(Look Back is an occasional series with content and images from the Atlantic County Historical Society.)
"How can we extend the summer season and attract more tourists? Have a beauty parade!" It all began in 1921 when a group of local businessmen met and devised a plan to extend the summer by one week, beginning the day after Labor Day. The parade would be held on that Tuesday afternoon, starting on the beach. Each evening contests would occur in which the contestants would compete, with Miss America being selected on Saturday night.
The early parades had the contestants walking on the Boardwalk. Then, over the years, they were transported by rolling chairs, then convertible cars with the previous year's Miss America riding in an elaborately decorated vehicle.
As the parade evolved, grand marshals would became another feature, with celebrities serving in that role as an added attraction. Marilyn Monroe, in 1952, was the most famous. Eddie Fisher was a close second!
High school bands, Philadelphia Mummers and locally sponsored floats added to the total enjoyment.
In the early years of the parade, everyone had to wear bathing suits, not just the contestants. The police, firemen, lifeguards and band members were forced to comply. In order to single out the policemen, they were allowed to wear their caps, carry billy clubs and had their badges pinned to their suits!
Over the years, the parade was moved from afternoon to early evening, but followed the original plan of contests each evening where the women showed off their talent, their form in bathing suits and evening gowns. In more recent years, the parade has been known as the Show Me Your Shoes parade, as each contestant showed off decorated shoes often showcasing their state.
In 1981 there was discussion about eliminating the pageant, but it survived for a period of time. For a short while it was moved to Las Vegas, then it returned to Atlantic City, and this year it is planned to be held in a casino in Connecticut. Pageant politics has gotten in the way of a locally fun event, and its future is once again in doubt.
But we all can remember watching the Saturday night crowning of the new winner, and hearing Bert Parks sing "There She Is, Miss America."
Founded in 1913, the Atlantic County Historical Society has been preserving historical materials in its library and museum since. Every week, Wednesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., it opens its doors to share these collections with anyone who is interested. The society building is at 907 Shore Road in Somers Point. More information is available at www.atlanticcountyhistoricalsocietynj.org and on Facebook, or by calling 609-927-5218.