If you’re ever in Independence Missouri and want to see museum pieces that are very different then head to Leila’s Hair Museum.
Leila Cohoon started collecting wreaths and jewelry made from hair, in 1956. Twenty years ago she opened Leila’s Hair Museum in a tiny strip mall in Independence Missouri to house her growing collection. A retired hairdresser Leila teaches hair weaving and is writing a “how to” book on the craft.
What you see in her museum is both beautiful and eerie. These aren’t just clumps of hair that Leila shored off customers heads, it’s a carefully culled collection of 300 wreaths and 2000 pieces of jewelry containing human hair. The fact that, for the most part, the people were dead when the hair was removed from their heads is the eerie part.
The strands she is proudest of come from the pates of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. Being a stickler for authenticity Leila purchases most of her memorabilia of famous people through the Manuscript Society of which she is a member. The society is an organization dedicated to the collection and authentication of photographs and manuscripts.
Appropriate to the historical aspect of the collection is the hair of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, their infamous duel in 1804 was the cause of Hamilton’s death.
There is even a little bit of Hollywood with pieces of Marilyn Monroe’s golden locks and a curl that belonged to Elvis. All of these are displayed in frames, which along with the hair; contain photographs of the person and documentation.
A hundred years ago, to pass the time on a cold winter’s night, women would gather together to make hair wreaths, much like quilting bees. They created the wreaths by weaving strands of hair around wire, twisting that into various delicate shapes and embroidering family names, dates of births, deaths, and weddings onto the mountings. Various materials were used; seed pearls, ribbons, strips of baby clothes along with white satin from wedding dresses. It was a way of preserving the past for the next generation.
A technique known as sepia was used in the jewelry pieces, this is where a scene is painted with a mixture of hair that has been mashed into a powder then mixed with acrylics. One brooch, a remembrance piece, depicts a man standing by a grave under a weeping willow tree that is woven from strands of his wife’s hair; she passed away at the age of twenty-five.
During the tour Leila will tell you that her fondest wish is that if all the people whose hair she has in her collections could come back from the dead and tell her their stories.
IF YOU GO
Leila’s Hair Museum
1333 S. Noland Rd., Independence, Missouri 64055
Hours: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tuesday thru Saturday
Admission: $5 adults; $2.50 seniors and children under 12