From Jerry Bledsoe's column in an unknown NC newspaper, pages C1 and C5:
It always seems to be like this. Just when you think you've got things down the way they are, up jumps a complication.
A while back, I mentioned here a bit of trivia I scrounged from a new book: that the first Miss North Carolina was Ruth McLean Covington of Charlotte, crowned in 1937. "Wonder what she's doing now?" I wrote.
A couple of people called to tell me that Ruth had been living in Greensboro for more than 25 years, so I called her and wrote a column about what she's doing now. One thing I mentioned that she's doing is getting ready to appear in the 50th anniversary Miss North Carolina Pageant in Raleigh come June, a big affair sponsored by the Raleigh Jaycees.
That was that, I thought. I had things down the way they are. Then up jumps this complication in the form of a telephone call from Marie Allred of Bonlee in Chatham County.
"I don't know who you talked to," she told me, "but they're all wrong."
The first Miss North Carolina couldn't have been Ruth Covington, she said, because her sister, Leola Haught, was crowned Miss North Carolina in 1933. She didn't know whether her sister was the first Miss North Carolina or not, but she was sure that she won the title four years before Ruth Covington.
Her sister was Leola Councilman then. She was working at the telephone company in Sanford when she entered the Miss Lee County Pageant, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club. She won and went to the Miss North Carolina Pageant at Wrightsville Beach.
Marie has a 1970 clipping from a Raleigh newspaper in which her sister recalled the pageant. It went on for five days, her sister remembered. The contestants rode a train from Wilmington to Raleigh, where they had dinner at the Gateway Town & Country House, then returned to Wilmington for a parade down Main Street. They rode a trolley to the beach and posed in the surf for photographers.
The competition itself, which included evening gowns and swimsuits, took place at the Lumina Pavilion on July 21, 1933, a clear night with the temperature comfortably in the lower 70s.
After Leola won, Marie said, she went on to compete in Atlantic City, where she placed fifth.
Her sister, who's 71 now, is unable to reminisce about her experience because she had a stroke last June and is now undergoing therapy at a nursing home in Sea Level to regain her speech and mobility. However, I called her husband, Harold Haught, a retired Marine officer who lives in Havelock, and he confirmed all of this and even fetched his wife's Miss N.C. trophy from the dining room and read me the inscription on it.
Ruth Covington Thomas told me that she hadn't heard of an earlier pageant than the one in which she participated, but she certainly didn't want to take credit for being the first Miss North Carolina if the honor belonged to somebody else.
I called Joe Sam Routh, who wasn't particularly happy to hear what I had to tell him since he is producing the 50th anniversary pageant, and if there was a Miss North Carolina before 1937 this would not be the 50th anniversary. Joe, incidentally, comes from Franklinville, just a hoot and a holler from my house in Randolph County. He lives in Apex now, and he's produced and directed the past seven Miss North Carolina pageants.
He said there very well could have been a pageant in 1933, but the records kept by the Raleigh Jaycees who have the franchise for the state pageant show the first one was in 1937. He suggested I call the Miss America office in Atlantic City and Hannah Block in Wilmington, who directed some of the early pageants.
The Miss America office said it had no entry from North Carolina in the 1933 pageant. The first North Carolina entrant in the pageant was Ruth Covington in 1937, it said.
"I know different and everybody in Sanford who has any age on them knows different," Marie said when I called to give her this news.
Harold Haught said he was certain his wife had gone to compete in Atlantic City.
Hannah Block said she didn't direct a pageant until 1940 and wasn't in North Carolina in 1933, so she didn't know whether there was a Miss North Carolina pageant that year or not.
After several more calls, I got up with Harry Warren, a researcher at the New Hanover County Museum in Wilmington, and asked if he knew about the pageant in 1933. He didn't, but he knew all about the Lumina Pavilion because he'd recently researched it.
"Lumina was the place where people went for about half a century," he said. "It was called Fun Spot of the South."
Built in 1905, it was a huge structure of heart pine on several levels, its exterior strung with so many lights that it could be seen for miles at sea, a landmark for mariners. Trolleys ran from downtown Wilmington right to its door. It had a huge ballroom where all the big bands played, and on its outside decks people sat and watched silent movies on a big screen erected in the surf.
The Lumina lost some of its glamour after World War II and gradually deteriorated until it was torn down in 1973.
Harry said he wouldn't be surprised if a Miss North Carolina pageant had been held there. "Beauty pageants were a common part of the scene at the Lumina," he said.
Anyway, he said he'd be glad to check the microfilm files of the Wilmington Star for me to see if it had carried stories of any such pageant. He sent the results forthwith.
A big ad on July 21, 1933, announced "Grand Finals Atlantic City Bathing Beauty Pageant to Select Miss North Carolina." The evening gown competition was to begin at 10 p.m., swimsuits at 11. This was to be followed by movies and "dancing until wee small hours of the morning" to the music of Jelly Leftwich and his orchestra. Strangely, admission was charged according to height. A story in the following day's paper was headlined "Sanford Girl Wins Beauty Pageant: Miss Councilman Crowned State's Representative at Atlantic City."
It said: "Miss Leola Councilman, a blonde, as Miss Sanford, last night was crowned Miss North Carolina at the state-wide Atlantic City beauty contest held at Lumina, Wrightsville Beach, before a crowd of 4,000 persons. Miss Evelyn Maynard as Miss Clayton was selected as alternate.
"Miss Councilman will represent North Carolina at the nationwide beauty pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., next month."
"These articles undoubtedly will either clear up things or add to the confusion over who was the first Miss North Carolina," Harry wrote. "Good luck."
No matter who was first, Joe Sam Routh is going ahead with his plans for a 50th anniversary pageant.
"There was one year during the war when the pageant wasn't held," he said. "It's been continuous since 1937 except for that year. So even if there was one in 1933 this will still be the 50th."
Here is the text of the newspaper article that I referenced on the site. I don't have the original article; I just have this transcription of a clipping, which unfortunately did not include the date of the article or the name of the newspaper. I also went looking for the photo that I mentioned of Aunt Lee and Uncle Harold at the nursing home, but I have not found it yet. I put the call out to other family members to see if they have more information about Leola's Miss NC adventures. If I get more information I will send it along.
Sincerely, Les Lindley