Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Straw Hat Riot of 1922

By Kathy Kovach

If you thought the rule of not wearing white after Labor Day was intense, wait until you hear about the men’s version involving a popular hat.

Nowadays, we can’t turn on the television without seeing rioting and unrest in our streets. But is this something new? Obviously, there have been many points in history where a people group has a strong opinion that turned into an adult temper tantrum. But no opinion was so bizarre as the one that sparked the Straw Hat Riot of 1922.

In the early 1900s, men found that straw hats, or boaters, worked well in the summer because they were lighter and airier than the heavy felt or silk head-adorners of the day. Straw hats evoke images of Doris Day and Gordon MacRae crooning “On Moonlight Bay” as they stroll arm in arm under the summer skies. 

Hollywood aside, things took an ugly turn in New York for any man daring to wear their chapeau after September 15, also known as Felt Hat Day.

First, a bit of history. The straw hat started out as a way to cool one’s noggin at sporting events such as boating—why it's called a boater
but quickly became a fashion statement for those en route to the office or spending the day with that special gal. In short, anybody who was anybody wore them. Because they were made of straw, they didn’t fare well throughout the hot, muggy summer and began to break down after three months of use. Knowing they would have to be replaced next season, stockbrokers began snatching them off the heads of their contemporaries—in good natured fun, of course—should they spot one being worn after September 15. They would then stomp on them and everyone had a jolly good time with it. No one knows why this date was chosen as summer officially ended on September 21. 

As the rest of the population got wind of this tradition, everyone decided to get in on the fun. If anyone was seen strolling about donning their straw hat during the latter half of September, a complete stranger could knock their hat off their heads and demolish it to dust in the street.

The infamous riot actually took place on September 13, 1922, two days before the cut-off, in the former “Mulberry Bend” area of Manhattan. There should have been no mistake as the newspapers heralded the proper date every year. Nonetheless, youth became involved and began their attacks on factory workers. They devised hat-knocker-offers in the form of a long pole with a nail pounded in the end. This made it possible to snag the hat off the unsuspecting head.
 Things escalated when they targeted dock workers. A brawl broke out, and became so violent, it closed the Manhattan Bridge. Arrests were made, but the activity continued the next evening. Mobs of teenagers prowled Amsterdam Avenue, terrorizing every straw hat-wearing man they could find. Many men reluctant to give up their hats were hospitalized after receiving beatings. Reports were filed and more arrests were made.

The longest time a teen was incarcerated was three days. In one case, a dozen kids were brought in to the East 104th Street police station. As seven of the perpetrators were under fifteen, the desk lieutenant summoned their parents and ordered sound spankings right there on the spot. 

One would think this marked the end of the rioting, but not so. They continued in lesser forms over the next two years, tragically ending a life in 1924.

In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge decided to violate the rule, effectively ending the strange tradition.
By 1930, the more resilient Panama hat replaced the cheaper version, and the straw hat became a memory—bad to some but pleasant to others as they recalled boating with their best gal and crooning to the tune of “On Moonlight Bay.”

MissAdventure Brides Romance Collection
Seven daring damsels don’t let the norms of their eras hold them back. Along the way these women attract the attention of men who admire their bravery and determination, but will they let love grow out of the adventures? Includes:
"Riders of the Painted Star" by Kathleen E. Kovach

1936 Arizona
Zadie Fitzpatrick, an artist from New York, is commissioned to go on location in Arizona to paint illustrations for an author of western novels and falls for the male model.

Kathleen E. Kovach is a Christian romance author published traditionally through Barbour Publishing, Inc. as well as indie. Kathleen and her husband, Jim, raised two sons while living the nomadic lifestyle for over twenty years in the Air Force. Now planted in northeast Colorado, she's a grandmother, though much too young for that. Kathleen is a longstanding member of American Christian Fiction Writers. An award-winning author, she presents spiritual truths with a giggle, proving herself as one of God's peculiar people.

1 comment:

  1. My goodness! Thanks for the post, I had never heard of this. Actually I had never heard that you couldn't wear a straw hat past Labor Day. Very interesting.