Harrison County

What’s the story behind a wedding gown buried in sand in Gulfport?

It was high tide when a 13-year-old using a metal detector at the beach found an old bridal gown wrapped around stainless steel flatware in sand just under the water’s edge.

The bridal gown was waterlogged and full of sand when JJ McNeil and his grandfather, Jim McNeil of Gulfport, dug it up Thursday on the beach near the foot of Cowan Road. Flatware wrapped inside the long, once-white gown had set off his metal detector. The flatware was somewhat rusty even though the owner had tried to protect it by zipping in it in plastic bags.

The gown and flatware surely have meaning to the owner, said McNeil’s wife, Mary Ann Aquadro.

“It means something to somebody, if only for sentimental value,” Aquadro said.

“It has a story. We don’t know what the story is, but if we all share it, maybe the owner will come forward.”

Aquadro said her best guess is someone lost the gown and flatware in Hurricane Katrina, which struck 12 years ago.

“There were condos across the street before Katrina,” she said, pointing toward the former location of Chateau De Le Mer, near what used to be Fun Time USA amusement park.

Aquadro’s not sure if the gown and flatware came from a condo across the street.

The dress had a David’s Bridal tag and was a size 8. The family didn’t save the gown because it was in disrepair. The gown had disintegrated even more by Sunday, when Aquadro and her husband returned to the beach to try to find the gown. McNeil got on hands and knees and dug it up again. This time, the fabric was in smaller pieces.

Their grandson, from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, had come to visit them with his mother and other relatives last week. JJ and his grandfather were looking for whatever their metal detector could find.

“We found the hood of a lawn mower and put it in the trash can,” McNeil said, pointing to a painted beach trash can.

Then the metal detector alerted to a patch of sand. He told his granddad there had to be metal under the sand, so they started digging.

“He was honest to God hoping to find a real pirate’s chest,” McNeil said.

“That’s not what he was looking for.”

The retired couple has lived on the Coast since February, but they weren’t strangers to Gulfport. They started La Dolce Vita Cruises in Gulfport in May 2016. They were living in Hattiesburg, where Aquadro had been a recreation therapist at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her husband is a retired cabinet supplier who has coastal roots from growing up in Connecticut.

“We were spending more time on the boat here than we were in Hattiesburg, so we decided to move to Gulfport,” Aquadro said. “We love it here.”

The couple previously lived in Murfreesboro.

They are saving the flatware in case the owner comes forward, at least with information to tell the story of the gown and flatware.

Aquadro said she had posted pictures of their discovery on Facebook.

“I had several friends tell me, ‘You need to share it,’” she said.

So will the owner hear about it and come forward? The couple hopes so.

If the owner reads this, please contact Robin Fitzgerald at 228-896-2307.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews