Friday, February 5, 2016

Hair Wreath

Last weekend, Ward and I decided we wanted to get out of the house for the afternoon. Recently, our outing of choice has been a hike. However, with snow and rain, we guessed the woods were too muddy/snowy for us, so we visited a local historic museum.

Living within an hour or two of Washington, DC and Baltimore, we have MANY very significant museums and monuments to visit as well as current government workings such as the Library of Congress or the Capitol. And much of it is free. Thus, sometimes the smaller local offerings get overlooked. Our recent visit was to one of those.

We toured a house built in 1815. In many ways, this house was like others we have visited. There was a grand entry way and a decorative dining room that was built to impress. The bedrooms were filled with fireplaces, four poster beds, and chamber pots.

However, there was one thing in this house that I don't remember seeing before--a hair wreath (just like it sounds, a wreath made out of hair). Even though they were common during Victorian times and there are quite a few still around, awareness of them somehow escaped me.  I had seen a lock of hair incorporated into a piece of jewelry but not something this large and intricate.

At first, I thought this was a wreath of dried plants instead of hair.

The wreaths were often used to remember a deceased family member, however the one we saw was used to commemorate a wedding. It included hair from several different family members as was often the case. It also won a ribbon at the county fair which I think was well deserved for the intricate work I saw.

The hair was often worked around wire.

I've just touched on the tip of the iceberg of this whole world of hair wreaths and I'm not sure how I feel about them. It seems a little odd by today's standards.  For now, I think I'm content to just have my hair woven into a bird's nest. :)

Want to know more?


  1. OK... I'm trying to keep an open mind because logically there's nothing wrong with this - I mean, I have clipped a bit of my cats' fur to remember them after each one has passed, but for some reason this sorta grosses me out.

    When my mother died, the funeral place told us about all the things we could have done with her ashes. I dunno... I mean, I suppose part of me can understand the crosses and jewelry... maybe... but honestly, it still seems a bit morbid to me. But then, the funeral guy started telling me that we could have her made into a nice serving dish! Seriously?!? Like a big salad bowl or something... he wasn't joking either!

    Now every time I'm at a thrift store and see some sort of fancy glass bowl or statuette or something all I can think is... oh god, that might be someone's grandfather! :-)

    1. Oh, no! Now every time I go into a thrift store I'm going to think the same thing.

    2. Oh my goodness, I want to laugh but somehow that seems wrong to do!!!

      When my best friend's mom died, she was cremated and wanted her ashes to be sprinkled in Ontario, Canada, where she grew up. She died in Michigan, which meant my best friend had to take her ashes over the border into Canada, which is illegal. My friend told a hilariously funny story about how her last duty to her mom involved illegally smuggling her into a foreign country.

  2. Oh, how, um, unusual!

    I do have locks of my children's baby hair, but I don't think I'd display them. Yep, a hair wreath seems kinda creepy to me. I get weirded out when I find a hair that doesn't belong to us, when staying in a hotel room.

    And, way too funny, Cat, about the possibilities in some thrift store finds! That is laugh-out-loud, funny.

    1. Yea, it's kind of weird to me too. But I guess it's just what you're used to. Apparently, the Sears Catalog sold jewelry made from human hair in 1900.

  3. That is so odd. My nearly bald Hubby says he won't have any by the time he passes. This gave me a thought though. When you pass away, why can't they take your hair and make wigs out of it for cancer patients. We donate organs, what about hair? One of my wishes is to visit the Library of Congress..see all the'll be like in heaven :).

    1. I've never looked into it, but I bet there is a way to donate hair.

      When my son was little, his goal in life was to live in the Library of Congress. He thought there would be nothing better than to be surrounded by an unlimited amount of books.

  4. I'm a little jealous of all the cultural opportunities you have where you live. Glad you can take the time to enjoy them!

    I've long been fascinated by hair wreaths. They are everywhere in homes from the 1800s--I'm not sure the docents always know what they are, or maybe they are too grossed out to explain them to people. The sugar skulls, etc., from the Day of the Dead is a little hard for me to understand--I am ok with using the time as a remembrance and I think that is a good thing for us to do, but the party atmosphere of some of the observances is uncomfortable for me, but that isn't the culture I was raised in. Anyway, back to the hair wreaths ... in the 1800s photography was just beginning so families often didn't have pictures to remember their loved ones by. Hair would be a tangible reminder of a loved one, so while it's a little uncomfortable for us to look at the hair wreaths, I can understand the emotional appeal of having something to remind you of your loved one.

    Several years ago I went to a museum exhibit at MSU which showed different cultural observances of death. One of the other things I remember from the late 1800s/early 1900s--it was common to take a picture of a deceased person, especially a child. Apparently it was very expensive for the average person to get photographs of family members back then--if a child died and there were no pictures, the body would be posed to look like the child was sleeping and a picture would be taken so the family could have an image of their child. Again, one of those things that seems weird to me, but I can understand a family wanting a visible reminder of what their child looked like.

  5. We do try to take advantage of what's available, but are more hesitant these days to go into DC with the terrorist possibilities. That combined with a metro system that is always breaking down often has us choosing another activity.

    When we first moved here, I tried to impress on my kids how lucky they were to live close to DC and all of the Smithsonian museums, monuments, and government things. I told them that people came from all over the world to see what they could easily see. It didn't have as much of an impact on them as I had hoped. They were just as happy to feed the pigeons and chase the squirrels in front of the Washington Monument as go into it. With that being said, I think they have visited most of the iconic things of the city.

    I have seen some of those pictures of those "sleeping" dead children. In fact, that's the only picture we have of one of my uncles. It was a little unsettling the first time I saw it.

  6. I found it disturbing when I saw the pictures of the "sleeping" children, but I can understand why parents would take one.

    In theory, I would love to go to DC, but the terrorist threat is a concern for me, too.


What do you think?