Archive for Friday, January 10, 1992


January 10, 1992


Emma Ely was only 17 when she began her family hair album in 1858, but she cared for it carefully through the years. Today, it remains intact and is now a museum piece.

The 133-year-old album, on display at the Elizabeth M. Watkins Community Museum, 1047 Mass., is the centerpiece of an exhibit titled "Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow."

Judy Sweets, Watkins' registrar and exhibits coordinator, said the new exhibit was inspired by the album, donated to the museum by the late Mrs. George (Alga) Lowman, who was Emma Ely's daughter and a longtime Lawrence resident.

Ms. Sweets and Marjorie Fisher, a Project Ayuda trainee at the museum, created the exhibit, located in the museum's basement. Project Ayuda is a U.S. Department of Labor job training program for people 55 and older.

ACCORDING TO Watkins' records, Emma Ely was born in Washington County, Pa., in 1841, married Joseph Reese Miller in 1863 and moved with him to a farm near McLouth in 1878.

Later, the Millers moved into McLouth, where they lived until coming to Lawrence in 1911. Mrs. Miller died at her home, 1329 Ky., in 1921.

Ms. Sweets said because of the album's cross-stitched cover, she first thought it was a needlework album. The cover, a perforated paper "sampler," was done at 18 stitches to the inch.

Within its stitched border, the cover reads "Wrought by Emma A. Ely, May the 8, A.D. 1858. Daniel's wisdom may I know; Stephen's faith and patience too; John's divine communion feel. Moses meekness. Mary's zeal."

When she opened the book, Ms. Sweets discovered page after page of locks of hair, mostly in shades of brown, each identified with a name and many with accompanying poems.

SOME OF THE hair is braided into different patterns that look like tatting or macrame. The delicate braiding may have been done with the aid of a hook or done by a very skilled hand.

Some of the finished pieces are stretched straight horizontally or vertically across a page, and others form tiny collars, wreaths or seashell shapes.

Other snippets of hair are simply looped and tacked in place with a bit of ribbon glued to the paper pages.

No dates are included, nor are relationships usually explained, although samples are thought to have come from family and some friends. Among the names included are Ely and Miller as well as Garber, Wise and Barr.

Some poems in the book were written by Mrs. Miller, others were by famous poets and some were by the person who was contributing hair.

MS. SWEETS noted one lock the tiniest was identified as having come from Mrs. Miller's stillborn son.

The poem with the baby's hair reads, "The cares of heart never knew; Never felt the blight of sin; The pearly gates have let me through; Right angels led me in."

Another poem, apparently authored by a hair contributor named Harvey Egy, reads "This lock of hair once did grow; Upon a person's head you know; But now is placed within this book; For those to see that may chance to look."

Ms. Fisher said she had never seen such a family album before, although she had seen collections of family hair, usually tied with ribbons and kept in envelopes or slipped between the pages of books.

Other pieces in the new exhibit are two elaborate, decorative Victorian wreaths made exclusively of hair, Elfriede Fischer Rowe's essay on local beauty parlors from her book "Wonderful Old Lawrence," photographs of turn-of-the-century hair styles and some vintage hair care tools.

AMONG THE photographs are Little Augie Ludington in 1870-child-style curls; Hugh Cameron, known as "The Kansas Hermit," in dramatic, flowing locks about 1900, and Georgia Willman in her 1926 "bob."

Hair care tools from the museum's collection include a permanent wave machine, curling iron, hairpins and clips.

The exhibit will be up until at least the end of January, Ms. Fisher said.

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