Bellboy’s hat: Only relic from past

2013-07-03 00:00

AFTER 53 years, the Imperial ­Hotel bellboy’s hat has been re­turned to its rightful owners.

Clive Oellerman, a former apprentice at the then Natal Witness printing press, has returned the hat he found in his flat after a night out partying with his friends in 1960.

The hat was part of the bellboy’s uniform in the 60s. The unfortunate bellboy’s hat was stolen by an intoxicated youth, who may or may not have been Oellerman.

“None of my friends owned up to taking the hat. It could have been me, but I don’t think it was in me,” said a laughing Oellerman.

Oellerman has kept the “stolen hat” all these years, even when he and his wife emigrated to Australia in 1979. With this, his last visit to South Africa, he decided to finally return the hat.

Being young and carefree when he was 18, Oellerman and his young friends decided to go to the bar of the Imperial Hotel for a good time after work one day. At the time, the Witness premises were in town, near the hotel, a convenient watering hole for the young Oellerman.

“My friends and I frequented that bar, mainly on Fridays because it was pay day. In around about 1960, we had a party here and it went somewhat awry. The following morning, I woke up and I found this hat in my flat. Apparently, it had been borrowed by one of our party members. When I saw the hat I thought, ‘Whoops, if I take it back, they are going to think I stole it’, so I just delayed it until now,” said Oellerman.

After he left Pietermaritzburg and moved to Australia with his family, he kept the hat in the attic with a collection of other hats he acquired through the years, such as army hats from when he did service, berets and tin helmets. He never forgot about the hat, as it was a reminder of his adventures when he was, as his wife Ros put it, “young and silly”.

The general manager of the now Protea Hotel Imperial Rodney Bull was delighted to receive the hat back: “I’m still shocked! We are currently working on a project to add more historical items and photos to the hotel so the guests are aware of its rich history. This hat adds to that project, it is a big part of our history.”

The hat is the only item the hotel has of the past uniform. It will be put in a glass box and displayed in the very bar that Oellerman and his friends got drunk in the night the hat was taken.

Oellerman is still in touch with his friends and met up with them on this trip. On maintaining a lifelong friendship, he said: “I just put it down to truth, trust, loyalty and respect. If you can display those things, you’ll have friends forever. Also you have to throw in a little bit of mischief!”

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