Marietta Quilt: First in Space

LancasterHistory recently accepted the donation of a miniature quilt flown into space aboard the eighth mission of Space Shuttle Challenger as part of the Skylab-2 mission (STS51-F). The mission occurred between July 29 and August 6, 1985. The donation is a gift of Cheryl White-Malpezzi, a granddaughter of one of the original quilters from Marietta, Lancaster County. The donation consists of a plaque containing the quilt, several photos, and a mission patch as well as a variety of related documents and photographs.

A Unique Payload

Two women sitting at a table working on a quilt.
Sheridan Bromer (left) and Jane White work on the miniature quilt. LancasterHistory.

Ann Bradley, NASA Associate Deputy Administrator, conceived the idea of carrying a quilt into space after visiting Marietta and learning of a planned American Quilt Museum for the town. Although the museum was never constructed, local residents Sheridan Bromer and Jane White (grandmother of the donor) created the six-by-seven-inch quilt to help promote the museum as evidenced by the inscriptions above and below the red, white, and blue traditional eight-point star design in the center. Their initials and the year 1985 are included on the red bottom border surrounding the center star.

The Presentation

A group of women looking at a framed plaque.
NASA Deputy Administrator Ann Bradley (left) presents the finished plaque to Marietta residents Jane White (middle) and Sheridan Bromer. The presentation was made at a garden party at the Roseman-Taylor home in Marietta. Attendees included U.S. Representative Robert Walker. LancasterHistory.

According to contemporary newspaper accounts, Ann Bradley visited a quilt exhibit during Marietta Day in early 1985. Impressed by what she experienced, Bradley approached a member of the museum organizing committee and suggested a small quilt be made to travel on an upcoming shuttle mission. Upon its return to Earth, NASA administrator James M. Beggs presented the quilt and accompanying documentation to the quilt organizing committee. During its three years of operation, Challenger flew on ten missions before its demise shortly after takeoff on January 28, 1986.

Terrestrial Meets Extraterrestrial

The space quilt joins an impressive collection of terrestrial quilts originally assembled by Doug Tompkins, an American businessman and co-founder of Esprit Clothing. The Esprit Collection consists of 82 Amish-made quilts made in Lancaster County between 1880 and 1950. LancasterHistory will host two Collections Up Close Programs on March 23. In this program participants will have an opportunity to view the space quilt as well as a selection of quilts from the Esprit Collection and learn more about their history, cultural significance, and the women who made them. While both programs on March 23 are sold out, you can satisfy your need for more quilts by considering booking a group tour with LancasterHistory featuring the Esprit Quilt Collection. For more information, please visit our Group Tours webpage.

The space quilt is currently on display in the museum lower level at LancasterHistory. Be sure to check it out!

From Object Lessons