From 1920 to 1932, Galveston hosted an annual "pageant of pulchritude" on the beach in front of the Seawall. At its Roaring `20s peak, the bathing-suit contest that was officially known as the Galveston Island Beach Revue would entice some 200,000 people (a preponderance of them male, we would imagine) per year, tripling the population of the Island for the weekend.
After a dormancy of 76 years, it is coming back on May 16. The event is being resurrected by a group known as Islander By Choice, professional twenty- and thirtysomethings who are becoming adept at enhancing Galveston's social and cultural life.
IBC's Adrienne Culpepper explains how they decided to revive the pulchritude: "About two years ago, we were looking for ideas for [IBC] T-shirts, and we came across an old pamphlet for the bathing beauty contest. We just thought, Oh my gosh, we should totally bring this back.' Originally the plan was to do it in 2010, but after Ike, we decided it was now or never this year."
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Culpepper says that she and her cohorts are learning more about the event's history every day. The bathing suit contest was once a part of Splash Weekend, the official kick-off and opening of the Island for summer festivities, she says. While she has yet to talk to anyone who either competed in the event or observed -- small wonder, since most of those people would be in their 90s at the least today -- she did hear that one former contestant still lives on the Island in a local retirement home.
While the Great Depression brought an end to the Beach Revue, its spirit did live on in a world-famous event, Culpepper says. "It was part of the inspiration for the Miss America pageant," she says. "I think its so cool that Galveston helped shape something like that."
Another thing to file in the "so cool" department, at least for us: Yours truly has been asked to be a judge in the event. Our sacred journalistic integrity demanded nothing less.
The Galveston Island Beach Revue is Saturday, May 16 at 2 p.m. on the beach just east of the 33rd Street Jetty. Contestants are encouraged to enter in either the vintage or contemporary swimwear brackets or both. You can download registration forms here http://www.galvestonbeachrevue.com/. Be aware, though, that there are higher cash prizes for the winners of the vintage category ($500 for first prize) than the contemporary ($200). Also be advised that there are no changing facilities on the beach, and Galveston is not European in its attitude toward public nudity.