George “Stormy” Kromer was a real guy – a semi-pro baseball player and railroad engineer. Not the kind of guy you’d expect to start a clothing company, in other words, but one who happened to create a cap that became known for long-comfort and the ability to stay snug, even in the fiercest winds.
This final feature, in fact, is the reason he made his famous headgear in the first place, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Mr. Kromer, known as “Stormy” to the folks who knew his temper, was born in 1876 in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. He grew up with baseball and would eventually play on nearly 30 semi-pro teams throughout the Midwest. He might have continued to play that field, too, but he met Ida, and before Ida’s father would allow her hand in marriage, our ballplayer needed to find real work.
That meant the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad and long, cold trips across the plains. Stormy was an engineer, and to see where he was headed, he had to stick his head out the window – into the wind. Mother Nature stole his cap more than once, and as the story goes, he set out to get her back.
In 1903, he asked Ida (now his wife and an excellent seamstress) to modify an old baseball cap to help keep it on in windy weather. The all-cloth cap with the soft, canvas visor was a departure from the traditional fedoras of the day, but it was more comfortable and because of it’s six-panel fit, it stayed put.
Soon other railroad workers wanted one of Stormy Kromer’s caps for themselves, and when Ida could no longer keep up with demand, they hired a few employees and the business was born.
A lot of things have changed since those first few caps – new colors, new fabrics, new styles – but we haven’t changed the way we make ‘em. They’re hand-stitched right here in the good old U-S-of-A, and they’re still made to fit better than anything you’ve had next to your noggin. Stormy Kromer caps are true to the original, and that means you get all the comfort and function that made them famous.
The Amana Woolen Mill is an integral part of the fabric of Amana history. In 18th century Germany, Amana forefathers founded the “Church of the True Inspiration.” Seeking religious freedom, they endured hardship and persecution for over a century.
A woolen mill was privately owned by several Inspirationalist families. Demonstrating the depth of their convictions, they liquidated the mill and donated the funds to to help purchase passage for 800 members to emigrate to America. By pooling their resources, the sect established a settlement near Buffalo, New York in 1842. Here they adopted the communal way of life. As the growth of Buffalo encroached upon their insular community, the Inspirationists looked west, and in 1855 settled in eastern Iowa.
They erected the first of seven villages and named “Amana” from a bible passage meaning “to remain faithful.”
Farming and industry were established, including the woolen mill which started operation in Amana in 1857. The members of the Amana Society lived peacefully and prospered.
Then in 1923, tragedy struck. The flour mill in Amana exploded, creating a blaze that consumed thirteen buildings. The Woolen Mill was destroyed except for the weaving department. This blow precipitated the pivotal event in Amana history that followed a decade later.
The depression, coupled with rapidly changing times compelled the Amana Society to end their communal way of life and reorganize into a privately held corporation. This is known as the “Great Change of 1932″.
In 1934, the Amana Woolen Mill Salesroom opened to the general public. The mill busied itself producing blankets and yard goods, as well as heavy coating and wool fabric for clothing manufacturers.
Although down-sized in 1985 due to economic conditions, today the warping and weaving departments remain in operation producing quality blankets in wool and cotton. The Amana Woolen Mill has had a colorful history, surviving fires, floods and wind storms. Through it all, the mill’s attention to quality has remained steadfast.
It seems that Christmas is so commercialized now. The Christmas season is nothing more than a big opportunity for retailers to make money: Sell! Sell! Sell! Everything is geared to get everyone to shop for Christmas as soon and for as long as possible. Where is the reason for the season? Where is the true Christmas spirit?
Oh, you see the Nativity scenes set up around town and the plastic Mary and Joseph with Baby Jesus all lit up in his plastic manger on the brown lawns. But where is the spirit of waiting, preparing and anticipating the coming of something big and beautiful and exciting. The coming of God to Earth.
It seems like it wasn’t always this way. When I was a child the Christmas season started with Advent, right after Thanksgiving, not in October. We knew Christmas was near when we began practicing for the Christmas program at school and began singing Advent hymns in church. My favorite hymn is ‘Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel’ The church was decorated for Advent with purples and pinks, and the Advent wreath set up in a prominent place in the sanctuary, its four candles waiting to be lit one more each week. The Nativity Crèche was a work of art. The stable erected each year, was complete with evergreens and statues of lowing cattle. Joseph, Mary and the Shepherds were almost life sized. The manger remained empty, the bed of straw waiting for the babe to come. Baby Jesus would be carried in and placed in teh manger at the service on Charismas Eve; Midnight mass. The statues of the three kings would not show up until Jan. 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany also known as the Feast of the Three Kings.
Going to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve with my family is one of my favorite Christmas memories. The service always started with half an hour of Christmas carols and hymns, lead by the choir but sung by the whole congregation. I still enjoy going to Midnight Mass, even though I’m now a Methodist. But somehow the memories of those Christmases over 45 years ago seem so much sweeter.
When I was a kid we (my siblings and I) loved to watch scary movies. Anything staring Vincent Price or with ‘Dracula’ in the title were must sees. Our all time favorite scary movie was ‘House on Haunted Hill’. The scene we loved-hated the most, the one we awaited with bated breath, the one that elicited screams of terror from us, was “the withered-witchy-woman floating by in the dark dungeon of a basement” scene. By today’s standards of ‘horror movie scenes’ this one looks fake and even comical, but in 1959 it was sophisticated and spooky.
Another way we got our fear-fix was by playing scary games. The mother of all our fear-based games was Ghosts. On many a rainy or cold day when we had to play indoors we’d end up acting out our wildest nightmares with this diabolical game. The more kids involved in the game the better. Me, two or three of my sisters, one or more neighbor kids and our two brothers were the usual participants – give or take a kid – with me and my sisters the youngest and most vulnerable.
The game began with elaborate preparation. The older kids would cover all the upstairs windows with the ever-present wool army blankets that were our standard bed-covers for as far back as I can remember. Even the attic porthole windows were covered. It was so dark at this point that a vampire would have been pleased to enter our humble abode. Now for the real fun! We’d all hide in the beds, which were lined up dormitory style in our small upstairs bedroom, shaking with anticipation under the covers. We’d spread out so as to foil the Ghost when he came to get us. At least someone might escape that way. Then one of the boys (it was always a boy who was the ghost) would stand at the bottom of the stairs and count loud and slow as he ascended each step. “One o’clock. Two o’clock. Three o’clock.” There were 15 steps, so the counting stopped at twelve midnight. Then the ghost would float up the last three steps in silence and sneak into our room. The creaking of the door slowly opening was all the sound we’d hear. By this time we would truly be terrified, knowing that at any moment the silence would be broken by a scream, maybe our own. When the tension had mounted to its peak the ghost would pounce onto one of the beds and grab his victim. This part was not any fun if you were the one being assaulted. On many occasions, the victim would begin crying loudly and say, “I quit,” as she headed downstairs. But if you were not the one caught, you’d scream even louder and try to hide even deeper in your bed. The ghost could just as easily turn on you. He was very unpredictable, and there were no rules or guidelines for his behavior. This was a problem at times as sometimes the Ghost might try to drag you into the attic.
Now the attic was not empty. It was the storage room for all things past. Not only did it house our Christmas decorations, but over the years it had become a dumping ground for unwanted and broken household items. There was the ever-present rusty bed springs and the no longer needed baby bed. And all along the bare wood beams of the ceiling were protruding nails, many with old coats hanging on them. There was one bare light bulb that hung in the center of the room, but it never worked so to us the coats always looked like hanging corpses swinging in the dark. So being carried into the dark musty attic was usually a game ender. The Ghost’s victim would yell out “I quit” and she was then released, able to flee the nightmare to the safety downstairs where there were lights and sane people.
Today I still enjoy a good scare now and then, but only pretend. And I still like the old Vincent Price horror movies and those cheesy Christopher Lee Vampire flicks of the 70s. But I draw the line at the new horror-slasher movies. All that blood and violence are unnecessary and UN-digestible. Have a Happy and safe Halloween and watch out for floating witches and wandering ghosts!!