"The first part of the
theme of the exhibit is, ‘Behind her all the way' and, honestly, the
people of Graham and Burlington and the entire area really showed that
they were my enthusiastic supporters," said Jeanne Swanner Robertson,
standing before a large, panoramic photo of the pageant and five of her
Not only does the exhibit
deal with Robertson's winning the Miss North Carolina crown, but there
also are extensive artifacts and newspaper articles dealing with her
winning the Miss Graham title on May 4, 1963, and her competition in the
1963 Miss America Pageant, where she won the Miss Congeniality title.
The permanent exhibit,
which will be open free to the public from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, is on the
second floor of the museum at 135 W. Elm St. Robertson, who has helped
arrange the truckload of mementos saved through the years, will be at the
opening to greet visitors. She will be accompanied by the new Miss North
Carolina, Dana Reason of Greenville, who was recently crowned by Robertson
at the 2003 pageant.
"I've already had several
calls and visits from people who wanted to find out if various things will
be in the exhibit, especially whether they or their relatives can be seen
in the crowd of 400 with the six Trailways buses that they took to
Atlantic City to support me during the Miss America Pageant in 1963," she
"More than anything else, I
want this exhibit to be a tribute to the people of Graham and what they
did for one of their own -- me," Robertson said. "I live in Burlington
now, but I grew up in Graham and I'm still a Graham gal."
Robertson was 19 years old and a student at Auburn University when the
series of events that changed her life occurred.
"I came home from college to take part in the Miss Graham Pageant at
Graham High School, which is now Graham Middle School," she recalled. "I
was one of seven contestants in it, and when I won I became Graham's
representative in the Miss North Carolina Pageant at Guilford College."
Not only was she the first
woman from Graham and Alamance County to wear the Miss North Carolina
crown, she was the tallest. And at 6 feet, 2 inches in height, she was
assured of constant news media attention at the Miss America event early
in September. The exhibit includes press clips quoting her as saying, "I'm
here to make a mark for the tall girl."
Additionally, the exhibit
includes a reprint of the Times-News' declaration in a 1963 article about
her and her height: "A queen, after all, should be queen-size." Robertson
said she's sure she got her height from her 6-foot-1-inch father.
Almost every memento one
can imagine is included in the exhibit -- the crowns, five of her gowns,
the ukulele she played in the talent competitions, and a recently
discovered home movie of the "Jeanne Swanner Day" events in downtown
Graham. Robertson said there is a story behind every item on display.
Robertson, who used the
$2,200 in prize money from the 1963 pageants to pay her tuition at Auburn,
graduated in 1965 and worked in athletic education. She went on to become
a nationally known speaker, humorist and author. She is married and a
Reprinted with permission from The Times-News