Spring Hats

Tribune photo published May 14, 1958
These photos were taken at the police entrance to Ames City Hall.  A bit of Ames Trust and Savings Bank and the Rainbow Cafe are visible.L. C. (Bill) Faust, right, president of the Ames Chamber of Commerce, seems puzzled by the broad choice of straw hats offered by these representatives of the Ames stores participating in "Straw Hat Day" here.  Making their pitch to Faust are, from left, Leon Bachman, George Blaess, Max Berck, Don Bledsoe and Harold Jameson.

The exact date of Straw Hat Day varies somewhat in the United States, but May 15th is often cited.  Straw Hat Day is the unofficial start of summer and the official start of straw hat season if you are worried about when you could begin wearing yours.  And perhaps you should be worried.  According to Neil Steinberg's book Hatless Jack, men have been murdered in living memory in the United States for the crime of wearing a hat out of season.  Your felt hats should be put away until September 1, which makes perfect sense in most places as straw wears much cooler because it lets air circulate. And protection from the sun seems to be a better reason to wear a hat than winter's 75% of your body's heat loss occurs through your head rationale.  So search your closet and find those Optimos and boaters!

click to enlarge

This additional pose of the same Ames clothiers was not published. Leon Bachman represented J.C. Penney's; George Blaess was from Rierson's Stag Clothing, Max Berck operated Berck's, Don Bledsoe owned Bledsoe's and Harold Jameson represented Jameson's.

Once upon a time and for many years thereafter it was de rigueur in Jacksonville, Florida, for men of substance to wear from this time of year hence to the fall, a straw hat. So pervasive was this tradition that straw hat season commonly started on Straw Hat Day, which in 1915 was April 24.  The pressure to wear a straw hat was considerable; in 1915 the mayor and the chief of police, both regular fellows, carried it perhaps a tad too far.

From Mayor Van Swearingen, former blacksmith and Municipal Court judge, on April 22, 1915, came the following proclamation, published verbatim in The Florida Times-Union:

Be it known to all clever chaps, wise guys and gladsome ginks, that the season of the straw is arrived at hand. All men shall consign the somber stiff and the rusty soft hat to John the Junkman. They shall hie themselves forthwith in summery skypiece.

WHEREAS: It hath come to my notice heretofore that a few of my subjects have neglected this most important duty, I do hereby issue this proclamation and set aside a certain day which shall be known to all men as Straw Hat Day. And all within my domain shall procure and wear a straw bonnet on and after this day or suffer dire penalty.

WHEREAS: This day having been set, I hereby direct that every townsman who shall appear upon the streets of our fair city after said date without the proper straw headgear shall be penalized as follows:

TO-WIT: Ye editors of the public prints shall be empowered to photograph and display in their respective papers the face and form of any offendor who shall appear in public without a straw hat on Monday following Straw Hat Day.

SECONDLY, If the offendor appear on Tuesday without his straw lid, he shall be forcibly laid hold of by Chief Roach or his trusty men and consigned to Siberia or Tampa or some such desolate location.

THIRDLY, for any further offense against my mandate, the extremist penalties of the law will be administered.

Van C. Swearingen, mayor of Jacksonville
From Chief of Police Fred Roach, the special official order, Number 1915-8, to the Jacksonville police department:
Special order to all Bulls concerning straw bonnets:

No. 1 - The Lord High Mayor of Jacksonville, having handed me the merry manuscript containing a collection of chatter concerning chapeaus (sic), I am slipping you boys the orders to get busy and enforce the rules and regulations laid down for such occasions.

No 2 - The idea is thus: Let it sink into your dome and get it straight or get broke, that's all, Saturday, April 24, is official Straw Hat Day. After that date, any simp or boob appearing on the Main Stem without a straw skypiece is liable to certain penalties too horrible to mention. Get the drift?

No. 3 - All cops, harnass bulls, soft shoe sleuths and deputies by courtesy are warned to be on the alert, even if they have to overlook a game of Kelly Pool. The mayor's mandate has got to be observed or I am going to know why. I am the Big Noise in this office, and I am looking for strict attention to orders or it will be on the carpet for you. Get me?

No 4 - Keep your glims on the crowd and when you glimpse a guy without a straw bonnet after midnight Saturday, grab him gently but firmly and lead him up to me. That's all. Go to it!

Frederick C. Roach, chief of police
Inexplicably, the daily newspapers, the mayor's office and the police station were flooded with telephone calls.

Hundreds of People Anxiously Inquired of Police and Sheriff's Office Concerning the Mayor's Proclamation, headlined The Florida Times-Union the following day.

Several men called on Swearingen yesterday and gravely told him that in their opinion he was making a very serious political mistake, the TimesUnion said.

Other callers insisted that times were hard and many men could not afford a straw hat. One man asked a special dispensation because his cow had just died. Another said he had been injured in a train wreck and couldn't fit a straw hat on his head.

William McCarroll, deputy clerk at the police station, said he had done little else but answer telephone calls about the proclamation.  He said one man, whose accent proclaimed him to be an Irishman, said he had never worn anything but a crusher and, with many exclamations that cannot be printed, declared that he defied not only the city but the militia as well to get his red head into a straw hat.

History does not record any banishment to Siberia or Tampa for transgressing the mayor's edict. Swearingen went on to become attorney general of Florida.  Roach remained police chief for another six years before retiring.

You hardly see straw hats anymore.  And The Florida Times-Union forthwith stopped running mayoral proclamations.
Published in the Florida Times-Union, April 24, 1999 - from Jackson.com

These advertisements from the Ames Daily Tribune show the styles and prices of merchandise available to complement your straw hat.

All advertisements are from May of 1958