Hats Off to the Ghosts of Us


Digital inebriates, slow down for just a moment. Anyone invested in media currency and the gives and takes of reputation is entitled to a rest, and an antidote. I’d like to offer a holiday reminder that the value of our gawking intercessions may be weighted and elucidated by a smart salute to the past. (And to a young James H. White, who produced the film above.)
Historians know I’m right, for their present, crossing the street, always looks both ways. Also, because I recently visited the original Disneyland in Anaheim, I was driven back to my own teacup history. You will not be burdened with wide-eyed tales of my Uncle Irving’s gift of early Mouseketeer ears, or my later boyfriend’s dirty-feet-overhead apotheosis at “Pirates of the Caribbean” — yo ho, long-gone Michael.

Like John F. Kennedy, I could never wear a hat. Any hat turned me “into an organ-grinder monkey,” someone who may have actually seen such a curiosity on a New York avenue told little me a long time ago. But hats were once the crowning definition of polite citizen. And they were canvases for artists of the silhouette.
The topic is now the predictable melancholy of the past. Most of us have no real, tangible sense that real people lived more than a few decades before we did, which is why photos and films of ordinary folks a century ago make some of us profoundly upset. A written record of this or that significant figure is never the same as a moving image of some plain Jane in cumbersome frock musing and smirking at an unknown man with a camera. She laughs without sound at your grave thoughts, a scythe in her gloved hands.
Paris. Here’s Paris. 1900 Paris.
Paris 1900.JPG
Here’s the same view, from the Trocadero, but wait! Who is the man in the hat?
Paris 1900 male hat.JPG
And then, at the very left, the angular woman in her hat. Any relation?
Paris 1900 female hat.JPG
She’s walking in front of the camera, ruining the view, the modern cameraman says.
They are spirits, of course, ghosts of the 20th century. I suggest we greet them, wherever they may have wound up: as early trench fodder, grizzled Vichy cowards, MGM extras, loving gay spouses. Their hats, at least, provide an entree to the future and an invitation to all of us to write.
For an automatic alert when there is a new Out There post, email jiweinste@aol.com.