It was raining in Forth Worth, Texas on November 22, 1963. Despite the drizzle, John F. Kennedy spoke to thousands outside the Texas Hotel without a hat. While many Texans may have felt otherwise, this wasn’t unusual. Groups like the Hat Corporation of America and the United Hatters, Cap and Millinery Workers International Union had been lobbying and plying the presiden with hats for years, but no hat remained his custom.
The city of Fort Worth had their own custom. Every president, and most dignitaries and celebrities, who visited Fort Worth was given a Shady Oak Western hat by the publisher of the Forth Worth Star Telegram. The honoree would then place the hat on their head, the photogs would get their “hey, we’re in Texas!” shot and everyone was mostly happy.
Didn’t happen with Kennedy. Watching the History Channel’s excellent JFK: 3 Shots That Changed America I finally saw footage of that uncomfortable moment and, while he was jovial about his–by this time–legendary aversion to headwear, there was no way you were getting him to put that hat on. Seems like a pretty harmless little thing, but Kennedy was resolute. Here’s a screenshot:
The entire reason this was notable to me was because at first I thought the hat Kennedy had received was the famous Stetson Open Road. The Open Road was sort of a transitional hat, a gentlemen’s chapeau with a distinct Western flair from the cattleman’s crease and side dents. For whatever it’s worth, that hat is the definition of my personal aesthetic.
But of course it wasn’t a Stetson, rather it was take on the popular style only more Texan, an eighth of an inch taller and wider. The hat was made and delivered by Tom Peters of Peters Bros. Hats. Less than three hours after receiving the hats, along with some boots, Kennedy was dead. The hat, much to the chagrin of the Peters family, still hasn’t been recovered. Should you be interested, and I very much am, you can now purchase the same Shady Oak hat today.
And, of course, the irony here is that the Open Road style hat would go on to become synonymous with Kennedy’s immediate successor, Lyndon B. Johnson and were ubiquitous in the footage from Dallas that comprised JFK: 3 Shots that Changed America.
I missed this two part series when it was originally showin in October, but I can’t say enough about how beautifully it was done. In a major departure from most historical documentaries, 3 Shots used only original footage. No voice over, no slowly panning over period photographs, just a lonely, black screen with a flip number clock that hauntingly counts the minutes and years leading up to and following the assasination followed by a treasure trove of footage from television and radio broadcasts.
I’ve never been a Kennedy fanatic, but being able to experience it as close to firsthand as I could get was an equally harrowing and fascinating experience. I’m eagerly awaiting the Mad Men series finale where, presumably, this season will end with the assassination. We’re only two episodes away and just hit Halloween so it seems like the natural, and expected, breaking point.
Maybe Connie Hilton’s Open Road will make another appearance.