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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Hirsute Pursuit

Until well into the 20th century, grieving was a more frequent experience than it is today. During the 19th century, many families lost at least one child at an early age, and the children who made it to adulthood typically lived only about half as long as most Americans do now. Remembering the departed led to a practice that may seem odd to us but was quite commonplace 150 years ago -- making wreaths and jewelry from the hair of deceased loved ones.

Typical examples are included in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, a collaborative project of the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Univ. of Wisconsin, and the Chipstone Foundation.

The first is an elaborate floral display exhibited in the master bedroom of the Fairlawn Mansion in Superior. It includes gray, white, and blue glass beads and lengths of wrapped wire, in addition to flowers made of brown, blond, and gray human hair.

The second example, at the Douglas County Historical Society, is a full circle made solely of different colors of human hair, interwoven for effect with horsehair and dog hair. It was made by Fanny Wayne Allen in 1885.

Grieving survivors also worked hair from corpses into jewelry such as pins and pendants. The process is explained at, and there's even an entire museum devoted to Victorian hairwork.

Before you conclude that hanging a collage made from Grandma's hair on the living room wall was too weird, remember that it's still common for proud parents to carefully tuck away some clippings from a baby's first haircut as a souvenir.

:: Posted in Curiosities on November 8, 2007

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