Jeanne Swanner Robertson Exhibit to Open in July
The Jeanne Swanner Exhibit
- 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
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
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.
Robertson not only won the Miss North Carolina title, but went on to
win the Miss Congeniality title in the Miss America pageant that
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
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
"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
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