America and Kansas has a new Salt Queen, Cherokee County Register of Deeds, Christy Grant won the title last week-end of Ms. Salt Queen.

Sixteen poised ladies, in sequined gowns, traveled a walkway 650 feet under Hutchinson on Friday vying to be queen.

Like most beauty contest, there was glitz and excitement. But there was something unique about this event.  All contestants and guest had to wait there turn to travel in a large double-decker elevator, in total darkness, down to the cavernous hall deep in the former Cary Salt mine to attend.

The mine is currently owned by Hutchinson Salt Co., with offices in Baxter Springs.

In 1959 six Wichita businessmen developed the concept of converting a portion of the salt mine into a highly secured storage area, according to the company’s history.

That was during the cold war and as a threat of nuclear war mounted, the facility was heralded as “nature’s bomb shelter.”

There were other good reason to store valuable documents under the ground, such as climate control and the salt keeping moisture to a minimum.

In 50 years the company has grown to serve more than 3,800 customers.

Friday night it was history repeating itself for the golden anniversary celebration, said Lee Spence, president of Underground Vaults and storage. The queen contest was intended as a nostalgic tribute to a 1961 event held by Underground Vaults and Storage, when the National Press Photographers Association brought along their beauty contestants to tour the facility. The bevy of beauties posed in bathing suits, and the first wire service photograph was transmitted from underground, Spence told the crowd of 340 guests.

There were two queens crowned, Jill Ferrell, Emporia was crowned Miss Salt Queen, a category for 18 to 21 year olds. The Ms. Salt Queen title came to Cherokee County.

Grant said she was encouraged by co-workers to enter the contest. As the register of deeds she has a connection to Underground Vaults storing some of the county records in the facility.

With red hair, Grant said she decided to dress as Lucille Ball, from the grape stomping scene in one of the comedian’s TV shows. She walked barefooted and carried a vat of grapes for a portion of the cones in which the contestants had to dress in a movie costume.

“Hollywood lives down here,” said Larry Hatteberg, KAKE-TV anchorman, who was the master of ceremonies. “The original negatives of ‘Gone with the Wind,’ the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ and ‘Ben Hur’ are right here. Underground Vaults and Storage plays a huge part in America’s cultural history.”

The contestants were judged on appearance in their costume (30 percent), for evening gown (30 percent) and for their answeer to a question (40 percent).

One of the six judges, Miss Kansas, Emily Deaver, of Augusta, said she would be looking for someone who was confident in their own skin.

“This is one of the most important and unusual businesses in Kansas,” said Hatteberg, outfitted in a tuxedo. “What it stores down here is of historical significance.”

He said he didn’t believe the majority of people were aware it even existed.

Meanwhile, all constestants took home $50. While the two queens each received a $2,000 cash award, plus a $1,000 donation Underground Vaults and Storage would make to a charity of their choice.