Ever since the Cortland County Historical Society was founded in 1925, it has collected, preserved, and interpreted countless artifacts from all around the county. Their latest exhibition was a major project to help celebrate their 90th anniversary by exhibiting and interpreting 90 unique artifacts from throughout Cortland County.
I spoke with Director Mindy Leisenring and asked a difficult question, pick one artifact.
Cortland County Convention & Visitors Bureau: Let’s talk about the hair book because that’s caught my attention.
Mindy: Yes, the Victorian Hair Album.
Victorian Hair Album…because I must say I’ve encountered quite a bit of hair art in my background but have never seen something like this. And it is in really good condition.
Yes, we have two, this isn’t the only one we have…
They collected their friends’ hair and then I asked somebody how this was woven or braided and I think they thought it was tatted. [a kind of knotted lace made by hand with a small shuttle]
That, yes, now that I look at it, especially these three it looks like tatting.
Because they’re just incredibly intricate. But boys’ hair is not done like that. The boys’ hair is just in loops. But then the girls’ hair is all tatted.
And those are the original ribbons?
Yes, everything is original, and it belonged to Miss Mary Stiles Tyler of Virgil and we were given it in 1954. It starts with the Tyler’s…
Oh look Stephen Tyler! Probably not the same Stephen Tyler...
(laughs) Probably not…. But they [hair in the album with names listed] were all family and then it looks like it gets to her friends and I think Tabitha [Assistant Director] was looking up some of these names and that’s how we dated this to the 1880s because they were all in the Census. Oh hey somebody did have red hair!
Hear it for the redheads! But also we have a book on Virgil history and some of these people are mentioned. There’s a poem in here too but it’s very hard to read. It’s just neat because when Ben (Ben Wells, CCHS Board Member) was setting up the exhibit and he pointed out that one of these hair sample was his great-great grandmother.
Yeah that’s pretty incredible to see your Great-great grandmothers’ hair
It’s just amazing… I think that the census has all of these people or in the Virgil History book, which is nice because not that Cortland isn’t wonderful, but we are the Cortland County Historical Society.
And so it’s nice to feature things that aren’t just from the city.
It’s also nice to have the census records to actually see where these people were from, what they did, who they were.
Yes, here is the list we compiled (all the names listed in the Victorian Hair Album).
I mean hair is such a cool thing because it’s such a personal thing and that’s why I always found hair art so fascinating like with the hair wreaths or when I came across hair jewelry
But because you didn’t have photographs, you might get a painting done, if you’re wealthy…
Yeah, well while people could have photographs but what I like about hairs wreaths or any kind of hair art from the research I’ve done is that you didn’t have to be upper class to do it, people of all classes did it and it was artwork and something personal to remember someone by. But people still get a little creeped out by it, but I find it fascinating.
Yes, they do.
Well I mean yes some of the hair wreaths were from when someone passed away it was done, that was definitely part of their mourning traditions but a lot of times it wasn’t necessarily…
Right, yes like this (Victorian Hair Album) was like your friend signing your high school yearbook.
Yeah, and I mean I think my parents saved my first haircut.
Oh yeah, that baby lock of hair.
So there’s that other half of it as well. And hair will stand the test of time.
Yes, it’s (Victorian Hair Album) doing pretty well 130 years later.
Explore the unique artifacts on display at the Cortland County Historical Society all year long.
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25 Homer Ave Cortland, NY 1304
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 1 - 5 p.m.
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