... Mirror writer uncovers 75 hats in the closets
That straw hat, perched atop the handsome head of Stringer Don Norris, is at least at old as
he is -- maybe a little older. Like, maybe 85 years ago my father bought that hat upon being
transferred from Boston to New York City. Straw was in vogue on Wall Street in 1931.
But that's not the story here. My title "Hats, hats hats" fits better. It all started when
Stringer Louise Fennell gave birth to a new project, got a bunch of us to join MMTV (Melrose
Mass Televsion), and started producing 'movie' programs by the month that would be broadcast
into Melrose homes.
It wasn't my cup of tea, for I love photography -- so-called still photography. You know,
where your load your new $2000 Canon with an itty-bitty electronic card and shoot a couple-
hundred or so shots, one after the other.
Anyway, Stringer Tom Dillon volunteered to do the video camera work for Louise -- to lug that
25-pound video camera around, and shoot movies of what the director feels fits the need of the
day. And Tom did well, except for a medical problem that put him in Mass General for some
At that point, Louise put the pressure on, so I volunteered. Sort of. I admit I know very
little about videocams; they seem to have a million different buttons and switches. But a
quick lesson at MMTV on Main Street gave me the courage to try -- and my trial was in action -
- shooting enough film for a half hour tour of the Peabody Essex Museum.
It was a wise choice to add the 15-pound tripod to my load, for I prepared for this ordeal by
studying books of the major paintings on display at the Peabody/Essex. Trouble was (I found
out the day before), the subject wasn't to be painters -- it was a traveling display of
When the team of five got to the museum, it was closed, but we had purposely arranged it so
we'd not have to shoot between spectators. Wise move. Louise's instructions were to shoot all
those hundreds of women's hats, very neatly mounted behind plate glass display windows.
When I asked Louise for guidance, she simply said, "Shoot the hats."
So I did. I used my imagination, did some panning, did some zooming in, did some small
selection of the crasiest hats I've ever seen. There was one hat that used smallish naked
models of a man and a woman -- making love. It was so much down to bare facts that even I was
embarrassed -- but it was a hat, and it was there on display. So I shot it, maybe five or six
seconds, a little zooming in -- and let Louise decide if she wanted to use it.
Actually things went rather well that day. The museum was closed, but one of our team had
arranged with the museum director to be there that Monday -- so there were no spectators
walking in front of my camera. The team members conducted two prolonged interviews, during
which I simply made sure the camera didn't fall over or zoom off into space ... We had the
director herself on camera for four minutes, then a delightful young lady from the public
The next evening Louise and I met at MMTV studio to see what we had on film. Or rather, not
film, but on this itty-bitty 16-gig memory card. It really was amazing, when she put the card
into the bank of computers, to see exactly what I had shot -- not too bad, considering. A
little shake here and there, some roughness in the zooming control, some small errors in
But everything was there, including my five second segment of the loving couple that was in
reality a woman's fancy hat. My thought was that we didn't have enough tape for a half-hour
show, but the fact is that I have a small collection of hats -- men's hats -- at home, which
could be used to fill the half hour. This would also give a local angle to the program.
Louise agreed, but she said she thought we had enough. Anyway, I went home that evening and
started collecting my hats. There was a huge drawer full, many more in the long back coat
closet, even several more more formal hats in the front closet -- including six cowboy hats,
two motorcycle helmets, two Russian-style fur hats, several from Canada, plus a plethora of
baseball caps from all over the U.S.
All in all, I had collected during the past 82 years, no less than 75 hats.
Undaunted I set about coming up with a plan to photograph each hat with a Canon still camera.
The studio was to be our "new room" -- an addition we put on house some 20 years ago. Light
from the four-panel bay window was good the next morning, and by noon I had completed the
So what you see here is most of that collection. We appreciate your reading this far, looking
at my photos, and -- hopefully -- you will turn to MMTV to see the show at Peabody Essex
Museum. Ironically, it is a traveling show, and by our publishing date, that show in Salem may
have moved on.
... that's not all, but you get the picture ...
February 1, 2013