Jeanne Swanner Robertson Exhibit to Open in July
The Jeanne Swanner Exhibit

Carousel Magazine - June 2003 - By Sondra J. Casey

A new exhibit honoring Jeanne Swanner Robertson of Burlington will open Sunday, July 13, at the Graham Historical Museum, 135 W. Elm St., Graham.

The exhibit, "Behind Her All the Way: Graham's Miss North Carolina," recognizes the 40th anniversary of the year Robertson was crowned.  It will be open to the public during regular museum hours, 2-5 pm Sundays.

A number of beauty queens, past and present, are expected to attend.
"This exhibit will celebrate the people of Graham who were involved with the Jeanne Swanner experience," says Jerry Peterman, president of the Graham Historical Society, explaining that the crowning of Jeanne Swanner, who then lived in Graham, was one of the biggest things that had ever happened in Graham.

Jerry Peterman

Robertson not only won the Miss North Carolina title, but went on to win the Miss Congeniality title in the Miss America pageant that year.

After Robertson was crowned, a huge parade was held on Main Street in Graham, followed by a celebration at the courthouse in Graham, when hundreds of local residents poured into the streets to catch a glimpse of the famous beauty contestant.

Robertson, standing 6-feet-2, was striking to look at.  She was the tallest contestant ever to compete in either the Miss North Carolina or the Miss America pageant.

"This was one of the three biggest things that had ever happened in Graham," Peterman says.  The first, he says, was the hanging of Wyatt Outlaw on Main Street in 1865.  The second was the Battle of Alamance at the start of the Revolutionary War.  And the third was the crowning of Jeanne Swanner.

Robertson, who considers herself a humorist, has been on the speaker's circuit for years, giving 100 speeches a year across the US.

In an interview with Carousel Magazine in June 2001, Robertson said the North Carolina judges "had a silly question and a serious one" for her back in 1963. 

The first question was, "What person, other than your parents, do you admire?"

"I said to admire somebody, you really had to know them," she said.  She told the judges about a blind student who attended classes with her at Auburn University, writing her notes in Braille every night.  The student made straight A's and planned to teach school.

The second questions was, "If you were seated on an airplane and Elvis Presley sat down next to you, what would you do?"

"I'd pull out my ukulele and play him a few of my songs," Robertson replied.

She said she knew the judges were impressed.  "They didn't want me to go, we were having so much fun," she said.

The Graham exhibit will feature Robertson's trophies, crowns, scrapbooks, photos, news clippings, and pageantry gowns. 

It will also feature photos of the crowds of Graham residents who attended Robertson's coming-home celebration.

Peterman, 54, was a Graham firefighter for 30 years.  His wife, Jan Brantley Peterson, is depicted in one of the photos.  Peterson says others may be able to find themselves in the pictures. 

"This exhibit is to honor Miss Robertson, the city of Graham, and the people who were involved in the events of that day," he says.

Reprinted with permission from Carousel Magazine