About an hour before Super Bowl LII kicked off last weekend, Ame Bartlebaugh bet on a frilly, 32-year-old long shot her family said would never come in.

The 25-year-old teacher at Absorbent Minds Montessori School in Cuyahoga Falls went to her grandmother’s house in Willowick earlier that day looking for the wedding dress that her mother and aunt had both worn.

The dress was in the attic still sealed in a large opaque package that her grandmother picked up from a now-defunct dry cleaner who preserved it in 1985.

Bartlebaugh, who is getting married next year, tore through the plastic casing, pried open the tape along all four sides and then fished out the dress from a flurry of tissue paper tucked inside.

“Hey, Grandma,” Bartlebaugh said. “Can you come in here?”

The dress Bartlebaugh’s mom wore was simple and sleeveless.

But the dress inside the box was lacy, tiered and had a hoop skirt.

The dry cleaner screwed up. For 32 years, Bartlebaugh’s family had unknowingly kept a stranger’s wedding dress in their attic.

Bartlebaugh said her grandma and aunt doubted she’d ever find the owner and suggested she sell or donate the vintage gown.

But what if the bride who wore this dress had a daughter like Bartlebaugh who hoped to wear this at her own wedding?

She knew odds were against her, but Bartlebaugh decided to search for the owner of the dress.

At 5:36 p.m. last Sunday, she posted pictures of the lacy dress, the veil and hoop skirt on Facebook, along with a short explanation of the 1985 mix-up at the dry cleaner.

Within minutes, friends spread pictures of the mystery gown online from Toledo to Lawrence, Kan.

And before the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl, someone posted: “This dress belongs to my best friend’s mom!!!!!”

Lost and found

Michelle Havrilla, like Bartlebaugh’s mom, married in June 1985.

And Havrilla’s mom — like Bartlebaugh’s grandma — took her wedding dress to a Willowick dry cleaner for preservation the day after the wedding.

Havrilla and her husband went on to have four children and she rarely thought much of her dress until five years ago when heavy rains left 2 feet of water in their Willowick basement.

As the family rescued what it could, Havrilla saw the sealed box that was supposed to hold her wedding gown and decided to treat herself amid the chaos and look inside for the first time in 27 years.

But the feminine, lace dress she wore wasn’t there. A stranger’s beige macrame dress was. Havrilla wasn’t even sure it was a wedding gown.

Heartbroken, Havrilla gave the macrame dress to Goodwill.

On Monday night, about 24 hours after Bartlebaugh posted pictures of the dress that had been in her grandma’s attic, Havrilla’s family slipped a big, gift-wrapped box in front of Havrilla.

“This is not my dress,” Havrilla said suspiciously as her family filmed what was about to happen.

Tears started as she ripped off the paper and recognized the dry cleaner’s box.

“Are you kidding me, you found it?” she asked.

Her family filmed her reaction and posted it on social media. On Wednesday, Havrilla said she hadn’t moved the box with the dress from her dining room table.

“I’m still in shock,” she said. “I never thought I’d see it again.”

Search continues

Ame Bartlebaugh, 25, is getting married to Scott Iwan in December 2019 in a Vermilion clubhouse on the shore of Lake Erie.

Until the University of Akron graduate got engaged before Christmas, she never imagined what kind of wedding dress she wanted.

“I’m low key; I don’t like being the center of attention,” she said.

But Bartlebaugh said she can see herself wearing her mom’s flowing veil edged in embroidered flowers.

If only someone knew where it was.

“I put the dress I found on Facebook and there was probably a one-in-a-million chance someone would see it and that happened,” she said. “It would be wonderful if that happens for me, but I’m not putting my hopes on it.”

Bartlebaugh posted several pictures of her mom’s gown and veil on Facebook.

Havrilla’s children are trying to help Bartlebaugh, too.

Brian Havrilla, who posted his mom’s reaction to getting her dress on Twitter, has since posted four pictures of Bartlebaugh’s mom in her gown on Twitter, too.

“Internet,” he wrote, “do your thing!”

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettABJ.