things we had were the 1880s buildings.”

Even though Schmidt appreciates history, she is not looking to turn back the clock. Anyone looking for evidence of Schmidt’s progressive nature needs only to take a look inside her store, Flint Hills Gypsies. Schmidt is co-owner of the store with Morgan Marler. They got the idea for the store after attending a conference together.

“I have a kid that is her age; I never would have believed that we would be working together,” Schmidt said.

They have successfully married their distinctly different tastes in the store. On the right side of the front door there is a miniature bust of John F. Kennedy and a large bronzed Buddha statue. Inside the store there is a purse shaped like an alligator and a wall rug of a Saint Bernard.

“We get a lot of compliments on the strange things,” Schmidt said.

With a closer look, these oddities seem to be out of place with a mannequin Schmidt has adorned with a Victorian dress or a Victorian era couch. However, the pieces create a unified image when they are viewed together.

“At various times we’ve had a lot more tourism,” Schmidt said. “This shop is for that purpose. At least 97 percent (of customers) are from out of town.”

While she is introducing visitors to her hometown, Schmidt is also trying to foster a love of history in a new generation. She has a 10-year-old granddaughter. When she comes over they sew together. So far they have made clothes for her and doll clothes.

“We’re thinking progressive by looking back at the past,” she said.

Last modified Sept. 15, 2011

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