ATLANTIC CITY — Bebe Shopp Waring was crowned Miss America in 1948 and calls Atlantic City home for her and her “sisters” — her fellow former Miss America winners.
The 87-year-old returned to the resort Saturday with about 20 other ex-Miss A’s to sign autographs and chat with fans.
“This is home,” she said. “I love being with my sisters, too. We have real fun.”
Dozens of fans lined up for two hours Saturday morning outside the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall to get autographs signed by the former winners. Some brought books with them, others wore banners and crowns atop their heads.
Many of the people in line were pageant winners themselves from all over the country.
Macie Bacella came out from Pennsylvania to see the competition this week and stood in line to meet the former Miss Americas.
At 9 years old, she was Miss Liberty Sweetheart in the American Royal Beauties pageant and wore her sash and crown while standing in line. She brought her best friend with her.
“It’s so much fun to do,” Macie said. “I think they’re all so nice.”
Actress Lee Meriwether, 82, was Miss America 1955 and went on to portray Catwoman in the 1966 Batman film. She took pictures with fans and signed their books, and said she likes to watch the younger girls come in their banners and crowns.
Perhaps she’ll be watching them in the competition in a few years, she said.
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“It always feels good (to be back). It’s so perfect,” she said.
Waring said she likes watching the contestants evolve with changing times.
“The competition hasn’t changed, the women of our country have changed,” she said.
Dozens of girls wore crowns and sashes bearing the titles of pageants. One of the first groups to enter the ballroom was three winners of the National Miss Reigning America Teen pageant.
They described how they were inspired by watching the women be crowned, and then being able to meet and talk to them.
“This is like the Super Bowl of pageants,” said Sarah Hoover, 19, of Georgia.
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And it wasn’t just current and former pageant winners in line.
Sisters Gail and Eileen Lieberman, 64 and 58, have been coming to the Miss America Competition for more than 50 years.
“I’ve been following it since I was a kid,” said Gail Lieberman, of Connecticut. “Just meeting all these beautiful people from all the different states. ... It’s nice.”
The sisters stood in line with a friend they met attending the competition, Mal Matthews, 50, who said he has been to every Miss America show since 2001.
And while many of the former Miss A’s said being back in Atlantic City felt like home, it has a different meaning for Suzette Charles, who grew up in Atlantic County before taking the crown in 1984.
“This is home for me,” she said. “I’m starting to come back every year.”