The death of Avtar S. Gill was announced today—and at first glance, almost no one in Cincinnati would recognize the significance of this announcement. But if you spend any time downtown, and you heard that the man who used his hat as a signboard had died, you would know immediately that downtown Cincinnati lost one its most interesting characters with Gill’s death.
Many people called him the “Hat Man,” and you could see him wandering around Fountain Square on any given day, as well as making an appearance at every big downtown event and many city council meetings over the years, too. Using cobbled-together headgear that included a ball cap and a cardboard Burger King crown, Gill would tell the world what he was thinking on any given day via a neatly lettered sign atop his head.
He was known throughout downtown and Over the Rhine as a friendly fellow with a penchant for sharing what was on his mind—on his hat. His signs addressed politics, sports, pop culture, holidays, and random events around town. He never missed St. Patrick’s Day or Oktoberfest, and he also showed up regularly at Occupy Cincinnati rallies during the fall of 2011.
A friendly fellow, the “Hat Man” was neither homeless nor looking for a handout. WLW-T news reported this morning that Gill, 71, was found dead in his room at the Budget Host Motel on Central Parkway, where he had lived for more than a year. He paid his room rent regularly every Friday, according the motel’s manager, and when he missed his payment last week, the staff checked his room and found his body. The Hamilton County coroner, Lakshmi Sammarco, said that police had identified him but authorities were still trying to find Gill’s next of kin to confirm the identification.
The Hat Man’s hand-lettered slogans got people thinking and talking about current events and things going on around town and around the world. The signs often prompted smiles from the people who saw them, and he enjoyed talking with anyone who commented on the slogan on his hat, with conversation that was always witty and engaging.
Mostly, he was always where the action was downtown, wanting to see what was going on and make sure his signs were seen by passers-by and folks attending special events. Downtown won’t be quite the same without one of its best characters, Avtar “Hat Man” Gill.