The Miss Goldsboro Pageant is a crowning achievement that has been around more than 85 years, and Jennifer Kuykendall wants the Wayne County Museum to pay tribute to its rich tradition.
Later this summer, the executive director of the museum hopes to have a big splashy exhibit entirely devoted to the local pageant — and the public can play a big part in accomplishing that.
She is putting out an “all call” for all types of memorabilia to be included in the exhibit, which is targeted to launch Sept. 7, the first Saturday after Labor Day.
Last year the museum did four shows, which was a huge undertaking, she said, since there is only a staff of two and their time is also spent writing grants, cataloging and closing during January for maintenance on the building.
She is proud of the topics that have been spotlighted in recent years, which have ranged from agriculture and the military to firefighters and black history.
“It was to be representative of our population,” she said. “My focus has been on our diversity, and so far that’s really working.”
Her interest in featuring the local pageant actually came from another event at the museum, when Miss Goldsboro 2016 Casey Croom and Miss Goldsboro Outstanding Teen Isabella Gaines, the reigning Miss Goldsboro, performed and presented a program before heading off to the Miss North Carolina pageant that year.
“I met the girls and saw their gowns and talked to their mothers, and it was nothing like my preconceived notions were going to be,” she said, causing her to dismiss the stereotypes that might come to mind. “They were all beautiful, but really lovely people and bright and funny, and they each had a platform, something that they felt very strongly about.
“Just talking to them, (I realized) that this is no longer a beauty pageant per se. This is really something.”
She began doing her homework on the history of the event, discovering its longevity dated further back than she realized.
“It started in 1932 — clearly it is something for a tradition to last that long, it has to have some importance to the community. There’s something in our collective memories, maybe, and that’s what I’m really interested in tapping into. I think that has been the secret to our success here, is listening to people when they come in here looking at one exhibit, talking about something that that exhibit reminds them of,” she said. “Miss Goldsboro kept coming up over and over. If more than a half a dozen people talk about something fondly, then that’s an idea for an exhibit.”
Reflecting on the era when it all began, during the Depression years, Kuykendall said at the outset it probably served as a morale booster, a “tremendous escape” while celebrating local girls.
The imagery and evolution — from a swimsuit and beauty pageant to a scholarship and platform-centric tone — converted Kuykendall into a believer. It’s something she is excited to showcase.
“Working on this show has totally changed my preconceived notions about pageants,” she said. “I want people to know how much work these girls do. I want to honor the legacy of the pageant, how much they have to do to compete. I think people discount that and it’s so impressive.
“But we do need help getting the word out, not just to the ‘formers’ (contestants and queens) — maybe you didn’t win, maybe you have just been a big fan your whole life.”
She is enthusiastic about the prospects, hoping the project will attract not only memorabilia like programs, crowns and gowns but also photographs and anything else that is associated with the pomp and circumstance of these pageants.
“Just anything that’s going to help spark people’s collective memories of Miss Goldsboro and the importance of the Miss Goldsboro (pageant) and the way it has changed,” she said. “I’m interested in the things that we don’t see.”
The list of former winners and contestants is not limited to those who are still living, either. Kuykendall said she is also interested in paying tribute to those former queens who have passed on, if anyone who knew them or perhaps competed with them would share some kind words about the young ladies.
There will also be an interactive component to the fall exhibit, in the form of a dress-up corner featuring some gowns and sashes and plastic tiaras for future queens to try on and enjoy.
“We’re also planning a tea party with the current Miss Goldsboro in September, and some of the formers will entertain with their talents,” Kuykendall said. “It will be a fun thing.”
The ticketed event will be a fundraiser, as well as a regal day for queens, princesses and those who love them.
“It’ll be kind of a day of glamour at the museum — a glamorama day, we have never done anything like that before,” the director said.
For more information or to discuss items for loan in this exhibit, call 919-734-5023 or visit the Facebook page or website, waynemuseum.org.