Does thinking back to your senior prom still make you smile—or make you queasy? In either case, May is part of prom season, which makes this a good time to promenade (yes, that’s where the word comes from) through some of the most noteworthy dances since the first coed mixers between Smith and Amherst Colleges in the 1890s.
Debra Lex/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
He had a funny name: Elvis. He wore funny clothes, too: Instead of the standard white tuxedo, he was dressed in a dark blue suit and—no joke—blue suede shoes. Yet the most surprising thing about Regis Wilson’s date for the 1953 prom at Humes High School in Memphis, Tennessee, was that the future king of rock ’n’ roll said he couldn’t dance. Instead, 18-year-old Presley and his 14-year-old partner spent their evening quietly sipping sodas and watching the other couples swinging on the dance floor. Wilson somehow misplaced her prom photo, but Presley held on to his—and he looks miserable in it. But things soon changed for the guy with the slicked-back hair and long sideburns. He obviously learned to dance. And he also found the proper venue for those suede shoes.
Presidential Party Crasher
It takes guts to show up at a senior prom without a date. Fortunately, when President John F. Kennedy crashed the John Burroughs Senior Prom on June 7, 1963, he brought comedian Jack Benny with him. California Democrats were hosting a fund-raiser in the Beverly Hilton Hotel the same night as the prom, but after Kennedy learned this had almost caused the dance to be relocated, he stepped in—literally. The president walked into the hotel’s grand ballroom and declared to the stunned seniors, “Actually, this is a better room than the room we have upstairs.”
Party at the White House
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library
In 1975, Susan Ford (above, center) accomplished something no other teenager in history could boast: She persuaded her dad—a.k.a., the president of the United States—to host her senior prom at the White House. The event, held in the East Room on May 31, 1975, was attended by 74 students from Washington’s exclusive Holton-Arms School and their very well-behaved dates. For the record, the government didn’t pay a penny for the soiree. The girls raised the $1,300 necessary for the dance through bake sales and other fund-raisers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to hire their band of choice—the Beach Boys (who seriously entertained the offer). Don’t miss this adorable story of high school sweethearts that attended their dream prom 66 years later.
Breaking a Barrier
In 1997, actor Morgan Freeman approached a high school in Charleston, Mississippi, and offered to pay for its senior prom on one condition: It had to be racially integrated, something that had never happened before in Freeman’s hometown. The school board turned him down. But when Freeman returned with filmmaker Paul Saltzman in 2008, they agreed to hold the first interracial prom in the school’s history. Saltzman’s documentary Prom Night in Mississippi, which followed the prom’s development as well as local resistance to it, was later nominated for a top prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
The Last Waltz
Courtesy Nikki Fox
What’s the longest a lady should wait to be asked to a dance? For Rockford, Ohio, resident Delores Dennison, the answer is something north of 70 years. Delores was 89 when she was first asked to a senior prom, and she went on the arm of her great-grandson, Austin Dennison. He wanted to make up for the fact that “Granny DD” had never attended hers, and he pulled out all the stops. They went to dinner at Bob Evans (her favorite), boogied when the band played the Frank Sinatra song “Dolores,” and beamed when the youngsters at Parkway High School gave them a standing ovation. Now, that’s what you might call an awesome senior’s prom.
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