Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

A Twain hat becomes a trip essential

Top hat twins Mark Twain and Loren Ghiglione

Food cooler for the van, check. Extra batteries for cameras, check. Twain hat for head, check.

Well, okay, a Twain hat isn’t normally regarded as essential for a three-month trip, but I’m a hat guy. My favorites are a wide-brimmed straw with a pink band for summers and a wide-brimmed, dark-green Borsalino for winters (wide-brimmed goes with the name Ghiglione).

Twain moved from the small-town world of straw hats to the big-city world of bowlers and top hats. He looked great in all of them. As the accompanying photos indicate, he was absolutely regal in his top hat; I’m ridiculous in mine.

So I visited Hats Plus Ltd. in Chicago, which advertises it has 35,000 men’s hats to sell. I was in search of a different kind of Twain hat, one that really represented his world but made sense for a 21st-century traveler who wants to shield his bald pate from sun, rain and snow.

Store manager Tod Canon, 49, said hats are returning to favor, though he doesn’t anticipate they will regain their status of the 1920s, when virtually every man wore a fedora. Canon cites a bare-headed President John F. Kennedy, the advent of low-ceilinged automobiles and today’s less formal dress culture as the culprits.

I settled on a $25 black fisherman’s cap, made in Greece, as my Twain hat. He wore a similar cap on river and ocean journeys. And, by the way, who’s to say a cap or hat isn’t essential in its own way.

Twain told a story during an address in England in 1907 about being at a luncheon party with an Archdeacon Wilberforce who had to leave earlier than Twain and took Twain’s hat by mistake. When Twain left the luncheon the archdeacon’s hat was the only one left that would fit him. So he took it.

Twain described what then happened: The archdeacon wrote him “saying it was pleasant that all the way home, whenever he met anybody his gravities, his solemnities, his deep thoughts, his eloquent remarks were all snatched up by the people he met, and mistaken for brilliant humorisms. I had another experience….I was received with a deference which was entirely foreign to my experience by everybody whom I met, so that before I got home I had a much higher opinion of myself than I have ever had before or since.” When Twain took his newly acquired hat in to be ironed, the proprietor refused to charge him, saying that he did not charge the clergy anything.

Well, even if the hat doesn’t make the man, it covers up part of your body, which Twain insisted is a plus. “Naked people,” he explained, “have little or no influence on society.”

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One thought on “A Twain hat becomes a trip essential

  1. Katherine Jones on said:

    Hi Loren, Dad’s favorite hat was a Panama hat he bought when he, mom and I went to the Galapagos, then to Quito. We spent most of the day in Quito looking for the right hat. He bought 2. When he died, I took the new one, still in its balsa wood box. His second favorite was a black beret picked up in France. You can imagine how worldly he looked!