Local library showcases Miss America memorabilia

Published 5:26 pm Friday, September 8, 2017

I was but a wee lad when my fascination with beauty queens began.

It was 1965 and my aunt, Jessie Carol Smith, had just been crowned Miss Chocowinity High School. I would have only been about 2 years old at the time, so I’m not sure if I have actual memories of that moment or if I just remember seeing photos at my Mema’s house.

Regardless, I thought my aunt was the most glamorous person I ever saw. I feel pretty much the same way today whenever a new Miss North Carolina or Miss America is crowned. So needless to say, I’m interested to see who wins Miss America this weekend (the pageant is televised live on ABC-TV Sunday evening). The current Miss North Carolina, the beautiful and talented Victoria Huggins, is on several prediction lists to be among the finalists this year. The Tar Heel State hasn’t had a Miss America since Asheville’s Maria Fletcher won the 1962 title, so we are long overdue.

Over the years, I began assembling a collection of Miss America memorabilia: part historical artifacts, part Americana and a whole lot of kitsch thrown in. A pageant booklet here, a lunchbox there — mix in a collector’s plate and other odds and ends, and in time, I had more pageant-related items than I knew what to do with.

I especially enjoy the program books. My collection includes local, state and national pageant books dating back to the 1950s. From beehive hairdos to beaded evening gowns, they capture images of 60-plus years of American fashion trends. But what I like best are the advertisements, which tout everything from automobiles and beauty products to cereal and soft drinks during the days when Oldsmobile, Toni home permanents, Kellogg’s corn flakes and Pepsi-Cola were major pageant sponsors.

I’ve reached that time in one’s life when there is a need to simplify, to streamline one’s existence. Many of you know of my illness, and I have some concerns that “stuff” that means a great deal to me could end up in a dumpster or on the shelves of a thrift store for a few paltry dollars. No one in my family is at all interested in Miss America memorabilia, so I finally admitted to myself the time had come to find new homes for my treasures.

Then a thought occurred to me: there was a way to put my collection into the hands of other rabid fans while also raising money for a good cause. With the help of Claudia Dahlen, a member of the George H. & Laura E. Brown Library staff in Washington, I formulated a plan to donate my collection to the Friends of the Brown Library group. My hope is that they will bring a few bucks via online auctions/sales to support efforts to improve and expand the library’s history room.

Dahlen went one step further. She selected a few choice items and assembled a small exhibition that will be on display in the library throughout the month of September. After that, let the bidding begin!

NORTH CAROLINA KEEPSAKE: A sparkling crown sits atop a circa-1970 program book from the Miss Rocky Mount Pageant.