The Kentucky Derby Fascinator

6 05 2012

Today is Cinco de Mayo in Mexico. Here in the good ole U.S. A. it’s May 5th. It’s also the day of the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby. Often referred to as the most exciting two minutes in sports, there are a number of traditions associated with the Kentucky Derby, not the least of which is the Kentucky Derby parade of hats. The horse was invented so this race could become a reality. And the Derby was created as an excuse to hold this hat extravaganza.

I think what happened was, and don’t quote me on this, Colonel Bromley B. Burford, Civil War veteran and the namesake of Burfordville, Kentucky, wanted to do something big to celebrate the end of the Civil War.

How ‘Bout a Hat Contest?

Always a big fan of fellow Kentucky native, Daniel Boone and the coonskin cap, he hatched this plan for a community picnic to be held in Burford Park. The picnic would culminate in a contest to see who could come up with the best looking coonskin cap. The picnic was a tremendous success and the hat contest was the hit of the day. The very first contest winner was the colonel’s boy Bunford Burford.

As one would imagine, after 3 or 4 years the participants were running out of ways to make their hats stand out. Let’s face it, there are only so many ways one can dress up a dead raccoon. The contest was losing appeal. Buford Burford, the colonel’s cousin, and mayor of Burfordville, said the contest had become so lame that he was no longer going to participate.

“How ‘bout if we have a race to make things more exciting?” shouted the mayor over ribs and a shot of Kentucky Gentleman.

“What kind of race?” asked the mayor’s wife Beulah Burford.

“Well,” Buford paused, with a big blob of barbecue sauce dripping from the corner of his mouth, “what about a sack race?”

“I can’t believe you would embarrass me with such a stupid idea!” shouted Beulah. “And I suppose you’ll be suggesting next that we bob for apples or have a fishing contest. Or maybe we could have a horse shoe pitchin’ tournament!”

“That’s it,” shouted the mayor, pointing a bare rib bone toward Beulah.

“Get real you lame brain. Ladies don’t pitch horse shoes and this is supposed to be a community picnic.”

“No,” replied Buford, “a horse race.”

A New Tradition

Everyone, even Beulah, thought that was a great idea. The only problem was they had no track at which to stage this race…that is, until Beulah’s brother, Baron Brisco Buchanan offered to donate a chunk of land where they could build a track.

“Well, that’s all fine and good,” interjected Buck Burford, Buford’s baby brother, “but that won’t do anything to improve the coonskin cap contest. It’ll still be as dull as ever.”

That’s when the mother of all hat contests was born. The colonel, who is a quiet man by nature, had been sitting alone in the corner listening to the proceedings. “No rules.” He offered. “The hat contest can be whatever kind of hat anyone wants to wear.”

So people started making their hats using all kinds of things they found laying around the house-Martha White flour sacks, tobacco pouches, old eyeglasses, oil lamp wicks-whatever they could find.

Move to Louisville

Eventually the event became too big for Burfordville so it was moved to nearby Louisville and was given the official name, Kentucky Derby. The Louisvillians embraced the race and all its traditions, including the hat contest.

As the tradition grew, it was considered disgraceful for a woman to attend the Kentucky Derby without a hat, whether participating in the hat contest or not. So the hat contest evolved to become a tradition of adorning the head with the largest, most atrocious headwear without looking ridiculous. The tradition now rivals the English tradition of wearing a fancy hat to fancy functions, i.e. weddings for royalty, only, there, they call them fascinators. At the Kentucky Derby, they call them, of all things, hats. Oh those clever Kentuckians!

So, since I did a piece on the fascinators at the royal wedding last year, I thought it only fair, here on the day of the 138th Run for the Roses, I do something on hats of the Kentucky derby. Enjoy!

Buford’s dog Ole Blue Burford


The Come on in Out of the Rain Hat

The Has Anyone Seen My Lunch Hat

The Head on a Platter Hat

The Hey Lady You Wanna Take Off Your Hat So We Can See Hat

The I Have Too Much Time I Need a Life Hat

The I’ll Make You a Deal You Can’t Refuse Hat

The I’m Not Going Anywhere With You Looking Like That Hat

The Sissy Bubba Hat

The Super Poppy Hat

The That’s a Really Big Diploma Hat

The Big Blue Bouffant Hat

The Okay Buster What Happened to our Christmas Wreath Hat

What Hat





2 responses

7 05 2012

They do go crazy with the hats. They seem to get more and more ridiculous every year.

Being a native of Louisville, I’ve actually never been to the Derby. I hate big crowds so I prefer to watch it on television. The Derby is a big deal around here. We have the Kentucky Derby Festival for two weeks leading up to the Derby. It starts off with an air show and “Thunder Over Louisville”, one of the largest fireworks displays in the world. Then there a bunch of events leading up to the Derby including a Marathon, a parade, a hot-air balloon race, a steamboat race, a bed race, and the Run for the Rose (people run with glasses of wine on a serving tray). Nothing is as big as the Derby in Louisville. I usually avoid most of the events.

Well, maybe when the UofK and UofL basketball teams play each other.

10 05 2012
Bill Taylor

I’m like you, Melissa. I hate large crowds. My disdain for being among crowds trumps my desire to see and participate in the KD events. Guess I’ll never see it.

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