Tuesday, 1:30 p.m.-
The princess steps into the women's room at the Museum of History and Technology and lights up a Salem. A pink satin sash runs diagonally from her shoulder to her waist and proclaims PENNYSLVANIA.
"People keep coming up to me and saying, 'where in Pennysylvania are you from?'" she says. Her anme is Carole Hannon and today is her 20th birthday, but she can't celebrate because she is in Washington representing her state at the Cherry Blossom Festival.
"Everybody's asking me about that nuclear plant in Harrisburg. That's 120 miles away from where I live. I just say, 'I don't know.' They must think I'm stupid."
Miss Arizona sits nearby, puffing on a cigarette. She huddles in the raincoat she has pulled over her sash to hide it.
"I'm really disgusted by beauty contests," says Miss Arizona. Her name is Margaret Elizabeth Thompson; she is 21, has a warm big smile, and is clearly beautiful.
"When my mom asked me to do this, I thought, 'No way.' But there's no competition here. There's no beauty or anything. If there was, I wouldn't have done it."
"If there was," says Miss Pennysylvania, "I wouldn't have made it."
A child walks up to them and asks, "Why are you wearing those things (sashes)?"
"Why?" says Miss Pennysylvania. "'Cause we're princesses!" They giggle.
Some of them come from places where people have never heard of cherry blossoms. They are chosen by their state societies-former state residents who now live in Washington-and they are often friends or relatives of society members or legislators from the state.
They are 52 cherry blossoms festival princesses from almost all the states, Puerto Rico, American Somoa and Guam. But they are not here to compete. At the end of the week, there is a ball. A wheel is spun, and a queen is picked-at random.
There are no scholarships or cash prizes. Just fashion shows, make-up sessions, luncheons, tours of the zoo, the White House, Arlington Cemetery, a dinner at the Japanese Embassy.
The queen does get a trip to Japan and a perfectly matched set of pearls. The others get memories of a rainy week in Washington-and the gifts.
The gifts from the Japanese Embassy are beaded bags that delight all the princesses. However, one princess shudders at the sight of the gifts from her state society. "They're so queer," she says, rolling her eyes. "One is a big disc on a necklace with the title of the state. It's pitiful."
But all those who don't get the trip to Japan are not disappointed. "Since when would any of us have ever had a chance to have dinner at the Japanese Embassy," says Cari Thompson, Miss New Jersey.
Tues., 2 p.m.-
Michelle Tourtellote, 19, Miss Oklahoma (who lives in Fairfax), waves her white gloves. "We're supposed to wear them wherever we go," she says. "How tacky! Most of the girls put them in their purses.
"But see. I'm one of these weird people who likes to wear funny clothes, and I needed the gloves anyway-for the 'Rocky Horror Picture Show.' I'm trying to get some of the other gilrs to go."
She wears a ple blue skirt, her brown hair is straight and free, and she uses no make-up. She darts in and out of the group during a slow-moving tour of the Smithsonian's First Lady Hall, joking with one princess, throwing her arm around another, calling them by their state's name or just "Babe."
Tourtellote explains that she's so atypical that she does typical things just to be a little different: "I figured when else would I have a chance to be a cherry blossom princess?"
"You must have met a lot of neat people as a kid," says Miss Oklahoma to Martha Muskie, Miss Maine and daughter of Sen. Edmund Muskie (D-Maine). They are sitting in the cafeteria of the Smithsonian. "You're not," she continues, "as obnoxious as I thought you would be."
They laugh. "Thanks," says Muskie with a devious smile. "You are." More laughter.
Muskie, with light red hair and glasses, is quiet and friendly. "It's fun so far," she says, "but I'd like to meet my escort for Saturday night. . .I'll probably get a nerd." The societies arrange escorts for princesses who do not have them.
"Maybe you'll marry him like Mrs. Smart's daughter did," someone offers.
Mable Smart, a short woman with graying hair, is the official chaperone. Her plastic-covered nametag says "Chairman, Princess Committee.
In 1966, her daughter, Jan, was the princess from Kentucky. She was escorted to the ball by a Marine who went to Vietnam, called her a year later when he returned, and married her the following year. They have two and "eight ninths" children, Smart says proudly.
In the Smithsonian cafeteria, there is a discussion of the princess dress code-no pants, no plunging slits, no halters; and "proper undergarments," pastels at night, long white gloves if your gown has short sleeves. "They just want us to look nice," says Ellyn English, Miss Wisconsin. "And that's basically reasonable."
"It's great exposure for me," says Shirley Macon, the princess from D.C., a professional model and the only black woman in the group. "I've gotten gifts, been to a fashion show, had my makeup done. And they did do something with my hair," she says, and giggles as she fingers her short curls. She also spent over $300 to buy five long-dresses and three suits for all the events.
Tues. 6:30 p.m.-
"Hi, I'm Ted Stevens and I'm looking for Debbie." The Alaska senator scans the room in the Cannon office building looking for Miss Alaska, Deborah Bergt, whom he will escort at a presentation of the princesses. Other congressmen and senators come in, some a little sheepish, all clearly delighed with the bubbly attention from the princesses.
One legislator shows up in a complete Easter Bunny costume. When the bunny removes its head mask it's Pat Schroeder, the Democratic congressman from Colorado.
Democratic Rep. Albert Gore from Tennessee roars with delight. "Was that you?" he exclaims.
"How else could I escort a young woman?" Schroeder asks.
"She's my youngest daughter," Sen. Muskie says after he has escorted 20-year-old Martha through the procession. "I thought she'd say no to this-kids are kind of cynical about these things-but she was delighted. Of course, then we found out we had to buy all these gowns . . . but it's a nice recognition for these girls-not that I want my daughter to be a perennial beauty queen, but it's so important to have recognition. You know, I usually leave this cherry blossom ceremony to the congressmen, but, with my daughter . . ." He smiles and trails off.
Last year's Cherry Blossom Queen, Janice Shea of Washington State, sits in the back of the room and watches the princesses file through. "It's kind of bad they kept us in alphabetical order all the time," she says. "I met all the girls from Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, but I couldn't tell you who Miss Albama was."
Wed., 10 a.m. at the Shoreham Hotel-
It's been a rough week for Miss Alaska. First, the iron-on blue letters fell off her sash. Then, an estimated $60,000 worth of jewelry-her mother's-was stolen from her hotel room Tuesday afternoon. It was the largest jewelry theft at the Shoreham in recent memory, according to D.C. police detective Jack McKee. The FBI has been called in, he said.
"It was just gone," says Deborah Bergt, a tall, elegant-looking woman with very short cropped hair. She smiles politely and says she does not want to discuss it.
In the powder-blue princess suite at the Shoreham, princesses wisk by in long chiffon and silk dresses, irons in hand, cigarettes lit. They are preparing for another fashion show and luncheon. This time they have to appear on the runway, and they are terrified. Martha Muskie explains calmly: "You have to go up the steps then down the runway, then up a platform, then face the head table, then face the other way, then go down another funway, thendown another runwya. And no one's talking the whole time. "I'm gonna die."
Wed., 8:30 p.m., Cote D'Azur-
The celebration begins in earnest. The girls scrunch around tables, sashes still on, but nobody seems to care, clean-cut looking men have been rounded up-they are Georgetown Law School students. Musician Vince Michael, who played the Cordovox during the luncheon and fashion show earlier in the afternoon, also has joined the party. Roberta Cicilline, Miss Rhode Island, has brought in a birthday cake for Miss Pennsylvania, and they allsing.
Obviously, it's not a beauty pageant. "But there's still a little of that here," Miss Arizona says, looking around. "I mean, there we are a bunch of women," she says, smiling ruefully. "Why couldn't they have princes?" CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Sen. Henry Bellmon escorts Oklahoma princess Michelle Tourtellote, left and gathering of princess, above; by Harry Naltchayan-The Washington Post.; Picture 3, Charles McC. Mathias escorts Maryland princess Amy Rhine; by Harry Naltchayan