Straw Hat Riot

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The Straw Hat Riot of 1922 was a riot that occurred in New York City. Originating as a series of minor riots, it spread due to people wearing straw hats past the unofficial date that was deemed socially acceptable, September 15. It lasted eight days, and it led to many arrests and some injuries.

Background[edit]

In the early 20th century, there was an unwritten rule that one was not supposed to wear straw hats past September 15.[1] This date was arbitrary; it had earlier been September 1, but it eventually shifted to mid-month. If someone was seen wearing a straw hat, they were, at minimum, subjecting themselves to ridicule, and it was a tradition for youths to knock straw hats off of wearers' heads and stomp on them.[2] This tradition was well established, and newspapers of the day would often warn people of the impending approach of the fifteenth, when people would have to switch to felt hats.[3]

The riot[edit]

The riot itself began on September 13 of 1922, two days before the supposed unspoken date, when a group of youths decided to get an early jump on the tradition. This group began in the former "Mulberry Bend" area of Manhattan by removing and stomping hats worn by factory workers who were employed in the area. The more innocuous stomping turned into a brawl when the youths tried to stomp a group of dock workers' hats, and the dock workers fought back. The brawl soon stopped traffic on the Manhattan Bridge and was eventually broken up by police, leading to some arrests.[2]

Although the initial brawl was broken up by police, the fights continued to escalate the next evening. Gangs of teenagers prowled the streets wielding large sticks, sometimes with a nail driven through the top, looking for pedestrians wearing straw hats and beating those who resisted. One man claimed that his hat was taken and the group who had taken his hat joined a mob of about 1,000 that was snatching hats all along Amsterdam Avenue.[4] Several men were hospitalized from the beatings they received after resisting having their hats taken, and many arrests were made. Police were slow to respond to the riots, although several off-duty police officers found themselves caught up in the brawl when rioters attempted to snatch their hats.

Aftermath[edit]

Many of those taken to court following arrests related to the hat-snatching frenzy opted to be fined rather than serve time in jail. A few youths, including one A. Silverman, did serve some days in jail for their involvement in the riots.[5]

The tradition of hat smashing continued for some time after the riots of 1922, although they marked the worst occurrence of hat smashing. In 1924, one man was murdered for wearing a straw hat. 1925 saw similar arrests made in New York.[2] The tradition died out along with the tradition of the seasonal switch from straw to felt hats.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Discard Date for Straw Hats Ignored by President Coolidge". The New York Times. September 20, 1925Pg. 1 
  2. ^ a b c Steinberg, Neil (2004). Hatless Jack. New York: Plume. ISBN 0-452-28523-2. 
  3. ^ "Goodbye to the Straw Hat". The New York Times. September 13, 1925. 
  4. ^ "Straw Hat Smashing Orgy Bares Heads from Battery to Bronx". The New York Tribune. September 16, 1922. 
  5. ^ The New York Times. September 16, 1922. 

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