Arts and Culture

Unsettling love: Mourning and human hair at Four Mile Historic Park

Love makes people do bizarre things. The acts we have come to recognize as the signposts of romance at its most fervent are nearly identical to the symptoms of mental illness: the racing thoughts, the gloriously inflated self-esteem, the nonsensical spending (compressed rock on a ring, anyone?), the promiscuity, the 'walking on air.' So it follows that the in-love would go to insane extremes to memorialize the objects of their affection. They might obsess over photographs or old letters or articles of clothing. Or, you know, make things out of their lovers' hair. On Sunday, Four Mile Historic Park hosted In the Dead of Winter: Victorian Mourning, an event dedicated to the rituals surrounding grief, most notably the morbid tradition of weaving jewelry out of human hair. Apparently in the Victorian Era hair-weaving was the considered the height of romantic demonstration. In times of mourning, women would weave locks of hair from the heads of the departed into chains, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings; they would make hair the centerpiece of their flower arrangements and their portraits and their commemorative brooches.

Disease abounded, and since Victorian medical relief was basically 100 percent reliant on such wholesome treatments as bloodletting and the prescribed consumption of sulfur, the custom was repeated often and mastered quickly. The resulting jewelry is impressively intricate, probably almost as labor-intensive as any cut of precious stone and certainly charged with as much sentimental meaning. Save yourself the hundreds you could have spent on diamonds -- make a ring out of your hair instead. In the creepiest way imaginable, it's beautiful.

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Cordelia Finley
Contact: Cordelia Finley