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Ocean City Beauty Pageant is Crabfully Wonderful

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MARK SOIFER by blog.nj.com


by Walter Brasch

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Tired of the heat wave--and the drought--and the recent heavy rains?

Whatever you have scheduled for Wednesday, August 7--cancel it, and head to Ocean City, N.J.

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It's the 40th anniversary of the Miss Crustacean Hermit Crab Beauty Pageant . Among those who have won the Coveted Cucumber Rind Cup Cup are Crabunzel, Crabahontis, Crabopatra, Crab McMuffin, Taxi Crab, Copacrabana, and Crab Salad. Last year's winner was Sandy Claws.

U.S. News and World Report named the pageant as one of the 10 most unusual events in the U.S. During the past four decades, the contest has been covered by rural, suburban, and metro newspapers; all the major radio and television networks, including the BBC; and national magazines. It was even a Jeopardy question.
When the Miss America pageant was a few miles away in Atlantic City, public relations genius and satirist Mark Soifer, who has been Ocean City's PR director for 45 years, decided the city needed its own competition. It would be a competition, he so decreed, in which none of the contestants spent years preening and rehearsing their pretend impromptu lines about how much they wanted world peace and to save the whales. Just how effective is the Miss Crustacean beauty pageant? The answer is five miles away. The crabs are still at the beach. Miss America isn't.

Shortly after the Miss Crustacean pageant, Ocean City will host the annual Hermit Crab Races. About 150--200 crabs will creep their way to victory on an eight-foot plywood oval. To assure there are no crustaceans on searoids, officials from NASCRAB--that's the National Association of Crab Activities at the Beach--will check each contestant, says Soifer.

The week after the spotlight fades from the hermit crab competition is Weird Contest Week. Among the creative contests are several that require artistic skills that go well beyond what would normally be seen in those high-culture nose-in-the-air museums. There is french fry sculpting; salt water taffy sculpting; paper clip sculpting (past sculptures included the Eiffel Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Empire State Building); and "That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles" contest, which requires contestants to chew a 12-inch cookie into something artistic. "We used to use Twinkies," says Soifer, "but the re-designed Twinkie is smaller and doesn't work as well."

There is a talent show where anyone with any kind of talent--or no talent at all--can enter. "Maybe they missed the bus or the Olympics, so this contest makes up for that," says Soifer. There's also a talent show for children.

During the beginning of the rock and roll era, in the first verse of the now-classic "Shake, Rattle, and Roll," Big Joe Turner sang, "Make some noise with the pots and pans." Decades later in Ocean City, three- to five-year-olds compete in the Little Miss Chaos and Little Mr. Chaos contests. For 90 seconds, they bang pots and pans to music--the winner is the one who makes the loudest noise.

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"People often base their vacations around these contests," says Soifer.

Other Summer events include sand sculpture contests, a Pamper Scamper for babies under 15 months of age, twins contests, a surfing contest, Mummers on the Boardwalk, concerts at the Music Pier, art festivals, and a pie eating contest that is undoubtedly healthier than the hot dog eating championships on July 4th in Coney Island.

Soifer is also chief organizer of the DooDah Parade and Martin Z. Mollusk Day.

The DooDah parade in April, which celebrates the end of Tax Season, is the anti-parade. Grand marshals have included Mickey Rooney, Harlem Globetrotters' Meadowlark Lemon, Carol Channing, Joan Rivers, Larry Storch, Bill Dana, and Soupy Sales. The legendary television comedian was a fixture for several years and the role model for the Pieasco contest. People in the grandstands throw shaving cream pies at each other in honor of the television comedic icon.

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Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor of journalism emeritus. His current books are Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution , America's Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government's Violation of (more...)

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