Business: Dirty Billy's Hats Location: 20 Baltimore St., Gettysburg Years in Business: 20 Owners: Billy and Fran Wickham Number of Employees: Full Time: 2 Sector of Business in the Community: Shopping
If you’ve seen the movie "Gettysburg," "Gods and Generals" or "Secondhand Lions," you’ve seen Dirty Billy’s work. As a hat maker for well over 60 years, Bill Wickham has mastered the art of authentic replication when it comes to hats all the way back to the 1600s to modern day.
Wickham's store on Baltimore Street has been around for 20 years and is run by Bill and his wife, Fran. While the store may be 20 years old, Bill has been selling his hats at re-enactments for over 50 years.
The interest in hats has been something Bill has had from a young age. He collected original Civil War hats, one of the first being a hat given to him that his great grandmother’s brother received when he was a guard at a Confederate hospital in Maryland. However, he began making them because of his grandmother.
He said, “She was a dress maker. I’d say, ‘Grandma, a seam came apart in my hat’ and she would say ‘okay, let’s fix this thing, it is 100 years old. Let’s see how it was made and copy it.’”
In time, Bill has mastered the craft and can now produce a replica hat in about 45 minutes depending on the hat.
“It was not always a dream to open a shop. I thought I would make a couple of hats to bring to a re-enactment, throw down a blanket and sell them,” said Bill. “But I’d sell all my hats before I’d even have a chance to put my blanket down. They’d be waiting for me.”
The quality and authenticity of Dirty Billy’s Hats makes them a widely popular and sought after product for re-enactors. Due to the popularity, there’s another Dirty Billy’s Hats in Charleston, SC.
“The people who are involved in the re-enactments are holding onto [this store] with a death grip and will never relinquish it,” said Bill. “This store gets really busy two times per year, during Fourth of July Weekend and Remembrance Day Weekend.”
Bill loves to talk to his customers. Visitors who come into the shop will get a story along with the hat from Bill- whether that’s the history of the hat, a personal account of a soldier who wore that type of hat or maybe even a familial tie Bill has with that particular hat. He wants to pass the history and the stories along with his customers as it helps them appreciate the product even more.
In addition to making hats for re-enactors, Dirty Billy’s has made hats for actors like Sam Elliot, Martin Sheen, Robert Duval, Michael Kane and Patrick Swayze to wear in films. There are a few signed pictures of actors wearing Dirty Billy’s hats that can be seen hanging on the wall of his shop.