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12 Unusual Mid-Century Pageant Queens

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It is a centuries-old tradition for communities to pick a pretty girl to be the “queen” of their seasonal festivals. This was most often seen in the selection of a May Day Queen. The practice evolved into the beauty pageants that we’re all familiar with. In the mid-20th century, businesses and communities began to see the huge commercial possibilities of holding a contest where pretty girls would compete just for the honor of representing their product or main export. Thus there became a beauty pageant and crown for almost every saleable thing imaginable. Below are listed just a few. 

Images via Pinterest unless otherwise noted.

1. Sausage Queen

Ridiculously Interesting

In 1955, the Zion Meat Company declared Geene Courtney the Sausage Queen of their National Hot Dog Week. Miss Courtney, who once appeared as a bathing beauty in a Three Stooges short, is reported to have been a staunch Catholic who refused to pose nude for Salvador Dali. Because a girl has to keep her dignity.  

2. Apple Festival Queen

Although I can’t identify this particular Apple Festival Queen from the Festival’s comprehensive list, I can tell you she was part of the long tradition of Jackson, Ohio Apple Festival Queens dating back to 1937 (interrupted only for WWII). The Festival still produces sweet crisp apples and queens today. 

3. Peanut Queen

The Alabama National Peanut Festival began in 1938 (featuring key speaker George Washington Carver, of course.)  This photo was taken a year later, showing 1939 Peanut Queen Dot McArthur in a peanut swimsuit, presenting a prize to one lucky winner. 

4. Miss American Vampire

Before Johnny Depp and Tim Burton got their goth-and-glam all over it, Dark Shadows was a bizarre 1960s and '70s spooky soap opera. In a tie-in with the show, a Miss American Vampire contest was held. Above is regional winner Christine Domaniecki of Belleville, NJ. The guy crowning her was the original Barnabas, Jonathan Frid. The national winner—selected by a panel of judges that included Regis Philbin—was Sacheen Littlefeather, best known as the Native American woman who refused an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando.  

5. Pumpkin Queen

Pumpkin Show

The Circleville Ohio Pumpkin Show began in 1903 when the city’s mayor decorated his office-front with a few jack-o-lanterns and corn shucks. It has grown considerably since then, and has crowned a Pumpkin Queen every year since 1933 (minus of course, the years of WWII.) Above, pictured becoming truly united with the spirit of pumpkinhood, is the adorable 1972 Pumpkin Queen Kathy Uland. 

6. Miss Polish Job 

The Muller Brothers Automotive on Sunset Blvd was a 4 acre paradise for cars. The goal of this service station was to fill any automotive need a man (yeah, probably a man) might have. Opened in 1920, by the time LIFE Magazine came to document Muller’s 3,000,000th car wash, there was no limit to what this piece of car heaven could provide. You could buy your car, get new tires, lube jobs, gas, carwash, and, as the lovely lady above testifies, a magnificent polish job. Miss Polish Job was one of many beauty queens Muller’s boasted, including Miss Infra-Red Paint Job, Miss Auto Accessory, and Miss Lube Rack.  

7. National Uranium Queen

This is the National Uranium Queen of 1956, Brook Robin. Precious little information could be found about Miss Robin and her radioactive achievement, which we sincerely hope has nothing to do with over-exposure and internal irradiation. At least uranium isn’t absorbed through exposed skin.

8. Donut Queen

Kris Nodland beat out 250 hopeful girls across America to be crowned Donut Queen of 1951. Here she poses with the Gingerbread Donut Boy to announce the opening of the 14th Annual National Donut Week, April 7 - 14, 1951. National Donut Day is still a holiday in America, claiming to have pre-WWII roots when women would bring donuts and coffee to wounded soldiers. 

9. Miss Idaho Potato

Miss Idaho Potato,1935. Again, little information is known about this photo. Teach your daughters to be skeptical if anyone wants to celebrate their beauty by stripping them down and burying them in large potatoes. 

10. Miss Sweater Girl

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The Miss Sweater Girl contest was sponsored by Wool Bureau and the Knitted Outerwear Foundation. Here we see Miss Jeanne Davis of Alabama being crowned Sweater Girl of 1952. A cute little junior miss was also crowned, and five years later a Mr. Sweater (“The Man We’d Most Like To Buy A Sweater For”) would be added. Otherwise it would just be a bosom-and-bullet-bra competition, which didn’t fit the family image of the sponsors. 

11. International Posture Queen

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If people think your profession doesn’t quite deserve the word “medical” in front of it yet, they you may be a chiropractor in the 1950s. So spread word of your legitimacy by bringing on the pretty girls with the well-aligned spines. Besides being pretty, girls who wanted to wear the Posture Queen crown would have to stand on scales, one under each foot. The goal was to have the same amount of weight distributed on each foot, proving perfect posture. Here we see the well-balanced Diane Stopky, the 1957 International Posture Queen. That girl has coccygeal vertebrae that just won’t quit! 

12. The Blueberry Queen

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The name of this 1955 Blueberry Queen is lost to history. But the name of the photographer is Hal Mathewson. He can be remembered either as a brilliant absurdist, or as the man who thought a naked woman in a hotel bathtub filled with food would make people want to eat that food.

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Getty Images (Johnson) / iStock (ghosts)
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History
When Lexicographer Samuel Johnson Became a Ghostbuster
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Getty Images (Johnson) / iStock (ghosts)

Dr. Samuel Johnson is today best known for his Dictionary of the English Language (1755), which remained the foremost authority on the English language until the Oxford English Dictionary appeared more than a century later. The dictionary took Johnson nine years to complete, for which he was paid the princely sum of 1500 guineas—equivalent to $300,000 (or £210,000) today. Although it wasn’t quite the commercial success its publishers hoped it would be, it allowed Johnson the freedom to explore his own interests and endeavors: He spent several years editing and annotating his own editions of all of Shakespeare’s plays, and traveled extensively around Britain with his friend (and eventual biographer) James Boswell—and, in 1762, helped to investigate a haunted house.

Johnson—who was born on this day in 1709 and is the subject of today's Google Doodle—had a lifelong interest in the paranormal, once commenting that he thought it was “wonderful” that it was still “undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it, but all belief is for it.” According to Boswell, however, he was more of a skeptic than an out-and-out believer, and refused to accept anything without seeing the evidence for himself. So when the news broke of an apparently haunted house just a few streets away from his own home in central London, Johnson jumped at the chance to perhaps see a ghost with his own eyes.

The haunting began in the early 1760s, when a young couple, William and Fanny Kent, began renting a room from a local landlord, Richard (or William—sources disagree, but for clarity, we'll use Richard) Parsons, at 25 Cock Lane in Smithfield, London. Soon after the Kents moved in, Richard’s daughter, Betty, began to hear strange knocking and scratching sounds all around the house, and eventually claimed to have seen a ghost in her bedroom.

Richard soon discovered that William was a widower and that Fanny was in fact his deceased wife's sister; under canon law, the pair couldn't be married, and Richard became convinced that the ghost must be that of William's deceased first wife, Elizabeth, blaming William’s presence in the house for all of the strange occurrences. He promptly evicted the Kents and the noises soon subsided—but when Fanny also died just a few weeks later, they immediately resumed and again seemed to center around Betty. In desperation, a series of séances were held at the Cock Lane house, and finally Fanny’s ghost supposedly confirmed her presence by knocking on the table. When questioned, Fanny claimed that William had killed her by poisoning her food with arsenic—an accusation William understandably denied.

By now, news of the Cock Lane Ghost had spread all across the city, and when the story broke in the press, dozens of curious Londoners began turning up at the house, queuing for hours outside in the street hoping to see any sign of supernatural activity. According to some accounts, Parsons even charged visitors to come in and “talk” to the ghost, who would communicate with knocks and other disembodied noises.

But with the suspicion of murder now in the air, the Cock Lane haunting changed from a local curiosity into a full-blown criminal investigation. A committee was formed to examine the case, and Johnson was brought in to record their findings and investigate the case for himself.

On February 1, 1762, one final séance was held with all members of the committee—Johnson included—in attendance. He recorded that:

About 10 at night the gentlemen met in the chamber in which the girl [Betty] supposed to be disturbed by a spirit had, with proper caution, been put to bed by several ladies. They sat rather more than an hour, and hearing nothing, went down stairs, when they interrogated the father of the girl, who denied, in the strongest terms, any knowledge or belief of fraud … While they were enquiring and deliberating, they were summoned into the girl’s chamber by some ladies who were near her bed, and who had heard knocks and scratches. When the gentlemen entered, the girl declared that she felt the spirit like a mouse upon her back.

But the committee were suspicious. Betty was asked to hold out her hands in front of her, in sight of everyone in the room:

From that time—though the spirit was very solemnly required to manifest its existence by appearance, by impression on the hand or body of any present, by scratches, knocks, or any other agency—no evidence of any preternatural power was exhibited.

Johnson ultimately concluded that it was “the opinion of the whole assembly that the child has some art of making or counterfeiting a particular noise, and that there is no agency of any higher cause.” And he was right.

As the investigation continued, it was eventually discovered that Richard Parsons had earlier borrowed a considerable amount of money from William Kent that he had no means (nor apparently any intention) of repaying. The two men had a falling out, and Parsons set about elaborately framing Kent for both Fanny and Elizabeth's deaths. The ghostly scratching and knocking noises had all been Betty’s work; she hidden a small wooden board into the hem of her clothing with which to tap or scratch on the walls or furniture when prompted.

The Parsons—along with a servant and a preacher, who were also in on the scam—were all prosecuted, and Richard was sentenced to two years in prison.

Although the Cock Lane haunting turned out to be a hoax, Johnson remained open minded about the supernatural. “If a form should appear,” he later told Boswell, “and a voice tell me that a particular man had died at a particular place, and a particular hour, a fact which I had no apprehension of, nor any means of knowing, and this fact, with all its circumstances, should afterwards be unquestionably proved, I should, in that case, be persuaded that I had supernatural intelligence imparted to me.”

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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery
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geography
The Mountains of Kong: The Majestic West African Range That Never Existed
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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

If you look closely at a 19th century map of Africa, you’ll notice one major way that it differs from contemporary maps, one that has nothing to do with changing political or cartographical styles. More likely than not, it features a mountain range that no longer appears on modern maps, as WIRED explains. Because it never existed in the first place.

A 19th century map of West Africa
From Milner's Descriptive Atlas, 1850

The “Mountains of Kong” appeared on almost every major commercial map of Africa in the 1800s, stretching across the western part of the continent between the Gulf of Guinea and the Niger River. This mythical east-west mountain range is now the subject of an art exhibition at London’s Michael Hoppen Gallery.

In "Mountains of Kong," stereoscopic images by artist Jim Naughten—the same format that allowed Victorians with wanderlust to feel like they’d seen the world—reveal his view of the world of wildlife that might have existed inside the imagined mountains. As the gallery describes it, “he imagines a fictitious record made for posterity and scientific purposes during an expedition of the mountain range.” We’ve reproduced the images here, but to get the full effect, you’ll have to go to the gallery in person, where you can view them in 3D with a stereoscope (like the ones you no doubt played with as a kid).

Toucans fight a snake in two almost-identical side-by-side images.
The Toucans © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

Naughten created the images by taking two photographs for each, and moving the camera over some 3 inches for the second photo to make a stereoscopic scene. The landscapes were created by shooting images of Scottish and Welsh mountains and dioramas in natural history museums, using Photoshop to change the hues of the images to make them seem more otherworldly. His blue-and-pink-hued images depict fearsome apes, toucans sparring with snakes, jagged peaks, and other scenes that seem both plausible and fantastical at the same time.

The Mountains of Kong appeared in several hundred maps up until the 20th century. The first, in 1798, was created by the prominent geographer James Rennell to accompany a book by Scottish explorer Mungo Park about his first journey to West Africa. In it, Park recounts gazing on a distant range, and “people informed me, that these mountains were situated in a large and powerful kingdom called Kong.” Rennell, in turn, took this brief observation and, based on his own theories about the course of the Niger River, drew a map showing the mountain range that he thought was the source of the river. Even explorers who later spent time in the area believed the mountains existed—with some even claiming that they crossed them.

Two colobuses stand in a tree on a mountaintop.
The Colobus © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

The authority of the maps wasn’t questioned, even by those who had been to the actual territory where they were depicted as standing. Writers began to describe them as “lofty,” “barren,” and “snow-covered.” Some said they were rugged granite peaks; others described them as limestone terraces. In almost all cases, they were described as “blue.” Their elevation ranged from 2500 feet to 14,000 feet, depending on the source. Over the course of the 19th century, “there was a general southward ‘drift’ in the location,” as one pair of scholars put it.

Though geographers cast some doubt on the range’s existence as time went on, the Mountains of Kong continued to appear on maps until French explorer Louis-Gustave Binger’s Niger River expedition between 1887 and 1889, after which Binger definitively declared their nonexistence.

By 1891, the Mountains of Kong began dropping off of maps, though the name Kong still appeared as the name of the region. By the early 20th century, the mountains were gone for good, fading into the forgotten annals of cartographic history.

[h/t WIRED]

All images courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery.

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