During winter’s dismal days of dreary weather, I devoted some time to cleaning up and digitizing a few photos my Grandmother, Mary Emma Harris – Crawford – Johnson, had lovingly placed in a frame to preserve the memory of her family and sisters. They were pasted to a heavier background paper, but with a little finesse, I removed them, cleaned them up a little, and saved them digitally.
What fascinated me, and magnetized my attention to three particular photos, which were of my Grandmother and two of her sisters, were the hats! I’ve been sitting on writing this article ever since! And, this is the week for it! It’s Easter Sunday Week!
I remember in my youth, and I’m sure many of you do, of planning and getting gussied up for Easter Sunday. New dresses, new suits (Any of you guys remember Robert Hall?), and new shoes were purchased so we looked our best and had on our finest for church and the festivities later on. Large family gatherings and dinners celebrated the religious event signifying the promise of spiritual renewal and redemption as well as the coming of spring. Remember the festive Easter Parades down Fifth Avenue from St. Patrick’s Cathedral? This parade first took place around 1870 and became so popular, songs praising the event were composed, which were in the top ten of their day, and even had a movie in 1948! People were not in so much of a rush back then and took time to greet one another and admire each other’s fashions as they strolled the boulevards.
Evidence of this tradition can be been traced back to the 1600s, though mostly in Christian European countries. The popularity of this yearly celebration didn’t really take hold here until after the American Civil War. As things gradually returned to normal and people came out of mourning, they replaced their dark clothes with more colorful garments, often beautified with spring flowers.
I’ve heard personal stories which tell of the elaborate decorations placed on these bonnets. Garlands of flowers, stuffed birds, maybe a small bunny, and so on. The ladies of our Town, remembering this was a farming community, took pride in fabricating their own personalized headwear, incorporating the materials they had available on hand into complex and delicate displays. Depending upon the individual, and their flamboyance, the explosion of expression could be outstanding!
I found these three photos, of my Grandmother, Mary Emma Harris (b. 1893, d. 1982), and her sisters, Elsie Harris (b. 1896, d. 1980), and Jenny Harris (b.1888, d. 1951). There were no dates on the photos, but I’m guessing these were taken between 1905 and 1910. My Grandmother and Aunt Elsie, the younger sisters, adorned their bonnets with dried flowers and ribbons, being a bit demure. Jenny, being the oldest, orchestrated an elaborate bonnet, as seen in the photo. You can see the mischief in her smile and eyes, just waiting to display her handiwork to everyone!
Jenny was perhaps the most artistic of the four sisters, sketching and capturing scenes of her days. I was blessed to be handed down three of her works, by my Grandmother, which I proudly display in my home to this day. Just three pieces of family history, from an Aunt I never really knew, but will always have in my heart.