What Do an Evening Gown, a Mummy, Makeup, a Rope and a Pigeon Have in Common?

Although my efforts to transform myself have mostly gone unnoticed this year, I’m still persevering to accomplish the desired results. Lately, my self-improvement projects have taken on a 1960s theme. When I’m not developing the courage to create the proper 60s flick as shown on Liberty of London’s Hourglass eye makeup tutorial, I’m devising strategies to find friends who subscribe to the same code of conduct that Uncle Bill and Mr. French prescribed for Buffy, Jody and Cissy in “Family Affair.”

Jacquelyn Mayer's Miss America gownSo it’s no surprise that my favorite of the five objects on display in the Ohio History Center’s new exhibition, Transformation, dates from the 1960s. It’s the sleeveless white silk taffeta gown with a full, floor-length skirt that Jacquelyn Mayer of Sandusky, Ohio wore when she was crowned Miss America 1963.

Mayer won the local Miss Vacationland pageant in May 1962 and the statewide Miss Ohio competition in July 1962, making her eligible to compete in the first televised Miss America pageant. During the swimsuit and talent competitions, Mayer wore a bright Spanish red suit and chiffon dress that helped her stand out for the judges. Although she did not win any of the preliminary competitions of the Miss America pageant, her total points led her to take the title on September 8, 1962.

During her year-long reign as Miss America, Mayer traveled extensively, making public appearances and advertising major brands like The Toni Company, Ohio Bell, Oldsmobile and Pepsi-Cola.

Mayer donated an extensive collection of memorabilia documenting her Miss America reign to the Ohio Historical Society in 2002. Soon after, I was part of a team of archivists and curators who processed and cataloged the items that now comprise the Jacquelyn Mayer Collection (MSS 1313).
Portrait of Jacquelyn Mayer, Ohio Historical Society

Organizing Mayer’s correspondence, speeches and media clippings from her reign was interesting, but listening to Mayer’s “Music to Sell Ohio Bell By” record and watching 16mm films of the 1962 Miss America pageant was even better. Looking at photographs of her at Miss America appearances, modeling Ban-Lon and Everglaze fashions and posing for a Pepsi-Cola publicity shot was especially enjoyable. Click here to see over 20 photographs of Mayer from the collection.

But best of all during those days I spent processing Mayer’s collection was admiring the designer clothes that she wore during her reign. How could I resist a sleeveless pink synthetic brocade dress with a rose, black, gold and green floral pattern; a pink floral cotton sleeveless evening dress with a matching coat and purse that were all made from McCall’s patterns; and a three-piece suit of ivory cotton twill with embroidered cherry blossoms that Mayer wore to the April 1963 Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC?

The collection also includes Mayer’s matching pillbox hats, gloves and purses; miniature promotional cars modeled on a 1962 Oldsmobile Super 88 and a 1963 Oldsmobile Spitfire; the rhinestone tiara Mayer wore when she was crowned Miss Ohio; the sash she wore at the Miss America pageant; and the trophy awarded to her when she won the Miss America pageant. 

Here’s a close-up of Mayer’s historic gown that’s on display.  You can also view her Miss America crown, which is on loan from Mayer for this exhibition.

Detail of the gown Jacquelyn Mayer was wearing when she was crowned Miss America 1963, Ohio Historical Society
While Mayer’s dress highlights the private transformation that occurs when one accepts a public role, the object in the Transformation exhibit that has received the most publicity is Amunet, Egyptian for “the hidden one,” who represents the transformation from object to person.

This 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummy was donated to the Ohio Historical Society in 1926 by J. Morton Howell, the first Ambassador to Egypt under President Warren G. Harding’s administration. Likely originating from Deir el-Medina near Thebes, Amunet lived sometime between 830 B.C. and 790 B.C.

Amunet, Ohio Historical SocietyRecent research by a retired Egyptologist revealed that the mummy was not the original occupant of the hieroglyphics-covered coffin in which she now resides.  The coffin was created for Neskhonspakhered, who lived and died circa 760 B.C. to 656 B.C. The outer coffin, in which this coffin would have been placed, is at the British Museum.

Amunet's coffin, Ohio Historical SocietyRecently, the Ohio Historical Society and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Department of Radiology worked together to study Amunet using a CT scanner. The scan revealed that the 5’2” woman was in relatively good health until her death between age 35 and 45, but that the mummification process performed on her may have been hurried or executed by inexperienced embalmers.

Dur3D reconstruction of Amunet's face, Ohio Historical Societying a special event last Saturday evening, OHS unveiled a 3D reconstruction of Amunet’s face, shared a 3D prototype of her skull and discussed what can be discovered from the wrappings around her body. As part of the celebration, guests learned about the ancient beer-making process and tasted a beer inspired by Amunet that was created by Barley’s Smokehouse and Brewpub in collaboration with The Actual Brewing Company and North High Brewing.

Three additional objects on display represent other moments of transformation in history. A Max Factor Vaudeville make-up kit from the 1920s showcases personal and physical transformation. Segments of the rope used to hang those who conspired on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln illustrate the transformation from life to death. Buttons, the last wild passenger pigeon shot in 1900, conveys how humans transform the natural world.

Transformation opened today and continues through March 30, 2014.

This entry was posted in Birds, Fashion, History, Museums, Ohio, Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society), Special Collections. Bookmark the permalink.

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