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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 26, 2001

Our Honolulu
Professor had a thing against hats

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

Sandra Kimberley Hall, who lives out toward Diamond Head, has discovered a funny footnote in the history of the Bishop Museum. It has to do with hats.

In 1910, a hat controversy erupted between the board of trustees and director William Tufts Brigham, who founded the institution.

Tireless, hotheaded and dictatorial, Brigham was determined to establish a scientific institution instead of what he called a "mere curiosity show to amuse the idle hour."

Therefore, he had decreed that males must take off their hats in the museum.

This was at a time when every human in trousers wore a hat: derby, Panama, cowboy, beaver, opera, sailor, visored, Boy Scout, Spanish-American War, you name it.

Imagine the excitement around town, therefore, when The Advertiser headlined a story: HATS MAY BE WORN IN THE BISHOP MUSEUM.

"You don't have to take your hat off now if you visit the mummies and other curios at the Bishop Museum," the paper reported. "Professor Brigham's rigid hat rule was abolished at a meeting of the trustees held last Wednesday.

"Brigham's hat rule has been the cause of much annoyance and injured feelings in times past, for the doctor insisted that every male of the human species ... where he holds sway must take off his hat."

Men who showed disrespect for culture and science by keeping their hats on had their coattails pulled by a small boy who handed over a slip of paper politely asking the offender to take off his hat.

Apparently, quite a few visitors disregarded this summons, because The Advertiser reported a flanking movement on the other coattail, followed by a second slip of paper.

If two slips of paper didn't get the man to take off his hat, "Professor Brigham descended upon him in person and made him either take off his hat or get out of the building."

These confrontations must have been epic because Brigham, in a flowing beard, was no 90-pound weakling. The Advertiser reported that a few hat-wearers "with an unusual amount of muscle" defied the director, "but as a rule the man with the hat was thoroughly cowed."

According to the paper, the trustees abolished the hat rule because there were so many protests against it.

However, Brigham had his supporters. One, known as C.R.F., wrote a letter to the editor chastising the paper for gross misrepresentation of the hat rule. C.R.F. declared that the museum was a memorial to Bernice Pauahi Bishop and asked, "Can you imagine any gentleman entering the Taj Mahal with his hat on?"

The Advertiser's editor felt obliged to respond:

"The Bishop Museum is not to be compared to the Taj Mahal, a splendid tomb in which rest the bodies of Emperor Shah Jehan and his wife. The Bishop Museum is a memorial but not a tomb of its founder and it is supposed to be dedicated to the public use."

Reach Bob Krauss at bkrauss@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8073.