“Cock your hat, angles are attitudes.”
Around these parts, Gilbert Sandler’s jaunty pork pie hat is considered nothing short of iconic. Sure, it’s a bit weathered and timeworn. But arguably, it’s as emblematic of all things Bawlmer as a tin can of Old Bay, the clock face of the Bromo Seltzer Tower, a bottle of Natty Boh or a package of Berger Cookies.
The preferred rumpled headwear of Sandler – Baltimore Jewry’s preeminent storyteller, folklorist and chronicler – has intrigued and charmed generations of devotees of local lore nearly as much as his lovingly woven recollections produced for myriad publications and media outlets.
That’s why Sandler, who turned 95 years young last February, was recently contacted by Marvin D. Pinkert, the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s executive director, in hopes of borrowing that celebrated hat.
Pinkert plans to showcase Sandler’s pork pie (“Not a very kosher-sounding hat,” the JMM honcho mused) in an exhibition titled “Fashion Statement,” which is scheduled to open next April and run through the following September at the museum. The JMM is located at 15 Lloyd St., sandwiched between the historic B’nai Israel and Lloyd Street synagogues.
The exhibition will explore “the ways in which clothes telegraph our identity and status,” said Pinkert, noting that all of the displayed articles and artifacts will have Maryland roots and relevance. A case in point will be a shirt worn as a child by Deborah Cardin, the JMM’s former deputy director, bearing the message, “Vote for my Daddy!” (It just so happens that Cardin’s “daddy” is none other than Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a veteran of the state’s political scene.)
“It’s going to be a terrific exhibit,” said Pinkert, noting that he has also placed a request to the family of the late Shoshana Shoubin Cardin for one of the purple scarves worn frequently (and famously) by the Baltimore-based global Jewish community activist/philanthropist.
Half of the JMM’s Samson, Rosetta and Sadie B. Feldman Gallery will feature “Fashion Statement” during its run, while the other half will present a traveling exhibition, “Stitching History from the Holocaust,” from the Jewish Museum Milwaukee.
“Fashion Statement” will largely draw its contents from the East Baltimore museum’s vast archive collections, some of which have never been seen previously by the general public.
But Pinkert felt there was one particular millinery item required to make the exhibition complete and a true tour de force.
“It’s your hat, Gil,” he wrote in an email to Sandler last Monday, Aug. 6 “The theme of the exhibit is the way in which articles of clothing have expressed Jewish Baltimore in terms of religion, politics, social status and profession. In this context, your hat is an icon – reflecting both your role as a journalist and your affinity for everyday Baltimoreans.”
The hat, Pinkert promised the “Bard of Baltimore,” will be returned once the exhibition is over. (No word yet if Pinkert wants to borrow Sandler’s trademark bow tie or round spectacles as well.)
Now that Sandler has given his consent to the JMM, Pinkert said he and his staff plan to drop by the writer/raconteur’s Roland Park abode sometime over the next couple of weeks to pick up the hat.
Pinkert noted that the museum already has a faux Gil Sandler hat or two in its collections. Hundreds of such floppy knockoffs were distributed to worshipers in Beth Am Synagogue’s main sanctuary five years ago at a special Shabbat service celebration commemorating the 90th anniversary of Sandler’s birth. (In late 1974, Sandler was among the founders of the Reservoir Hill shul, and he’s been a lay leader and active congregant ever since.)
Alluding to the replica and authentic Sandler hats, Pinkert said with a chuckle, “Maybe we’ll put both on display.”
Pinkert said he first thought of the idea to borrow the real hat for the exhibition while attending a tribute program to Sandler at the JMM last November.
“There’s no one like Gil Sandler,” he said. “He’s very dear to this institution, not only because of all he’s done for the museum but also for all he’s done for the cause of [preserving] Jewish history in Baltimore.”
Brooks, Unitas … & Gil
William Donald Schaefer, the late governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore, once said, “No one knows Baltimore — and Baltimore’s Jewish community — better than Gil Sandler. He’s an extraordinary spokesman for an extraordinary community.”
Jmore columnist Michael Olesker echoed that sentiment. He described Sandler’s hat as a cherished heirloom that deserves veneration from the community.
“To Baltimoreans of a certain vintage, Gil Sandler’s hat is as iconic as Brooks Robinson’s glove, John Unitas’s high-top shoes or your rabbi’s yarmulke,” he said. “You can’t have one without the other.”
For his part, the characteristically modest Sandler — author of numerous books on Charm City and retired host of the popular “Baltimore Stories” series on WYPR-88.1 FM — said he was humbled by Pinkert’s request. He said he is tickled to lend his trademark head covering for such a worthy endeavor.
For more event information, go to jewishmuseummd.org