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Head sizes and headstones news that you can use


Letters, calls and the roar of the crowd:

Gordon Matulonis, Eldersburg: Perhaps you didn't see women pallbearers, but I did.

When my father died, my mother made me go to the cemetery every Wednesday. One Wednesday, not far from my dad's burial place, I saw six women pallbearers.

After the casket was lowered, the women removed their gray gloves and tossed them onto the casket.

By the way this was in 1937.

COMMENT: I spoke to Joe Keller of Loring Byers Funeral Directors, whom I met when I gave a speech to an association of Maryland funeral directors a few years ago (and a livelier bunch you will never meet.)

Joe: There are sometimes women pallbearers, but it is rare.

Me: Why aren't there more?

Joe: I guess some people figure women can't carry a casket.

Me: I'm sure they can.

Joe: One piece of advice I would have if a woman is to be a pallbearer is to wear flats.

Me: Can you hire pallbearers?

Joe: Yes. You can rent professional pallbearers.

Me: How much do they go for?

Joe: Twenty-five dollars a person. But I try to discourage it. Actually, pallbearers are not needed. We [at the funeral home] place the casket in the hearse and then can place it on the grave lowering device before the funeral party gets up to the grave. That works very well.

Me: I have been a pallbearer a couple of times and once they gave us gloves and later asked us to put them on the casket before it was lowered. And another time we weren't given any gloves. How come?

Joe: I have no idea. The law does not require gloves. I rarely use them.

Me: Anything else on pallbearers?

Joe: Yes, technically, they are not pallbearers but casket-bearers. A pall is a cloth draped on a coffin. When you don't have a pall, you don't have pallbearers.

Me: Thank you for providing my readers with news they can use.

Joe: You're welcome.


Lou Boulmetis, Baltimore: You asked in your recent Simon Says column if anyone still blocks hats. We have been blocking hats at Hippodrome Hatters for 65 years as a family in downtown Baltimore.

Why does someone want a hat blocked? If it should become misshapen and they want to get it re-shaped, they would get their hat blocked.

COMMENT: I called Lou Boulmetis for the rest of the story.

Me: How many hats did you block this week?

Lou: Maybe 25. I block them and my wife, Judy, cleans them. She is a master. But it slows down a little bit for us this time of year. In the course of a year, we block thousands.

Me: Describe your hat-blocking machine.

Lou: It's my two hands, actually. I once had a hat-blocking machine that I wanted to give to a museum, but they didn't want it. I shape all the hats by hand.

Me: How?

Lou: It depends on how it is made. I usually use steam on the brim and crown, but not always. You don't do that to leather and suede. You have to be careful how moist you make it.

Me: Could you teach me?

Lou: I could teach you in a minute and it would take you a lifetime to master.

Me: You've been in the business for a lifetime?

Lou: We've been a family business since 1930, when Louis, my grandfather, opened the shop. We started at 11 N. Eutaw and moved to 13 N. Eutaw and now we're at 15 N. Eutaw. Sixty-five years at virtually the same location. We are named for the old Hippodrome Theater, which started as a vaudeville house. My grandfather cleaned the suits and shined the shoes and blocked the hats for Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Bing Crosby, the Three Stooges, all the big names.

Me: Do most people know their hat size?

Lou: Most people do not. Actually, it is very simple to determine. Your hat size is derived by measuring the circumference of your head and dividing by pi, which is 3.14159.

Me: Wait a second. So if my hat size is seven and a quarter, I would multiply by pi and get, wait a second, I've got a calculator FTC here, I would get 22.77 inches. And that is the circumference of my head?

Lou: Yes.

Me: Thank you for providing my readers with news they can use.

Lou: You're welcome.

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