The history found at the Mathias Ham Historic Site is vast and the tales are plentiful. Here is where we hope some of those stories can live on. Shared from the perspective of our historians, enjoy journeying through the life once lived on Lincoln Avenue.
I remember as a child every year my mother and I would purchase a new dress and “bonnet” for Easter Sunday. My mother would tell me stories of all the dresses and different hats that she and her mother had worn to Easter services. She would tell me how her mother would bobby pin her hat to her wig before she styled it, to ensure she would look perfectly coifed for church service. I would hear about ribbons and flowers, bonnets that were two feet tall with a goose coming out of a broken egg, and kittens playing in the abandoned hatboxes. Each story made me feel closer to my mom and the grandmother I never had a chance to get to know.
Shopping together was and still is a sacred experience for my mother and I. Over the years, we still hunted for that perfect Easter dress, but when I entered my preteen years, I refused to wear hats. Hats were symbols of childhood, and I was no longer a child (at least in my mind). It was not until I watched the 1948 film “Easter Parade,” starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, where I began to look at the Easter bonnet in a different light.
Easter bonnets had a very humble beginning. They were a simple hat meant to be worn daily and designed to protect the hair from dirt and the skin from the sun. Wearing a bonnet specifically designed for Easter became popular after the Civil War. After the civil war, to boost community spirit, parades began to gain popularity. Easter parades were very small and unorganized in the beginning. In New York in the 1870s, it became popular to walk down 5th Avenue on Easter Sunday to showcase your Sunday best. That was how the New York Easter Parade began. It soon grew into the fashion event of the season.
Milliners and department stores began to advertise specifically for Easter. Materials used in the manufacturing of bonnets no longer consisted of only ribbons and flowers, but also feathers, taxidermy, and lace. By the 20th century, Easter bonnet designs ranged from elegant to wacky. The famous actress Ann Miller famously modeled a floral, hinged top hat with a live rabbit sitting in the hat.
This year, many of us will be unable to leave our homes for Easter. Shopping centers and small businesses have closed, and our daily lives have changed drastically in the last few months. Many of us will be watching Easter services and parades online and sharing family brunch and games through webcams. However, just because we cannot share this time does not mean we cannot enjoy it. So go ahead and dress up in your Easter best, and if you do not have a bonnet already, make one. Challenge your family and friends to a hat contest and see who can create the wackiest Easter bonnet. Remember, we are all in this together, so let us have a bit of fun!
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