Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mad as a Hatter

Hat Man Sign, Broad Street, Charleston, SC  Doug Hickok

Most readers are familiar with the frenzied Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll's fantasy Alice in Wonderland. If you haven't read the book then you may be familiar with Johnny Depp's eccentric interpretation of the character in the movie version. There is actually truth to the phrase "mad as a hatter". In the 19th century, mercury nitrate was used in making felt hats. Hat makers exposed to this chemical could eventually contract St. Vitus' Dance, (Sydenham's chorea) a nervous disorder which causes frenetic jerking behavior.

This image shows Charleston's Hat Man, a painted sign discovered on the side of a building on Broad Street during renovation. It marks the place which used to be a haberdashery. It is a curiosity, a downtown landmark most people walk past without noticing. Mad as it may seem, the figure is made almost entirely of hats, hats of all sorts.

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