Lynn Johnson first discovered the legendary turtle hat after a painful slog through Purgatory in 1996.
Purgatory Resort in Colorado, that is, where Johnson was skiing with friends and ended up tearing his ACL on the slopes.
But on that fateful night, as he hobbled his way to dinner, he saw the green, shell-patterned flatcap shining like a beacon in the gift shop. So of course he plopped it on his head right then and there.
The hat soon became his trademark accessory. He wore it on vacations and on his days off. He found it bestowed him with an almost magical sense of delight.
It didn’t take long for Johnson to notice the remarkable ways his turtle hat could disarm any situation and immediately put people at ease. “When I’m out without it [the hat] I can notice the difference. It’s a good prop, like a smile, and you already cross that ‘Oh, we’re friendly’ line,” he said.
But the more he wore the hat with cheerful powers, the more it wore out.
Within five years, his beloved turtle hat had started to fray; its once-bright-green shell now faded to a dullish brown. He had the lining changed, but after the tags still fell off, he realized he’d never be able to find its creator. Still, he refused to throw it away.
“My daughters, now grown and married, hardly remember a time I did not have the turtle hat,” he said on Kickstarter. “For them it is rich with memories of relaxed days when Dad let his hair down.”
After 16 years, Johnson did find another turtle hat waiting for him in an online vintage store — but soon that one too succumbed to the pressures of weather and wear.
After two decades of turtle-hatted-happiness, the future was looking bleak and hatless for Lynn Johnson — until a brilliant plan broke through the shell of his mind.
After reaching out to some friends in the clothing industry, Johnson realized he could use the pattern from his existing hat to have a new one custom-made! … The only problem was that he needed a minimum order of $5,000.
Even for him, that’s a whole lot of turtle hats.
So on Aug. 26, 2016, Johnson launched a Kickstarter campaign to sell his turtle hats — and in less than a week, he passed his goal. “I want to share the fun of a hat which has given my family laughter and joy for 20 years,” he said. “It is a self help course in chilling out.”
Of course, a great power like the turtle hat also comes with great responsibility, and Johnson makes it clear that ownership is a commitment.
“You cannot take yourself too seriously with a turtle on your head,” he explained in his official campaign disclaimer. “If you are easily offended or do not have a good sense of humor, please do not get a hat for yourself, get it for someone you want to give a hard time and have a good laugh with!”
And, yes, he even expanded on these rules by stipulating the Terms and Conditions of wearing a turtle hat on his website, such as “You must slow down when wearing this hat… Turtles never run over anyone.”
Yes, the turtle hat is a little corny. But it’s Johnson’s genuine sincerity that makes his story so endearing.
It’s hard enough to watch the turtle hat campaign video without feeling a big, goofy smile alight across your face. So imagine the positive effect it would have to see a turtle hat in real life. Thanks to Johnson, that kind of wholesome happiness is spreading. Slow and steady might win the race — but sometimes silliness makes it worth running in the first place.
You can check out Johnson’s charming campaign video below and buy your own turtle hat as well, if you still need some help coming out of your shell.
If we’re being technical, Johnson’s turtle hat is actually a tortoise hat. But he addresses this controversy directly in his FAQ, stating that “Americans tend to use the word ‘Turtle’ in a broad generic way and I was raised American. This is one of many quirks I have not corrected. And ‘the tortoise hat’ sounds plain weird in the States.” (Which is true, it definitely does.)