New Year Greetings from The Charleston Hat Man | 43-47 Broad Street

Happy New Year 2019! The Charleston Hat Man is one of our favorite iconic images and has been around for more than 100 years. This image is on the Church Street corner of 47 Broad Street.

43-47 Broad Street was built in 1855 by Charles Love and Conrad Wienges, saddlers and harness makers. In 1870, Charles Plenge bought the building and altered the fa├žade, specifically adding a cornice with the name "Plenge." C. Charles Plenge was born in 1827 in Kassel, Germany and later emigrated to Charleston. Plenge established and operated a haberdashery at 43-47 Broad Street, selling men's clothing, hats, and other accessories. Mr. Plenge died in 1877, before the date of the Charleston Hat Man painting, which appears to be in the early 1890s.

Beauregard Betancourt owned the Plenge establishment by 1910 and supposedly began working there in 1872 at the age of twelve. There is an unexplained gap between Plenge's death and Betancourt's ownership, but Betancourt was certainly working at the business when the Charleston Hat Man was painted on the Church Street Corner in the 1890s. In fact, as Betancourt was noted for his cartoon drawings, it is probable that he painted the Hat Man himself.

Notice that the Hat Man is made up of different hats. I always suggest on my walking tours that people look at the eyes and nose particularly, and suddenly they see hats everywhere on him. The ears are particularly interesting; one is a cap, and the other appears to be a different hat with a tassel. The hats are supposed to be different and appear to represent hats worn by Union and Confederate soldiers. There is an old trade card "Plenge the Hatter" which shows the Hat Man with the ear hats being more distinguishable.

Mr. Betancourt died in 1944, and 43-47 Broad Street is longer than a men's store, but presently houses several businesses. Fortunately, the Charleston Hat Man remains! As a leader in historic preservation, the city of Charleston continues the painting upkeep on the Charleston Hat Man.

Next week, we'll continue to explore Charleston history through her places and people.