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NYC History: First Miss America Pageant by Rebecca Kilborne

Friday, May 6th, 2016 at 3:06pm Engel & Völkers New York City

February 1919 came in with a bang at the Hotel Des Artistes.  At midnight on February 1st the magnificent ballroom (now La Palestra), decorated for the event by a slew of famous artists, was the setting of the Chu Chin Chow Ball, an event dripping in excess and exoticism.  Oriental head dresses were required, a pageant “gypsies of the world” was held and the“dance of the gypsy slaves” was danced around a campfire.

The requirements of this ball were “youth and the spirit of Carnival.”  According to the Chin Chu Chow decrees, “stupid people will be known by their stupid costumes.”  The room was filled with socialites, artists, and wealthy young dough-boys just back from the Great War, and 500 glamour girls, hand-picked for their loveliness.

The room, a "galaxy of feminine beauty," buzzed with anticipation for the night’s main event: five New York artists, all famous for standardizing beauty in illustrations and magazines, were to judge a national beauty contest, the first of its kind.  The most famous artist was James Montgomery Flagg, who went on to become the creator (and face of) the iconic "I WANT YOU"poster of Uncle Sam. At 2:15am these “arbiters of beauty” walked among the sequins and pearls to make their selection.  The winner was presented with a golden apple

Thus an unknown 22 year old divorcee by the name of Edith Hyde “leapt into fame” as “the most beautiful woman in America.”   The judges admired her long neck, her coquettish chin, but perhaps her most persuasive asset, her see-through pantaloons.  Her photograph became the first ever transmitted from New York to Chicago using the new process of wire-photo.Although the official pageant began the following year (with one of the five "arbiters of beauty" as sole judge), Edith Hyde, the “Girl with the Golden Apple” was the first Miss America.  Hollywood was banging on her door, and newspaper men were ringing off the hook, asking her to reveal her beauty secrets. (One choice tip: "wring your hands violently until they lose feeling" to cure the fidgets and give the impression of grace). 

 And what happened to this forgotten face that for a brief while enraptured the nation?  It was rediscovered by a reporter,ravaged by alcohol in 1969 at the Gypsy Tea Kettle off of Times Square, but still with the same piercing blue eyes.  Known by the name of Pandora, Edith Hyde was telling fortunes.  In 1919, on top of the world at the Chu Chin Chow Ball, her threadbare future did not appear in the cards. 

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