On the way to St Joseph, we decided to see if we could get into Leila's Hair Museum. We arrived in Independence five minutes before they closed, but Nancy was kind enough to stay late to give us the tour. And oh what a tour! You don't expect much when you walk in, since the museum is inside a cosmetology school in a strip mall, but Leila has over 2000 pieces of art and jewelry made from human hair.
No photography is allowed inside the actual museum, but Keith was able to get some excellent photos of the hair wreaths in the lobby. Hair wreaths were like scrapbooking or family trees. They date back to the 1400s, but were particularly popular during Victorian times. They were made from hair from all family members and usually in the shape of a lucky horseshoe.
Each "flower" is made of hair wrapped around wire. It's mind boggling to contemplate the amount of skill and patience needed to create these hair wreaths. Leila's Hair Museum is the only one of it's kind in the world (although you will sometimes see private collections of hair art in some older funeral homes) and she teaches classes on how to make the wreaths. The Hair Museum is the headquarters of the Victorian Hairwork Society.
In addition to the wreaths, she has thousands of items of jewelry, including earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and watch fobs. This was another popular way to remember loved ones. A soldier going to war or a family emigrating to America couldn't always take the hair wreath with them, but they could take a watch fob or earrings. A common misconception, if you've even heard of Victorian hair art at all before now, is that it always represented someone who was deceased. While some of the jewelry items would have been funeral pieces, the vast majority were made from hair of people who were still living at the time.
In addition to hair wreaths and jewelry, Leila has hair from famous people (my favorite was Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr framed together) and FOUR relics entrusted to her care by Catholic churches around the world, papal documents and all. Two are from the True Cross, one is a saint I can't remember, and one is hair from the Virgin Mary. MARY'S HAIR, in the hair museum in Independence, Missouri! We could hardly believe it. Well, the two of us raised Catholic could hardly believe it. The other two couldn't figure out what we were on about, I'm sure.
I wish I had pictures from inside the museum. There is just so much stuff, and they know the history of so many of the individual pieces. Nancy is a fantastic guide and was so kind to let us hang out as long as we wanted to. If you find yourself in the area of Independence, MO (right outside Kansas City), Leila's Hair Museum is definitely worth a visit. You can read more about it, and see some pictures of the museum itself, at RoadsideAmerica.com. Admission is $3 and they are open Monday-Saturday, 9am-4:30pm.