Friday, August 1, 2008

LBJ Stetson Beaver 3X Hat Signed by Astronauts for Houston Legislator

This is an extraordinary hat that was a gift from Lyndon Johnson to Texas state senator Criss Cole around 1968. This is a 1960's vintage Stetson Beaver 3X with a perfect leather hatband that shows it was never worn. It's signed by Neil Armstrong, Pete Conrad, Gordo Cooper and Deke Slayton.

Someone on Collectspace posted they had seen a cowboy hat in a Ft. Collins, Co. thriftstore and that it was signed by some astronauts. I emailed the guy who posted and asked him for the name of the thriftstore and he responded immediately. I called the store, spoke to the manager, who told me that the hat was donated but that he had no history or provenance about it. The store manager told me the hat had been on display in his store for months and that he kept lowering the price, but still nobody wanted it. After sending me photos of the autographs, I forwarded them to Scott Cornish and he confirmed that they were authentic vintage signatures.

I ended up buying the hat and upon receiving it, I sent some friends pictures of it and it was a very unique piece. About 3 months go by, I put the hat in a box to protect it and in the closet it went. Someone got ahold of the pictures I sent out of the hat and asked me if I had checked under the hat band. It never crossed my mind to look under the hat band and when I did, I almost fell over from shock.

On one side written in pen under the hat band is "LBJ Gift" and on the other side is "Criss Cole". Obviously anyone who's into the Mercury, Gemini & Apollo programs knows that LBJ was a huge supporter of the space program, starting when he was vice-president under JFK. For all of LBJ's faults, he was the biggest reason this country was able to get to the moon before JFK's deadline. LBJ was known to give out Stetson and another brand of cowboy hat who's name escapes me, to supporters, visiting dignitaries and VIP's, as a symbol of LBJ's pride in Texas.

After speaking with the curator of the LBJ museum & library, there were about 50 or so cowboy hats that were signed by astronauts and then given out to supporters of the space program. The astronauts attending various events to drum up PR for the program, signed some of these Stetson hats, that were then given away.

The incredible part to this story is that the Houston legislator was Criss Cole (1918-1985) was an amazing man in his own right and to read his bio, please go to Mr. Cole joined the USMC in 1940 where he fought at the battles of Guadalcanal and was blinded by a Japanese grenade during the beach assault at Tarawa. If you're not familiar with USMC WW2 battle history, the battle of Tarawa was one of the most vicious and horrific battles of the entire pacific campaign against the Japanese.

Mr. Cole returned to Texas after recovering from his wounds where he finished high school, then attended night classes in law, eventually completing law school. Afterwhich Mr. Cole became an attorney specializing in juvenile law, then became a state rep, state senator, appointed as chief justice for the 315th circuit court dealing with kids and was a major civil rights leader in Texas.

I have tried to contact Mr. Cole's son, who's also an attorney in Houston, but he will not return my calls, so I haven't found out any other history about this hat.

I did send photos of this hat to the LBJ museum & library while trying to research the origins of it. Initally they were very interested in displaying it for 18 months during the 100th LBJ anniversary celebration. I was told by the curator of exhibits that this hat is authentic and very rare, but so far they haven't taken me up on my offer to loan it out to them for free.

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