Sunday, January 10, 2016

Gossips' Steeple Chase

Photo: Historic Hudson
The matter of replacing the missing steeple on the church building at 448 Warren Street inspired me to wonder exactly when the steeple was lost. Years ago, someone told me that this steeple, unlike the steeples on Christ Church and the Baptist Church which were felled by extreme weather, had been deliberately removed by the congregation, on the urging of a contracting firm that was going around the country inciting fear of liability should the steeple topple and then offering their services to eliminate the risk. This story may be completely apocryphal, so I wanted to find out what really happened.

It seemed logical that, if fear of the steeple toppling had indeed been the motivation for removing it, this might have occurred soon after the steeple of the First Baptist Church was blown over in a storm on the day after Christmas in 1915. At the Historic Preservation Commission meeting on Friday, however, HPC historian member David Voorhees noted that the steeple still appears intact in a photograph of the church dating from the 1930s. After a lengthy search of the newspapers in the Fulton History database, which took the better part of the morning, I can say with some certainty that the steeple was not removed before 1944.

Although I have yet to achieve the goal of my quest, the search for the actual story of the steeple's demise has not been without reward. It turned up this editorial from the Hudson Evening Register for April 23, 1897, which is much too entertaining not to share.
That New Law Prohibiting the Wearing of High Hats at Entertainments.
The Register would call particular attention to the fact that the Legislature has just passed a law making it a punishable offense for ladies to wear high hats at places of public entertainment. This has been brought about by the ladies themselves, who had they listened to the protests of the public voiced by the press, would not be subjected to the hardship of having to hide their "dreams" in their laps during theatrical or other performances.
The ladies have persisted, even after gentle persuasion, in wearing steeple like head gear, till patience on the part of the gentlemen has passed being a virtue. Certain ladies will probably prepare more carefully for the theatre in the future, as the natural inference is that a women who will not remove her hat on request, or even after a hint, has not paid the attention to  her hair dressing that she should before appearing in public; and those who are forced to get a glimpse of scenes and actors through a tropic jungle of feathers and frills are apt to imagine that a frowsy head is hidden by the obscuring mass.
Some ladies at the Opera House Wednesday night were obliging and law abiding, and removed their hats. Others were not, and it so befell that the Register Rounder sat where all of his impressions of the Union College boys were gleaned by X-ray glances through an Eiffel Tower affair in black, and under the circumstances he is to be pardoned for hoping that the "Hats Off" law will be rigidly but politely enforced in Hudson.
If you need help imagining the "high hats" that caused such consternation, here is a plate from the fashion book Standard Designer for April 1897--the very month and year of the Register editorial.


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