Undercover Queen: 1921

Ashley Dempsey, guest writer

Alana James Rose!” My name blasted out, and the room was filled with cheers. Confetti landed on my hair as I walked to the front of the brightly lit stage. The glittering crown was placed upon my head and suddenly I spotted danger. At that moment, memories of  why I was there and my mission filled my head!

                                                                        *   *   *

                                                                   One Week Prior

            Looking out of the clear glass window, the train lurched forward and my stomach began to turn.  Watching as the cold wind blew through the pine trees on a cold September day in New York, 1921, I was happy to finally get out of this town. Thankfully, I was leaving behind bad memories of how life had come to a complete stop at the age of five, when my mother died. My father and his Christian faith, being the only influences on me, I had been without a woman in my life to teach me how to be a proper lady.  The role of women was rapidly changing with the passing of the 19th amendment in 1920, giving equal rights to woman and the right to vote! I never became like the girls I saw in school, who were embracing the new female style of the early 1920’s, with their bobbed haircuts, lack of corsets, and much shorter dresses. My father was the only person who I looked up to growing up. He was a hero in my eyes, with his strong faith in God and being a part of the Bureau of Investigation, he fought crime during this era of Prohibition. With the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920, many speakeasies had sprung up serving illegal alcohol which kept my father and the Bureau extremely busy. Ever since I was ten years old my heart was set on being like my father, and that’s exactly what I did. At the age of twenty I became the only woman working for the BOI.

            CLICK, CLACK, CLICK! I woke up with a jolt! The train came to a stop in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Looking over my spectacles, I saw my investigation partner, Bobby, stumbling off the train with our luggage. He was a tall, dark and handsome gentlemen. I always thought of him as more than just a friend, but I knew I must be professional. Just a block away from the train station, Bobby held the door open as we walked into a dazzling hotel lobby, twinkling with chandeliers on the high ceilings. “It’s beautiful,” I exclaimed, looking around. Jazz music filled the ambiance as we checked in at the front desk.

“Two rooms please, Ma’am,” Bobby informed the front desk clerk.

With our room keys in hand, Bobby explained to me more about the mission we had been   assigned.

“This weekend, Alana, is the very first Miss America pageant and you will be starring as one of the contestants; undercover of course.”

“What! Have you seen me? I am nothing like those women..I..I can’t!”

“You have more drive and passion than anyone I know Alana. You can do anything you                      set your mind to. Eight other girls will be competing and the judges are focusing on                 beauty of the face and body, as well poise and talent. I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning for your training and makeover! Goodnight, and try to get some rest, you’ll do great.”

            Walking into my room, a blanket of nervousness circumvented my body. This was my first mission working for the BOI, so the pressure was on. President Warren G. Harding would be attending the pageant and my mission was to protect him at all costs! Becoming a part of the pageant will give the BOI access to the man who threatened to shoot President Harding. Spreading across my lavish bed, the threat swirled through my mind. “I can do this,” I promised myself as I prayed and asked God for the wisdom and strength I needed. The president’s life was in my hands.

            My eyes slowly opened as light peered through the sheer curtains of my room. Rubbing away my tired eyes, I got dressed and ready to go. My version of getting ready was throwing on black work pants with a long sleeve white button up, brown oxfords, knotting my hair up in a bun, and sliding my glasses up my nose. What was about to take place, I was not ready for. Time to become my worst nightmare; a prepped and polished woman!

            Walking down the long staircase, I saw Bobby standing at the foot of the stairs. “Good morning, ready to go?” he asked reaching out his hand.  As I grabbed it I replied, “Ready or not!” and he walked me to the taxicab.

“Keith’s Theater, Garden Pier Plaza please!” Bobby instructed.

“Yessir! I heard that’s where the first Miss America beauty pageant is being held! You gonna be a contestant ma’am?” the driver asked.

I turned to the old man driving with hesitation, “Ye…es I am…”

We rounded a corner and I saw a middle aged man with white hair and suspenders. He was standing in front of a building that read, Keith’s Theater, in big shining letters. Bobby and I step out of the taxicab and the man walks towards us.

“Hello, I am Harry Godshall, chairmen of the beauty contest. Walk right this way and I will show you to your makeup and hair station.”

“Looks like we’re gonna need extra help with this one.” I heard him mumble under his breath.

I anxiously followed Harry, with Bobby close behind. We entered a room full of bright, shiny mirrors. My reflection was everywhere, which I was not at all comfortable with!  Taking a seat in an adjustable chair, a women with frizzy, curly hair placed a salon cape around my neck while another woman brought a portable manicure table to my side. They picked and prodded at my nails, making them a nice maroon color. “Is all this really necessary!” I exclaimed as they tugged, pulled, and cut my hair into a bob, with silky smooth, soft curls. The ladies made me try on dress after dress, paired with Parley Pump black heels. “I can’t lie.” I said as the makeover came to an end. “A pampering makeover is not so bad after all. I never had a mother to do this kind of thing with.”

            With my hair and makeup done, my glasses were taken off and I was given thick and heavy contact lenses that covered my whole eye. Walking into the powder room, I put on my final dress.  As I walked out, the mirror showed a reflection that I didn’t recognize. “Is that really me!” I exclaimed, reminding myself of the girls I had seen back in school, with their perfect makeup and hair… I kind of liked it!

“You look like the bee’s knees!” Harry said with a gasp, while walking up to the dressing room.

“Alana, you look stunning!” Bobby said, as I blushed.

I really couldn’t believe that woman was me! My reflection was a complete stranger! Goodbye pants and flats, hello elegant dresses and perfectly manicured nails! My dress was a long, flowing turquoise blue that looked like the ocean, with glimmering jewels and seashells attached. The pageant was mermaid themed after all! “Maybe I can get used to this whole “girl” thing,” I said.

            “Don’t be a dewdropper!” Harry announced, “Were not quite done yet! You still have to learn your talent routine!”  We followed Harry to the stage of the theater, which was a lot larger than I imagined. I started to see the other contestants as we walked in and my stomach started to do somersaults. The girls were all about my age and seemed to be very snooty, giving me pretentious looks as I walked by. “Don’t let their attitude get to you, Alana. Stay focused and remember why you’re here,” Bobby reminded me.

     I decided to do my favorite tap routine, the Charlestown. Doing tap dancing lessons as a little girl, I thought I’d give it a shot. As I slipped on my tap shoes I said a quick prayer, and as the music started playing, anxiousness left my body with every step. While becoming more comfortable with the stage, it was almost time for the pageant to begin. “Time to learn how to walk,” Harry said . “What!” I exclaimed. “I already know how to do that!” Or so I thought! Harry helped me learn the perfect pageant walk as quickly as possible, then it was back to the dressing room. Excitement filled my body! The show was about to begin, and I almost forgot why I was there in the first place.

            Chaos and nerves filled the theater as girls rushed into hair, makeup, and outfits, performing their routines. An hour went by, which seemed like years. I performed my Charleston routine flawlessly and maintained the pageant walk without a step out of place. It was now down to two girls, myself and another contestant, Kathryn. “Good luck,” I said to her as we stood in the middle of the stage waiting for the winner to be announced. At that moment, I spotted President Harding sitting in the front row. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest when I heard Bobby talking into my earpiece.

“Keep a lookout Alana. He should be here any minute now. I’ll guard the front door and you keep a lookout on the side doors. When you see him I’ll call for backup. He has brown curly hair and a black jacket with ripped pants. I believe in you.”

            Before I could even think, I offered up a prayer of protection for the President. “Alana James Rose!” My name blasted out, and the room filled with cheers. Confetti landed on my hair as I walked to the front of the brightly lit stage. A long velvet robe was placed upon my shoulders  as I was awarded one hundred dollars and a tall trophy almost half my size. A glittering, coral mermaid crown was placed upon my head and suddenly I spotted danger. At that moment I remembered why I was there and what I had to do.  The man was creeping up on my right side through the shadows and as he came closer to the stage, I drew my gun from the holster inside my dress!  “Stop!” I yelled, aiming it at the man. Body guards swarmed the president like they were bees and he was honey. People screamed and scrambled for the nearest exit, as I threw myself off the stage as my robe and crown flew through the air. I landed hard and pinned the would be assassin down on the ground, wrestling the gun from his hand! Finally managing to handcuff him, backup came rushing behind me. Bobby scooped him off the ground, “I knew you could do it Alana.” he cried, giving me a kiss on the cheek. The chairmen of the pageant, Harry, announced throughout the theater, “Alana is not only the new Golden Mermaid, Miss America, she has saved the president’s life!” The President approached me with relief on his face. “Young lady, how can I ever thank you?” he asked while shaking my hand. “Please, don’t thank me. God and my father deserve all the credit,” I explained, holding back tears.

The crowd cheered even louder while we were surrounded by the press and the flashing of their cameras. The feeling was unforgettable!

                                                                        *  *  *

            With Bobby’s fingertips intertwined with mine, we walked down the beautiful streets of Atlantic City. We passed by a local newsstand. “HEROIC B.O.I  AGENT SAVES PRESIDENTS LIFE.” A humbling feeling flowed through my body. After my mom had died, God had always been in the back of my mind. Through my experience God showed that He can work through His people, searching their way through the darkness and bringing them into the light. “I’ve lived a charmed life. I’ve been very lucky. God has been very kind to me” (Margaret Gorman).

“Your father would be so proud of you Alana…and your mother,” Bobby softly replied.


                                                            Works Cited

Gorman, Margaret. “Margaret Gorman Quotes.” azquotes.com. n.d. Web. 30 January 2018.

Zimmerman, Jess. “Margaret Gorman-First Miss America.” historybyzim.comm. n.d. Web. 30                   January 2018.


Bankston, Carl L. Great Events from History. Salem Press, 2009. Print.

Gorman, Robert F. Great Events from History. Salem Press, 2007. Print.

Gorman, Robert F. Great Events from History. Salem Press, 2008. Print.