Humble Babble from a Bearded Man

 by Eric Todd, Program Facilitation Specialist

Four months ago, I began to grow my beard. To those who know me, this may not seem noteworthy, as I’ve had a beard off and on for several years. However, unlike previous beards, this one was not born in response to the cooling weather or the result if laziness or forgetting to charge my electric razor. No, this beard has a purpose. “What purpose?” you ask. Well, that story stretches back longer than my beard.

Last June, I began to work on the development of a new program for the museum, one dedicated to all things hair — the culture of hair, the science behind hair, the people who work with hair and even the weird, wild and unusual uses for hair (see hair wreaths or this blog post) would be included. We knew this would extend to facial hair, so someone — I wish I could remember who — said, “Hey, you should grow your beard out for the event.” This seemed like a good, or at least harmless, idea to me. The ultimate reason for growing the beard was not known at the time, but we were confident inspiration would strike.

Anyway, in early September, I happily retired my razor as planned. With shaving removed from my to-do list, my mind was free to concentrate on developing Curls, Cornrows and Comb-overs for the museum. My first task was to educate myself by exploring the world of hair.

Once immersed in this exploration, I was excited by what I found. I learned about the natural hair movement, the importance of understanding your hair texture and the connections between hair health and overall well-being. More importantly, I was able to speak with the experts who work in these areas. I was amazed by their passion and I was eager to invite them to the museum to share their knowledge with our visitors.

Through planning for this program, I met a hair historian who possesses a unique “hair-reading” skill. I can’t wait to see what my hair says about me! I have also heard a story or two from a Hoosier member of Beard Team USA, and I look forward to hearing more stories from his experiences competing in the World Beard and Moustache Championships in England and Alaska.

Personally, I’m hoping the event will introduce me to a new style, treatment or product that would work for me. You see, I have basically had the same haircut my entire life. Truth be told, I’ve long said that I want a bowl cut, but friends tell me this is no longer a fashionable look. And my pop culture comparison to wanting a haircut like Jonathan Taylor Thomas is apparently passé as well. Before embarrassing myself further, I should get to my point.

As 2010 wound down and my mind was occupied by things such as making your own moustache, the load bearing capacity of human hair and debating which celebrities have the most recognizable do’s (come to the event, you’ll see it all), I had largely forgotten that the hair on my face was growing for a reason. You can’t blame me for forgetting; I have not trimmed, clipped or, frankly, done much grooming to my facial hair in months.

However, the time has come for my beard to realize its purpose. Because the visitor is my top priority — or maybe because I was out of ideas — it was decided that I would let the public choose the fate of my facial hair. Below you will see a poll allowing you to vote on a beard style for me to wear to Curls, Cornrows and Comb-overs. Whether the decision to put my beard in the hands of others is inspiration or idiocy, of this I am unsure. Perhaps I’ll withhold judgment until I see the outcome of the vote. Or until I see the look on your face when I debut my new look on Jan. 29.

“The Beard is the Handsomeness of the Face” -R’ Akiva, Eicha Rabbah

Blog authors and bearded brethren Joey Smith and Eric Todd are currently working on the upcoming program Curls, Cornrows & Comb-over’s: Investigating the Do’s, Don’ts & Science of Hair.

Joey Smith ponders pogonotrophy.

The study of beards and facial hair is ‘pogonology,’ the art of growing facial hair, ‘pogonotrophy.’ How do I know this? I grow a beard. I have one. I have friends who have beards. Why don’t you know these words? Well, I’m assuming because you don’t wear a beard. And let me tell you this: There is no point in knowing these words if you don’t plan on growing a beard. Why? Because the true pleasure of these words comes from sitting back and contemplating the art of pogonotrophy while stroking your finely groomed Ducktail.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “You only know this because you work for the museum and you’ve been charged with hours of research devoted to hair and beards for the upcoming program Curls, Cornrows & Comb-overs.” Spoken like a true baby face. I’ll have you know, I’ve been a beard aficionado for years. I appreciate the devotion evident in a grizzly summer beard and the artistic sensibility behind a well-cropped Van Dyke. Personally, I’ve worn everything from Mutton Chops to a Fu Manchu and, being a beard wearer, I understand the subtle nuances that come with wearing facial hair. The head nods between bearded strangers acknowledging each other’s perseverance, the hierarchy of beards and mustaches and the ability to be able to spot a ‘poser’ a mile away. These are all things a true beard wearer knows or sometimes just feels. It’s all part of owning a tract of facial hair.

For the longest time I thought I was the only one who had such pride in my pogonology prowess, but then I thought about all of the great men through time who sported beards. After all, the Imperial beard is named after Napoleon III (not to be confused with the clean-shaven tyrant Napoleon I). Aristotle and Abraham Lincoln are fellow members of the bearded community. And we all know Einstein is known best for his mustache. 

Hans Langseth and the world’s longest beard.

Granted, Curls, Cornrows & Comb-overs is about more than facial hair. There will be an abundance of information related to the hair on top of your head, including hair care tips, demonstrations, activities, games and even hair-readings. But I know that I’ll be taking special notice and nodding with respect at my bearded brethren across the museum’s Great Hall on Jan. 29. Until then, as my gift to you, enjoy these pearls of bearded wisdom. You should probably write this down or bookmark this post:

  • Did you know the last American President to wear a full beard was Hoosier Benjamin Harrison? That was from 1889 to 1893. Rutherford B. Hayes had the longest beard of the American presidents. ‘Rutherford B. Hayes?’ you ask. You’re right, I should change it; the beard makes him Rutherford B. Awesome. I apologize for the error.
  • The average male will grow about 27 feet of hair out of his face in a lifetime.
  • “All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.” Sent by 11-year-old Grace Bedell, this line was the reason Lincoln grew his iconic beard before leaving Illinois for the White House.
  • When he died in 1927, the beard of Hans Langseth of Norway measured 17.5 feet. You can see Langseth’s beard at the Smithsonian Institution.

And just in case you need one last bit of inspiration, I leave you with the words of our friends at TheBeardly.com: ‘Without a beard, you’re the same as every other woman and child.’