Graham museum celebrates 40 years of Miss NC
The Jeanne Swanner Exhibit
Alamance News - By Tom Boney, Jr.
Forty years ago, the people of Graham spent much of the year excited about
the renown that came to their town as a result of the success of one of
their beauty queens, a local girl named Jeanne Swanner.
Jeanne (pronounced then as two syllables, like the genie in a bottle)
dazzled Miss Graham contest judges and won the title of Miss Graham, as a
19-year-old sophomore who came home from Auburn University for the weekend
contest. Her talent: playing a ukulele and singing original, humorous
That weekend stretched into a longer series of commutes as Miss Graham won
the Miss North Carolina contest in Greensboro that summer.
Hundreds of Citizens turn out in
downtown Graham for Jeanne Swanner Day on July 27, 1963, two weeks
after she was crowned Miss North Carolina.
The fire horn sounded throughout Graham to signal the return of the
triumphant beauty, at 6 feet, 2 inches tall, one of the tallest
contestants ever to compete. The streets were lined with enthusiastic
citizens celebrating the victory of their hometown girl.
The town rallied around their beauty queen -- free use of a car by the
local Ford dealership, free dry cleaning, help from a local seamstress in
sewing dresses for future appearances, donated corduroy from the county's
famous Cone Mills manufacturer to make some outfits, including an evening
dress. "Home of Miss North Carolina" signs were posted on the major
thoroughfares into town; The Alamance News carried that same moniker under
its front page banner throughout her year-long reign.
July 27, 1963 was Jeanne Swanner Day in Graham, and Mayor Myron
Rhyne read a proclamation on the Court House steps as Swanner, who
had been crowned Miss North Carolina, looked on. Swanner competed in
the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, and was chosen as Miss
Jeanne Swanner Day was held with a rally at Court Square, with the major
honoring the Graham girl for her achievement and leading the rally of
support for her subsequent trip to the boardwalk of Atlantic City, the
customary destination for Miss America pageants.
Organizers at the Graham Historical Society Museum want to reconstruct
some of the excitement from 1963 this summer with a new exhibition opening
on July 13, the 40th anniversary of Miss Graham's crowning as Miss North
The former Miss North Carolina, Jeanne Swanner Robertson, now lives in
Burlington, and has offered to provide some of the memorabilia items for
the new exhibit -- tentatively to be entitled "Behind her all the way -
Graham's Miss North Carolina."
Bur Robertson and Jerry Peterman, who is coordinating the museum's
efforts, want to unearth memories and more memorabilia from those who
participated in the celebrations from the other side of the runway.
They are hoping to find old home movies or additional photographs of some
of the festivities. They are asking citizens who were involved or present
at any of the events to write a few paragraphs or a page or so of what
Hundreds of citizens turned out for Jeanne Swanner Day on July 27, 1963,
two weeks after she was crowned Miss North Carolina, and six busloads of
Graham supporters traveled to Atlantic City to support the hometown girl.
Some of the pictures from the courthouse show people in the crowds with
movie and still cameras. "We'd like to get copies of those for the museum
exhibit," explains Peterman.
"So many people in the community did so much," Jeanne says. "It really
shows a small town spirit that just wouldn't happen, then or now, in
larger metropolitan areas."
Jeanne was the hometown favorite, but didn't win the Miss America crown.
She also proved to be a favorite of the other contestants, however,
winning the Miss Congeniality title -- with a record 50 or 52 votes. (She
noted at the time that since ballots were signed, she couldn't vote for
herself.) She has subsequently parlayed that winsome personality and the
confidence she gained from the experience into a career as a professional
speaker and humorist across the country. (Robertson notes that even 40
years later, she still holds the record as the tallest woman ever to
compete in the Miss America pageant.)
Peterman is asking anyone with film, photographs, or written memories to
send them to the museum, PO Box 357, Graham, NC 27253. He can also be
reached through the Graham Fire Department at 336-570-6707.
Reprinted with permission from The Alamance News, Graham, North Carolina