Heads up! Beanies propel city to coolness

May 30, 1991|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Evening Sun Staff

Levar Harris is 12 years old, and he covets a beanie cap with a propeller on top.

Levar hovers near a table at East Madison Street and North Milton Avenue with two other 12-year-olds, Murrel Diggs and Tony Laws, who have beanie caps at home.

On the table are tapes and yo-yos and boxes of M&Ms. But the fanciest, classiest, hippest and certainly most colorful item here are the beanie caps -- the current rage among teen-agers in Baltimore.

"Oh yeah," Levar says, "I want one of them. But I wouldn't kill somebody for one."

He saw the front-page picture in The Sun May 18 of the 10-year-old East Baltimore boy who allegedly stuck an unloaded pistol to the head of a 9-year-old boy and stole his beanie.

That is the only beanie crime reported to the police this spring, says Dennis Hill, a police spokesman. There is no beanie crime wave in Baltimore.

Tony Laws says that if you got one of these beanies on, people'll think you're slick because everybody likes 'em.

"I mean," Tony says, "if you're in a crowd that don't like you, and if you start wearing one they'll start liking you."

Murrel Diggs, in the interest of accuracy and reasoned thinking, quickly adds: "In some cases."

So much for reasoned thinking. These multi-colored beanies with propellers on top are the craze all over Baltimore. And no amount of reasoned thinking will tell you why.

"I guess because Baltimore is such a groovy place," says Stacy Samuels, president of Interstellar Propeller, the Berkeley, Calif., company that makes the beanies.

Samuels is such a groovy guy. He's really the company's Chief Flight Commander, he says.

"We do consider everyone who buys a beanie cap a member of the Interstellar Propeller Air Force," he adds.

Fifteen years ago, Samuels says, he lived with the legendary hippie, Wavy Gravy. Samuels made a cap with a propeller for Wavy as a birthday present.

People got a kick out of it, so Samuels made more. Twelve years ago he started selling them in tourist areas and children's stores. Eight years ago, the hat store at Harborplace, Hats in the Belfry, started carrying them.

But it wasn't until the rap musician Kwame wore one in a video this spring that beanie sales caught fire. And, Samuels says, sales are hottest in Baltimore -- for some mysterious reason.

"Baltimore is the beanie capital of the world now," he says. "We figure it must be the happiest city in the world -- everybody walking around happy, smiling and friendly."

When Samuel heard about the 10-year-old allegedly holding up the 9-year-old for his beanie, he sent two beanies to The Sun -- one for each boy. Samuels says both boys are victims, in their own way.

"It's sadly predictable," he says of the alleged crime. "But I'm hoping the one boy learned his lesson, that he'll never steal again. Maybe getting the beanie from us will change his life in some positive way."

The beanies do seem to lift people's spirits. Frank Caplan, manager of Seif's in Mondawmin Mall, which has been selling the beanies for two months, says the kids buy them, put them on, look in the mirror, and their eyes light up.

"This is a fun item," he says. "You don't see anybody running through the mall after stealing somebody's beanie."

Caplan says novelty hats always sell well, but "these things are a little phenomenal." He can't keep them in stock.

Neither can Hats in the Belfry at Harborplace, which sold two or three beanies a weekend until a couple of months ago, says Charmaina Clay, the store supervisor. Now she might sell 25 or 30 in one day -- if she had anymore to sell.

Both stores have ordered more from Samuels. He says his 15 workers are making them as fast as they can. He says he's trying to send at least 1,000 hats a week to Baltimore alone.

About 40 stores in Baltimore and Washington are selling them now, he says. And countless street vendors are selling them. The price ranges from $10 to $14.50.

They're so popular that nearly half the boys at Pimlico Middle School have them, says Rhonda Bartee, head of the school's special education department. She says they wear them to school so everyone can see they have them, store them in their lockers during class, and then put them on when they leave school in the afternoon.

"It's all real positive," she says. "And I'm so glad to be able to say that."

At Madison and Milton, where the three 12-year-old boys hang on the corner by the vendor's table, Wayne Jones sells the beanies to benefit Evans Temple Memorial Church of God. Pastor Armeatchel Evans says the beanies are cute on kids, even though she's seen some men in their 20s wearing them.

She says she vaguely remembers kids wearing similar caps in the 1950s and '60s, when the TV show Beany and Cecil was popular. Beany, who wore a big smile and a hat with a propeller on top, sailed the seven seas with Captain Huffenpuff on the Leakin' Lena. Beany's best friend was Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent.

Now in Baltimore, there are similar lovable characters in their colorful beanies and matching outfits. Actually, says 16-year-old Dwight Evans, your outfit can't help but match your beanie, which is blue, purple, red, orange, yellow and green.

Dwight sells snow balls at Madison and Milton, and his beanie matches what he's wearing: red Reebok shoes, pink and black socks, orange shorts and a red T-shirt. Sort of.

Anyway, the fan on top, as Dwight calls it, keeps his head cool. And that's grooviest thing of all.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.