About 60 people gathered at Findlay Market in the cold winter sunshine to pay tribute to Avtar Gill, known as Cincinnati’s Hatman, who died last week. The memorial was organized via a Facebook page dedicated to Gill, a well-known figure in downtown Cincinnati who “wore his heart on his hat,” as one of the signs at his memorial put it.
The gathering, at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, January 26, came a week after Avtar Gill was found by staff at the Budget Host Motel, where he had lived for more than a year. The people who came to pay tribute to the Hatman stood quietly while speakers took turns talking about their memories. Some learned more about the man who usually let his hat signs do his talking for him. He was, according to one speaker, born a Sikh; another man said he was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and believed in nonviolent protest. Many people pointed to his advocacy for the downtrodden and less fortunate
One man said he had known and admired Gill for many years, and his death was “like losing a grandfather”; another speaker talked about how the Hatman’s presence downtown was performance art, and there is talk of organizing an exhibit of photographs and signs in his honor. A Cincinnati city council member, Chris Seelbach, said he had appreciated Gill’s support of the city’s public employees and had also admired his attendance week after week at city council meetings, never speaking but always making his views known with a sign on his hat.
After the last speaker finished, the mourners, many of whom were wearing signs on their own hats, organized a march through the Findlay Market building. Gill was a popular figure with the merchants at the market, and several times spontaneous applause erupted as the marchers made their way through the center aisle between the stands crowded with Saturday shoppers.
Gill was of Indian descent, coming to America from Malaysia many years ago. He still has family in Australia, and arrangements are being made for a more formal funeral, which will be held Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. Meanwhile, more tributes to Cincinnati’s “Hatman” are appearing on the Facebook page dedicated to him, and there is also a website called the Hatman Movement that is gathering photos and memories of Avtar Gill.