Friday, November 25, 2016

Welcome Back!

Hello again! After some time off I was encouraged by some very excellent people, our archivist Steve Czarniecki and his wife Kathleen, to continue. As I write the museum is closed for the winter - with the exception of Dickens festival weekend (December 3-4th 2016) - and will reopen Memorial Day weekend. General rule of thumb for the museum is that we open Memorial Day weekend and usually close around the second weekend in October and the following week is our annual country auction. Of course one can always keep up with the museum at the Historical Society webpage for exact dates and times:
I have decided since the museum is closed to recap some of this past season with our annual display, the auction and a fan favorite: The Best of the Wurst! 
The annual exhibit this year was "Hats off to Port Jefferson." I will not lie, when I heard about this exhibit last year I was not sure what to think. What the heck could I talk about with hats? Ok, granted, as a docent I would have been talking it up with the first few rooms and this would be a great place to allow our guests to just take in the exhibits and for me to just shut up. There is a lot to see and the room itself is more than just the exhibit. Needless to say I was worried that I was not up to the task for this exhibit. The season opens and WOW! I am not a big hat connoisseur but this was one impressive display. I fear that the few pictures here can not do the display justice at all. Bravo to Laura Warren, Kathleen Cash and an array of brilliant volunteers for an amazing display. And that is a mark of a great display: to take something that one may not be interested in and just wow them. 

Above the mantle, which is directly in front of one when one enters the room, were these cut outs wearing actual hats. The effect was amazing. Right off the bat I was intrigued as these hats came to life. There was also a wide range of hats and hats for occasions that I was not thinking about. A military helmet for example. That is a hat! A very cool hat! 

A WWI German helmet - aka the Pickelhaube - brought back from the war. Oh and what about fire and police hats?
There was even a Custodian Helmet! The hat display had suddenly taken on a new dimension. But there was one hat that beat them all, yes even the Pickelhaube!
Meet the full-bird hat! There is even a children's book about this - I shall get to that later. Women's hat fashion evolved over the years. It started with a feather, then the two feather hat but not to be upstaged by the three feather hat. In a dramatic fashion of one-upping came the wings hat and then we arrive at the full bird hat by the late nineteenth century. Victorian women loved these hats so much that millions of birds were sacrificed for this odd and macabre fashion. Birds were becoming extinct and, seeing as the bird must have the most resplendent feathers they had to be taken during mating season, they left behind orphaned baby birds. Herons, hummingbirds, owls, pheasant (as shown above) anything with brilliant plumage was on the chopping block. Bird lovers - aka ornithologists - were appalled. Finally members of the Massachusetts Audubon Society pushed for the first federal-level conservation legislation with the Lacey Act of 1900. State-level Audubon Societies were created and eventually the National Audubon Society which still works tirelessly to protect our feathered friends or as I like to call them - the surviving dinosaurs. The book is entitled She is Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head! by Kathryn Lasky and it retells the story of the full bird hat, the efforts to end the trade and finally the creation of the National Audubon Society. 
I shall take up the auction and the Wurst in a few days in another post. Until then enjoy some more hats from our amazing display. Next years display? Not sure if I should divulge that just yet. But what I can say is that it will be epic! 


  1. Hope you don't mind that I posted a link to your blog on our very unofficial PJ Historical Facebook Page. I was a docent at Mather complex a few years back.

    1. No problem and a big thank you Bev. Now, of course, I have no excuses and have to post some more entries this week! Thank you again. The more people know the better.