Staying true to role, interpreter readies for 1′ of hair to be cut — publicly

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Conner Prairie interpreter Andrew Barge will have his long locks cut Sept. 19 so that fellow interpreter Sarah Withrow can make hair jewelry, or mourning jewelry, which involves weaving remembrances, like a pendant or watch fob, from a departed loved one’s hair.

By Kim McCann
Guest Blogger

“Here today, gone tomorrow,” they say. But for one Conner Prairie interpreter, it may soon be more fitting to say, “Hair today, gone tomorrow.”

Andrew Barge started at Conner Prairie as a youth interpreter 12 years ago. “My older sister applied for a job here as a youth volunteer,” he remembers. “And you know, being a little kid, you’ve got to do everything your older sister’s doing so I followed in her footsteps. But I stayed interested because this place is awesome.”

He will soon blur the lines between real life and interpretation when more than a foot of the tresses he’s been growing for three years is cut during Conner Prairie’s open hours. Why lose the long locks? And why do so publicly? “There’s no documentation on long hair (for men), at least, not in 1836 in Indiana,” he said.

Conner Prairie’s historic areas strive to present a realistic image of the early 19th century Hoosier state. Interpreters often sacrifice personal style in their day-to-day lives so their characters come across as authentic as possible. In period paintings and etchings, which are the best sources for how people of the period looked and dressed, it is rare to see anything other than clean-shaved men with short-shorn hair, so Andrew’s flowing mane is an anachronistic anomaly.

A Conner Prairie Alliance member he knows once who told him a story about one of her childhood visits to Conner Prairie during which she witnessed a man getting his hair cut. “That’s when, all of a sudden, it was real to her. It was really 1836. She was a believer,” Andrew said. “And me, being able to give even one kid that same kind of experience, to have it be real for them, that’s pretty cool.”barkers
The Barker family, including Lucinda (from left, Kim McCann), Jonathan (Gary Paschal), Jo (Sarah Richcreek), Meg (youth volunteer Grace Wiles), Asa (Andrew Barge) and Naomi (Jenny Sherrill). 

Andrew’s “shearing” will take place during one of the Barker family’s biannual kiln burns on Sept. 19. He portrays Asa, son of potter Issac Barker. Asa’s mother, Lucinda, will be holding the snips.

It makes perfect historical sense for a haircut to go down this way in 1836. Hygiene practices were a bit looser in the 1830s. People shaved and bathed themselves and a haircut was usually done by a family member or friend. Barber shops and trained barbers were few and far between and the kind of grooming services they offered came at a cost too high for most.

Andrew said he considered donating his hair to charity once it is cut but instead has chosen to gift it to a fellow interpreter who has been with Conner Prairie for more than 30 years.

“Sarah Withrow has been asking quite a bit about if I’m going to get it cut, when I’m going to get it cut and how much I’m going to get cut off,” he said. “She’s going to be making hair jewelry.”

Hair jewelry, or mourning jewelry, has been around for centuries and involves weaving remembrances, like a pendant or watch fob, from a departed loved one’s hair.

“I can have my hair live on through history,” Andrew said.

— Kim McCann is assistant interpretation manager at Conner Prairie.