On this morning in 1963, Fort Worth gave President John F.
Kennedy our hearts and our most treasured gift.
Forty years later, one tiny mystery remains.
What happened to JFK's Western hat?
No souvenir has ever symbolized Fort Worth and Texas
like the Shady Oak Western hat, given to nine presidents since 1923 in a tradition begun
by Star-Telegram Publisher Amon G. Carter Sr.
We gave Kennedy a Western hat at the morning
breakfast at the Hotel Texas, now the Radisson Plaza Fort Worth.
He never wore it.
And it has never been seen again.
"I've heard Granddad tell over and over about
making that hat," said Joe Peters Sr., 58, in his family's Peters Brothers Hats store
in downtown Fort Worth. "I wish we could find it."
Peters Brothers Hats is on a block of Houston Street
that has changed little since 1963.
On that Friday morning, hatter Tom Peters came
downtown early and walked the block behind his shop to join the crowd around the Eighth
Street stage in front of the hotel.
He had already creased and delivered a white felt
Western hat for Kennedy, even though the president rarely wore hats.
Every important guest to Fort Worth got one of
Peters' Shady Oak Western hats. Kennedy would be no exception.
Peters, an immigrant from Greece, who started the hat
shop in 1911, was among those in news photos pushing forward to shake Kennedy's hand after
he greeted the crowd on a gray, drizzly morning.
Inside the hotel, lawyer Raymond Buck, the Fort Worth
Chamber of Commerce president, grinned as he handed over the Western hat before Kennedy
would address the breakfast.
"Mr. President," he began, "we know
that you don't wear a hat."
The crowd laughed as Buck went on: "But we
couldn't let you leave without providing you with some protection from the rain."
Kennedy grinned back and glanced at the photographers
waiting to snap his photo in a "cowboy hat."
He'd be glad to pose in it, he said.
"If you come to the White House Monday
The breakfast crowd responded with a combination
laugh and groan. For 40 years, Fort Worth had seen hundreds of visitors try on hundreds of
Shady Oak Western hats, all duly pictured the next day in the Carter family's Star-Telegram.
TV news film of the Kennedys climbing into a
convertible for the motorcade to then-Carswell Air Force Base does not show anyone
carrying the hat box. It was probably collected by an aide.
The Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in
Massachusetts, home of many Kennedy gifts, does not have the Western hat. A museum staff
member came looking for the Western hat in Fort Worth a few years ago, said Joe Peters
Jr., 35, the heir to Peters Brothers' 92-year tradition.
"I think it's still in a box in Fort Worth or
Dallas somewhere," Joe Jr. said. He has heard the Western hat might have been handed
off to someone at the air base.
Reporters have checked the National Archives. No
"Granddad was really proud of that hat,"
Joe Sr. said. "Of all the presidents and movie stars, [the one for Kennedy] was one
of his most memorable."
The Western hat was standard, not showy: a snow-white
Shady Oak with a 2 3/4-inch brim, Joe Sr. said. "Everybody who was somebody wore
Joe Sr. remembers the presidential visit, but he was
at work driving a delivery truck for a wholesale drug company that day. He carried a
portable radio that crackled with the news of the assassination.
"I just remember how hard the news hit
everybody," he said.
When Tom Peters Sr. died at age 100 in 1991, daughter
Helen Peters said her father proudly made hats for any "good Democrat."
He also made hats for Republican Presidents Dwight
Eisenhower and Gerald Ford. "Dad said they were good people," she said,
"even if they were Republicans."
The lost Shady Oak Western hat might be the only
missing souvenir from the Kennedys' Fort Worth visit.
The artwork that was borrowed to decorate the hotel's
Suite 850 was returned to local museums. Invitations to the breakfast -- more than 2,000
were sent -- are cherished collectibles. The convertible Kennedy rode is for sale on the
Web for $1 million. The Texas Christian University library has archives of the speech and
visit, including a home movie.
We remember the day a spirited, happy, courageous
president came to Fort Worth.
What a shame we never got to see him wear our Western