In time for another trip in the way-back machine. Today, we revisit a blog originally posted by Night Buddies creator Sands Hetherington on November 18, 2014. Did you know Sands has a special connection to the top hat? We’ll let him tell you the story . . .

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My son John, who doubles as narrator in the Night Buddies series, is the namesake of our colorful ancestor, John Hetherington, a haberdasher of the Strand in London. Old John is my four-times great-grandfather and may well have been the prototype for Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Surely, Mr. Carroll knew about him because they still talk about what he did, and it made it into Ripley’s Believe It or Not a half-century ago.

Briefly, what old John did was introduce the top hat to London. But I’ll let The Times (London) take it from there.

January 16, 1797: “John Hetherington, haberdasher of the Strand, was arraigned before the Lord Mayor on a charge of breach of the peace and inciting to riot, and was required to give bonds in the sum of 500 pounds. It was in evidence that Mr. Hetherington, who is well connected, appeared on the public highway wearing upon his head what he called a silk hat (which was offered in evidence), a tall structure having a shining lustre, and calculated to frighten timid people. As a matter of fact, the officers of the Crown stated that several women fainted at the unusual sight, while children screamed, dogs yelped, and a younger son of Cordwainer Thomas, who was returning from a chandler’s shop, was thrown down by the crowd which had collected, and had his right arm broken. For these reasons the defendant was seized by the guards and taken before the Lord Mayor. In extenuation of his crime, the defendant claimed that he had not violated any law of the kingdom, but was merely exercising a right to appear in a head-dress of his own design—a right not denied to any Englishman.”

The following day, The Times wrote: “Hetherington’s hat points to a significant advance in the transformation of dress. Sooner or later, everyone will accept this headwear.” (Actually, it would take another fifty years.) “We believe that both the court and the police made a mistake here.”

Some kerfuffle! I am unclear about how the Lord Mayor ruled, but an aunt told me the 500 pounds was actually a fine and that John was transported to Sligo, Ireland, in lieu of producing such a sum. In any case, he produced great-great-great-grandfather James there in 1807. James had eleven children, and some of them came to the United States.

This is a favorite tale of Hetherington family lore, and John actually used it as part of his college admissions essays!

Do you have a favorite family story?