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    Name something that has to do with the Derby, and it’s on Ginny Keen’s hat. Horses, of course. A Belle of Louisville. An infield with people. She picks up a party popper and yanks the string, confetti bursting out. “Elvis. I don’t know what Elvis has to do with anything, but I just thought he was cute,” she says. “Who ever saw a gold Elvis?”

    Keen has been going to the Derby since the ’70s — this is her 50th year — and she started wearing hats in ’82. She liked frogs at the time and wore a little frog hat not much bigger than a ball cap. The next year she added roses and some horses. She outdoes herself each year, adding knickknack after knickknack. There’s a mini bottle of bourbon filled with maple syrup — or something like it. “I said (to security), ‘If you want to bend over and taste it, feel free, but I am NOT rippin’ it off my hat,’” she says. This year’s looks like a giant gold spark with metallic Christmas trimmings. In the past, her hats have been featured in the Kentucky Derby Museum.

    On Derby Day, she mingles in the paddock and infield, posing for photos. “You take your hat off and you’re a ghost,” she says. “But when you put the hat on, it’s like you’re the biggest celebrity out there.”

    Keen, who lives in Old Louisville, began working on this year’s version last fall. She uses the same base every year, which is two hats screwed together. “You wanna try it on and see how heavy it is? I think you should,” she says. She has me help her lift it off its stand and puts it on my head. It feels like I’m wearing a large ceramic bowl over my face. How does she wear this all day? “I take me lots of Advil, ’cause by the end of the day I have such a headache,” she says. The 67-year-old says she has a few more years in her. “You put people in a good mood just by wearing a crazy Derby hat,” she says. “It’s that simple.”

    This originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "Gilded Glory." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Joon Kim,

    Mary Chellis Nelson's picture

    About Mary Chellis Nelson

    Mary Chellis Nelson is the managing editor of Louisville Magazine.

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