Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

If Bao was writing this it would be all about doggy things like food and smells and the Cocker Spaniel bitch who passed through last week and peed under the third bush on the north side of the motel.

We do share an interest in food. So here we are doing lunch at a Red Lobster. which I stumbled upon while searching for an Olive Garden. After lunch, we visited Leila's Hair Museum.

Actually, it's not Leila's hair. It's Leila's museum. The hair belonged to thousands of other people whose loving relatives crafted it into elaborate, floral wreathes. Leila found the first one in a garage sale, fifty years ago. She's been collecting them ever since. If you think this sounds a bit odd, you are not alone. The Society of American Travel Writers selected Leila's Museum as one of the ten "quirkiest" attractions on the interstate. Leila's Museum is also unique. It's the only hair museum in the world.

In the era before photography, crafting your loved ones' hair into intricate, floral shapes and arranging these to form wreathes or necklaces was an important American folk art. There were special tools for shaping the hair, and a special kind of wire -- hair wire -- around which hair could be wound. You could also pulverize the hair into powder, mix it with paint and create what were called "sepia" scenes for remembrance jewelry. These tools and techniques have been lost. All that remains are the hair wreathes themselves, many in their original frames. Leila's got 300 of them, plus nearly 2,000 necklaces, brooches and bracelets, all made out of hair.

Whole family trees are recorded (and sometimes labeled with names and dates) in elaborate, horseshoe shaped constructions. (The horseshoe shape allowed more hair-flowers to be added as the family grew) Sometimes, hair from favorite pets was included. There's a matched pair of wreathes made from the hair of two sisters whose heads were shaved when they entered a convent. And another wreath made by nuns from the hair of a nun who had died, as a gift for her family.

The oldest piece -- a brooch with a piece of hair enclosed in crystal -- was made in Sweden, in 1680. And there's a mourning brooch that contains a lock of Daniel Websters hair, adorned with 32 seed pearls. It's engraved, Daniel Webster Oct. 24 1852 (the date of his death)

On to Des Moines.


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