Photo by Michael Crawford from the Chattanooga News-Free Press archive. Miss Chattanooga 1976, Melanie Howle (now Melanie Gaston Underwood, of Cleveland, Tenn.), shows off a Chattanooga license plate sold to mark the United States Bicentennial. This photo was published in the Chattanooga News-Free Press in October 1975.

You'd have to be at least a baby boomer or an older Gen Xer to have a clear memory of the U.S. bicentennial celebration in 1976.

But those who do remember the mid-1970s may recall a surge of patriotism around the bicentennial unmatched since the end of the world wars earlier in the 20th century.

Chattanooga newspapers of the mid-1970s covered the run-up to the bicentennial year with great energy.

For example, this photo, featuring Miss Chattanooga 1976 Melanie Howle (now Melanie Gaston Underwood of Cleveland, Tennessee), appeared on the front page of the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 1975.

"I don't remember looking like that," Underwood said in a telephone interview this week. "I don't remember having the photo taken. Nobody ever showed it to me."

Underwood, a lifelong resident of Cleveland, was public relations director at the former Bradley Memorial Hospital. Today, she is a business owner with two children and three grandchildren.

Two months before this photo was made, in August 1975, Howle, then a student at Cleveland State Community College, had been crowned Miss Chattanooga, a story that also got Page 1 play back in the day.

Howle was a graduate of Cleveland High School (Class of 1973) and a previous Miss Cleveland who decided to compete in the Chattanooga pageant, according to newspaper reports in 1975.

It was common during that era for holders of the Miss Chattanooga crown to be ambassadors for the city. Here, Howle, who operated a dance studio in Copper Basin, Tennessee, as a teenager, is promoting Chattanooga-specific bicentennial automobile plates being sold for $2 each by local Lions' clubs. The Lions set up a booth at Northgate Mall to push the plates.

"[America] urgently needs a rebirth of patriotism," local Lions Club bicentennial chair Charles W. Dooley said at the time.

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The plates, which were reported to have the endorsement of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, were designed as a substitute for front-mounted state license plates which had just been phased out by Tennessee lawmakers. Since the mid-1970s, Tennessee has required only rear-facing license plates. (Nineteen states and the District of Columbia still require two license plates per vehicle.)

Before winning the Miss Chattanooga pageant sponsored by the Chattanooga Jaycees, Howle had represented Cleveland in the Miss Tennessee Pageant. She was also a former Cleveland Junior Miss and had competed in the state Junior Miss pageant in Red Bank, according to the newspaper.

Howle was one of 10 young women to compete for the Miss Chattanooga crown in October 1975 at the Tivoli Theatre. The newspaper reported that she was the daughter of "Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Howle" of Cleveland.

In addition to her crown, Howle received a $600 scholarship to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and a wardrobe for her Miss Tennessee pageant appearance. She ultimately graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with a degree in communications and a minor in dance.

The story about the Miss Chattanooga pageant story said, "Miss Howle, dressed in a red, white and blue outfit, performed a dance in keeping with the pageant theme of 'Two Hundred Years of Beauty.'

"In high school she was selected as a class beauty for three years and 'most talented' in the senior class."

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