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Concerning Hat-Trees
by [?]

It is well sometimes, when we are puffed up with our achievements as a race,–our conquest of the elements, our building of mighty bridges and lofty sky-scrapers, our invention of wireless telegraphy and horseless carriages and aeroplanes and machine guns and secret diplomacy and wage slavery and war,–it is well to indulge in the chastening reflection that there are still some things we cannot achieve. We may reflect that the appleless Eden has not yet been discovered, or that the actor without vanity is yet unborn, or the “treasonless” Senate yet unassembled. My own method is to reflect that the ideal hat-tree has never been constructed.

At present I have no hat-tree, because I live in an old farm house where there is a square piano and a hall closet, and we don’t need one. In New York I never had one, either, because there is never room in the hall-way of a modern apartment both for a hat-tree and a passage-way. But occasionally I visit at the homes of friends who boast one of these arboreal adornments, and renew my acquaintance with the species. I was to take a walk with one of these friends the other day.

“Wait,” he said, pausing in the hall, “till I get a pair of gloves.” Stooping over, he pulled at the hat-tree drawer. First it stuck on one side; then it stuck on the other side; then it yielded altogether, without warning. My friend sat down on the floor, the ridiculously shallow drawer in his hand, between his feet a sorry array of the odds and ends of the outside toilet,–broken hat pins, old veils, buttons, winter gloves rolled into wads, old gloves, new gloves, gloves pulled off in a hurry with the fingers inside out, dirty white gloves belonging to his charming sister. I turned away, feeling that I gazed on a domestic exposure. My friend spoke softly to the drawer.

“Sh!” said I, “your family! Put the drawer back.”

“I will not put it back,” he said. “We would never get started. Let the–“

Again I cautioned him, and we set out on our walk leaving the litter on the floor; and as we tramped through the marvelous sky-scraper wilderness which is Manhattan, we talked of hat-trees, and the futility of human effort, and sighed for a new Carlyle to write the philosophy of the hat-tree drawer.

How well I remembered the hat-tree that sheltered my caps in youth, beneath the protecting foliage of the paternal greatcoat and the maternal bonnet! I did not always use it; the piano was more convenient, or the floor. But there it stood in the hall in all its black-walnut impressive ugliness, with side racks for umbrellas, and square, metal drip-pans always full of the family rubbers. There was a mirror in the centre, so high I had to climb three stairs to see how uncle’s hat fitted my small head. There were pegs up both sides; but, as is the way with hat-trees, only the top ones were useful; whatever was hung on them buried everything below. The only really safe place was the peak on top, just above the carved face of Minerva. Sometimes the paternal greatcoat lovingly carried off the maternal shawl of a morning, which would be found later somewhere between the door and the station. And this hat-tree also had a drawer, of course. There was the rub, indeed!

Summer or winter, wet or dry, that drawer always stuck. It had but one handle,–a ring in the middle. First one side would come out too far, and you would knock it back and pull again. Then the other side would come out too far, and you would knock that back. Then both sides, by diabolical agreement, would suddenly work as on greased ways, and you stood with an astonishingly shallow drawer dangling from your finger, its long-accumulated contents spread on the floor. The shock usually sent down two derbies and a bonnet to add to the confusion. When you had gathered up the litter and stuffed it back, wondering how so small a space ever held so much, the still harder task confronted you of putting the drawer in its grooves again. Sometimes you succeeded; more often you left it “for mother to do”–that depended on your temper and the time of your train. The drawer was a charnel-house of gloves and mittens and veils. When you cut your finger you were sent to it to get a “cot”, and it had a peculiar smell of its own, the smell of the hat-tree drawer. A whiff of old gloves still brings that odor back to me, out of childhood, stirring memories of little garments worn long ago, of a great blue cape that was a pride to my father’s heart and a wound to my mother’s pride,–but most of all of lost temper and incipient profanity caused by the baulky drawer.

My friend’s recollections but supplemented and reinforced my own. We called to mind other hat-trees in houses where we had visited, and one and all they were alike perverse, ridiculous, ill-adapted for their mission in life. We thought of various substitutes for the hat-tree, such as a pole with pegs in it, which tips over when the preponderance of weight is hung on one side; the cluster of pegs on a frame suspended from the wall like a picture, while a painted drain-pipe courts umbrellas in a corner; a long, low table (only possible in a palatial hall) on which the garments are placed by the butler in assorted piles, so that you feel like asking him for a check; the settle, often disastrous to hats. We found none of them satisfactory, though they eliminate the perils of the drawer.

Only the wooden pegs which were driven in a horizontal row into the board walls of grandfather’s back entry ever approximated the ideal. But such a reversion to primitive principles would now be considered out of the question, even in my farm house–by the farmer’s wife, at least. The problem of a satisfactory hat-tree, which baffled the genius of Chippendale, is still unsolved in Grand Rapids, and it probably will remain unsolved to the end of time, unless Eden should be found again, where the hat-tree is the least of the arboreal troubles.