LINCOLN — Former Miss America Teresa Scanlan's gowns are moving out of her parents' basement and into the public eye.
The exhibit, “Nebraska's Miss America: Teresa Scanlan,” opened at the Nebraska History Museum Friday to commemorate Scanlan's year-long reign as the 2011 Miss America.
Scanlan, a native of Gering, Neb., was the first Miss Nebraska to wear the crown and the youngest Miss America since 1921. She was 17 years old when she was crowned Miss Nebraska in North Platte in 2010 and won the national title in Las Vegas in January 2011.
People interested in fashion and pageantry will get a chance to see Scanlan's seven gowns from the Miss America pageant “up close and personal,” museum curator Laura Mooney said.
The museum is displaying 34 objects, including the gowns, memorabilia and gifts Scanlan received during her time as Miss America, at its museum at 15th and P Streets in downtown Lincoln.
The exhibit will be on display through Sept. 3, and admission is free.
Scanlan, who attended Friday's night exhibit opening, is a freshman at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va.
She is pursuing a degree in government and hopes to attend Harvard Law School to study to become a criminal prosecutor.
Ultimately, the 20-year-old Republican wants to pursue a career in politics. Her Facebook profile says she would like to run for president in 2028.
To start out though, she's eyeing a return to her home state and perhaps a run for Congress in Nebraska's 3rd District.
“The more that I travel, the more that I realize what home is,” Scanlan said.
The event also included presentations by U.S. Reps. Adrian Smith and Jeff Fortenberry, State Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff and a proclamation from Gov. Dave Heineman, who was unable to attend.
Harms, who presented the proclamation to Scanlan and her family, told the crowd of more than 100 that she was a good role model for the young girls in the audience.
“Teresa is a reminder that you can be beautiful on the outside. But you need to be beautiful as an individual on the inside, too,” Harms said.
Scanlan was named an honorary crew member of the USS Nebraska and given a fleece. She then took to the podium to tell Nebraskans, “It's amazing to be back.''
Scanlan outlined her journey from winning the crown to visiting 40 states and five countries and taking more than 200 plane rides.
She said she couldn't have accomplished all that without the support of her friends and family in Gering.
"There are so many memories and experiences (in the exhibit), but I don't even know how to express my thanks to all the people in my life,” she said.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is the gown Scanlan wore when she was crowned Miss America.
“The gown I was crowned in ... is the most recognizable and iconic,” Scanlan, 20, said. “All the pictures and videos from the day I was crowned forward are always going to be of that crowning moment. It's my dream dress.”
The white gown features more than 2,000 beads and crystals and was designed by Winning Crown Boutique in Omaha. But the gown is just one piece of the collection.
The exhibit also features the shoes Scanlan started wearing to pageants at the age of 13. She was wearing plain white Mootsies Tootsies shoes with jelly straps and a broken heel cap the night she was crowned Miss America.
“They're not attractive at all,” Scanlan said.
Other fun items are the gifts Scanlan received as Miss America, she said.
She has the keys to several cities in Nebraska and a key to Las Vegas. As the grand marshal at the Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival in Avon, Ohio, Scanlan received a sash made of duct tape, a duct tape ring and a bouquet of duct tape flowers.
“I love anything made of colored duct tape,” she said.
Scanlan said the items in the exhibit mean a lot to her because they represent the work she put in since participating in her first pageants as a young teen.
"There were really hard times. There was plenty of tears along the way. There were many moments of great triumphs and celebrations and just so many people that were a part of my journey," she said.
And that journey was the reason Scanlan thought the items should be shared with Nebraskans. But, she admits, the exhibit wasn't her idea.
Allen Beermann, executive director of the Nebraska Press Association and a friend of Scanlan's, first proposed the exhibit because he wanted Nebraskans to have an opportunity to see Scanlan's gowns and awards.
“Why should it not be at some place where others can see it and appreciate it?” Beermann said.
So, last April, Beermann and his wife, Linda, met up with Mooney, Scanlan and Scanlan's friend, Olympic bobsledder Curt Tomasevicz, at a Lincoln restaurant to talk about how to make it happen.
By the end of the evening they had worked out the logistics, Beermann said.
Scanlan is not a typical subject for a museum exhibit, exhibits services coordinator Tina Koeppe said. Koeppe, who is overseeing the design, said she has never worked on an exhibit with a piece of history so fresh in the mind of the public.
That made the exhibit easier to design because numerous photos were available to serve as backdrops, Koeppe said.
Scanlan's gowns are on mannequins at the back of the third-floor gallery on platforms. Picture backdrops show what she looked like during competition.
After the Scanlan exhibit closes in early September, the collection will be moved to its permanent home in Gering at the North Platte Valley Museum.
“These items are more than just material things,” Scanlan said. “They are a treasure chest full of memories. They are who I am and who I've become, and they've really impacted my life.”
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