The Somerville Times Historical Fact of the Week – December 21

On December 21, 2016, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

eagle_webEagle Feathers #119 – A Tip of the Hat

By Bob (Monty) Doherty

“Hats off ” is an expression that denotes admiration or respect. It is a silent acknowledgment of someone’s gratitude or appreciation. Spectators wave their hats during stadium events. Along parade routes, veterans and patriots can be seen placing their hats over their hearts as the American flag passes by. Each spring, college students toss their hats jubilantly into the air upon their graduation. In sports, fans toss their hats onto the ice or playing fields to honor the “hat trick,” a rare three-goal performance by one player.

In 1889, Boston’s strong-boy boxer, John L. Sullivan, threw his gauntlet or hat as it was termed, into the ring. His challenge was for the Heavyweight Boxing Championship of the world. Somerville’s Jake Kilrain held the crown at that time. After a grueling 75-round battle, surrounded by a sea of derby and straw hatted spectators, Kilrain lost. This was the last professional bare-knuckle heavy weight fight, and the first ever to be photographed.

Through the years, many different hats have donned the heads of notables who have lived in or visited Somerville. Senator Davy Crockett, promoter of the raccoon-skin cap and hero of the Alamo, rode the rails through Somerville to Lowell and back.

Both Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy were congressmen when they traveled through Somerville. Lincoln toured by train; and one hundred years later, Kennedy visited by automobile when he represented Somerville. On the day of his inauguration, President Kennedy saluted his father and Lincoln by wearing and waving his stove top hat. Later, he honored the United States Special Forces by authorizing them to wear the Green Beret.

Hats off…

  • to the first Governor of Massachusetts and Ten Hills’ resident, John Winthrop. He and his Puritan/Pilgrim hatted followers established Boston and created America’s first college, Harvard. 
  • to Philadelphia’s Temple University and its founder, Somerville’s Dr. Russell Conwell.
  • to Paul Revere who waved his cocked hat while on his famous ride through Somerville.
  • to the milkmen of H.P. Hood & Sons, the dairy kings of Milk Row, who were builders of a mission and mansions.
  • to General George Washington and his troops, as they raised America’s first flag on Prospect Hill. They did this while waving their tri-cornered hats in celebration. Today, the official folding of the American flag symbolizes the shape of Washington’s tri-cornered hat.
  • to Somerville’s Charles Taylor and his son John, the original owners and creators of the name “Boston Red Sox,” and the developers of Fenway Park. They would be proud of their team’s history. 

Through the years, the wearing of hats has gone in and out of vogue. The “All American” hat of today is the baseball cap. Even football players sport them on the sidelines along with thousands of fans. Baseball caps seem to promote everything to everyone in every place.

Most of all, kudos to Somerville and its citizens who last year won the All-America City award for the third time, honored in 1972, 2009 and 2015. Somerville is a city to be proud of and a great place to … hang your hat!



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