ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Big Top hat trick started as a prank

It was a joke. It was April 1 -- as in April Fool's Day. And, really, did anyone think the huge tent of the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua actually would be turned into the world's biggest hat? And a Stormy Kromer hat to boot? When the press re...

It was a joke.

It was April 1 -- as in April Fool's Day. And, really, did anyone think the huge tent of the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua actually would be turned into the world's biggest hat? And a Stormy Kromer hat to boot?

When the press release was sent out by social media as well to local news outlets by Big Top Chautauqua marketing director Jamey Ritter a few days before April 1, it was tongue in cheek. Phrases such as: Kromer Canvas Canopy, two icons of Lake Superior's southern shore joining forces, naming rights to Bayfield County's canvas jewel, Guinness Book of Records, etc.

There was even a picture, manipulated in Photoshop, showing the tent with a 40-foot-long hat brim.

It was fun, it was goofy, it wasn't real.

ADVERTISEMENT

But quite a few people wanted one.

"What I didn't expect is that people would still believe it after two weeks," Ritter said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. "I guess it was too plausible."

Ritter contacted the Ironwood, Mich., company that makes the hat -- not quite an Elmer Fudd cap, but close -- before sending out the gag news release. But when it went viral, Stormy Kromer decided to make a limited-edition hat that will look like the huge tent with gray and blue panels and a Big Top Chautauqua logo on the front. Stormy Kromer has long sponsored the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua.

No one was more shocked by the flood of calls and e-mails than the folks at Stormy Kromer, which employs 140 people at its Ironwood sewing factory.

"We were really surprised, so we thought we could go ahead and do a limited-order cap," said Gina Thorsen, division manager of Stormy Kromer. "We're finding our little stunt still has legs."

One man's note, among the messages that poured in to Stormy Kromer's offices: "I love your sense of humor. I'm retiring from the military soon, and I would almost come to work for you for free." Thorsen said the company is not currently hiring.

Normally it takes much longer to add a new product line, Thorsen said. But the Big Top special-edition cap will resemble a product already made by Stormy Kromer; it will have six colored triangular panels made from a tent-like canvas instead of the usual wool. So it wasn't difficult to add a special-edition hat that's close in weight to a baseball cap, Thorsen said.

The order form was listed on the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua Web site -- bigtop.org -- on Tuesday. As of Wednesday afternoon, a dozen had been ordered for $34.95 each, plus shipping.

ADVERTISEMENT

"We have people who are Stormy Kromer fans, and we have people who are Big Top fans, and then there are those who overlap. They say this is the best thing ever," said Ritter.

Although the company makes women's clothing and headwear, the iconic Stormy Kromer hat appeals to men over a certain age. OK, let's just say it -- guys over 50 wear them. It's also a big seller among outdoors people. It's not what Elmer Fudd wears, though.

"Ours has an ear band," pointed out Thorsen. "Elmer Fudd's hat ties at the top."

The special-edition Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua cap can be preordered through May 15. Thorsen isn't sure how many will be made, but the hats won't roll off the assembly line until after the preorder is done.

They'll be delivered in June, just in time for the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua season, which starts June 11 and runs through Sept. 11. Performances under the 900-seat tent near Bayfield range from the well-known history and area lore shows of the Big Top Chautauqua to guests ranging from Joan Baez and Gaelic Storm to Nanci Griffith and 3 Redneck Tenors. The Big Top also performs Tent Show Radio, which features an hour-long live performance once a week on public radio stations around the country.

-- Copyright (c) 2010, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Related Topics: SUPERIOR
What To Read Next