The Miss America Organization doesn’t have an official museum, but if it did, it might resemble the expansive collection housed at the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel.
Staff there are feverishly working to spruce up memorabilia in time for the pageant’s return in September.
“This is a big deal for Atlantic City and, in particular, the hotel, because this is what we were themed to,” said Janet Espenshade, an interior designer working to revamp the displays. “This is our royalty. This is Americana. ... For one year, a regular girl can be Miss America.”
The hotel opened in 1997, months after the adjacent Atlantic City Convention Center. Developer Tom Scannapieco came up with the idea to theme the hotel to the Miss America Pageant when he heard the organization might move its offices to the mainland. Done right, the theme would be elegant and understated and would bring some added attention to the hotel, where the organization could have its offices, he said.
The theming is such a large part of the hotel, it was nearly named the Miss America Sheraton — a name that Scannapieco successfully negotiated for the right to use. The name never was put to use, however, after others involved suggested it might not appeal to convention travelers the hotel hoped to attract, Scannapieco said.
Even without the name, the hotel moved forward with a clear theme.
“For all the years that the Miss America Organization was in the city, the city never took the step of building a museum. We really became the de facto Miss America museum,” Scannapieco said. “If you look around you see that the pageant was the guiding principle in design for the hotel from the curvy furniture, to the diamond patterns to the gold color range.”
For those who might visit the hotel for a chance to get a glimpse of Miss America history, there’s more than overall motif to be seen. The hotel houses private photo collections, a re-creation of one of the pageant’s original Golden Mermaid trophies, 29 pairs of shoes worn in the Miss America parade, seven re-created coronation dresses and the actual dress worn by the current Miss America, among other artifacts.
While the collections are in good shape, the return of the pageant to its birthplace has left the hotel looking at polishing its current collection and possibly adding to it in the hope of giving the pageant the welcome back to the city that it deserves, Espenshade said.
That means reprinting large-scale photos of winners that have faded over time, replacing monitors where Miss America highlights were seen, and redoing the seven windows facing Convention Boulevard. Plaques still remain outside of the windows that once displayed items including Miss America toys and a talking mannequin of Miss America 1996 Shawntel Smith acting as a spokeswoman.
After the pageant left in 2005, memorabilia in the windows facing the outside was returned to the organization and other lenders over time. The street that was once called Miss America Way was renamed, but the hotel continued to keep the remainder of its display. Each year, Espenshade, of Espenshade Interiors in Bryn Mawr, Pa., would wait for the day about three weeks after the new winner was crowned when her dress would arrive at the hotel for display.
“Every year, we change it out and say, ‘Oh gosh, don’t let it touch the floor,’” Espenshade said.
The shoes worn in the Miss America parade and housed on the second floor also are original. Up close, many resemble homemade art projects, as the contestants often make the outrageous designs on the shoes themselves. The 29 pairs of shoes on display were selected from about 500 entries the hotel received when soliciting for footwear to display. Even today, Espenshade receives the occasional letter from a contestant asking if there is room for one more pair.
The display, however, is permanent, and no new pairs are added. The shoes on display are shown in front of photos of those wearing them. Some of those photos will be freshened up in light of the pageant’s return.
The hotel hasn’t yet revealed all of its plans. The freshened displays are expected to be unveiled prior to the Sept. 15 pageant.
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