Way Back When ... 1840
One of the historic objects featured in the Fairfield Museum’s newest exhibition, “Alice in Museum Land,” is a truly special men’s top hat. The hat, circa 1840, was made by Ives & White in New York and is part of the museum’s collection.
Top hats, made of felted beaver fur and later of silk, came into style at the end of the 18th century and became popular for men of all social classes. The hat on display belonged to the Rev. Andrew Eliot Jr., who was the son of the minister of First Church Congregational in Fairfield. He became the minister of the church in New Milford in 1808. The band of black silk at the base of the crown may indicate that the hat was worn during a period of mourning.
The name of Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter character in his book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” was a play on the expression “mad as a hatter,” which may have referred to a condition seen in many hat-makers as a result of the mercury used in the felting process. Hat-makers often showed symptoms including dementia, tremors, and irritability. Danbury was a center of the hat-making industry and the condition was known in the region as the “Danbury shakes.”
“Alice in Museum Land” is a kid-friendly and interactive exhibition, with areas for stories and play. On Jan. 27 from 1 to 3 p.m., a real life Alice will be at the museum for a “Fun with Alice” family event. Tickets are $5 per person and are available online or at the door.
The exhibition will remain on view through Feb. 17. The exhibit and the “Fun With Alice” event are generously sponsored by Bigelow Tea. National Charity League is also supporting the family program. For more information, visit Fairfieldhistory.org.
The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, located at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Members of the museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For more information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org.
The year a top hat was made belonging to Rev. Andrew Eliot Jr., who was the son of the minister of First Church Congregational in Fairfield. The hat is part of the Fairfield Museum’s newest exhibition, “Alice in Museum Land.”