Archive for Thursday, September 28, 2006

Barbershop research yields interesting tidbits

September 28, 2006

Last week I wrote about the old downtown. I got to thinking about the red, white and blue barber pole in front of the barbershop, so I did some research on the Internet and learned all kinds of surprising and weird things. The word "barber" comes from the Latin word "barba" meaning beard.

Six thousand years before Christ there were barbers, and they were called barber surgeons. They were the most respected and protected men living, and they held this respect for thousands of years. They performed the art of hair and beard trimming, medicine, dentistry and surgery (bloodletting). Bloodletting was believed to pull diseases out of the body. The interpretation of the colors of the barber pole was that the red represented the blood, the blue the veins, and the white the bandages.

In 1096, France had the earliest organization of barbers known. They were the doctors of the times, and the royalty as well as the common people came to the barbers to have their ills treated and for shaves and haircuts. The physicians of the time were in continual conflict with the barber surgeons. This caused a long strife, and its settlement required the interference of kings and councils.

The barbers retained the practice of dentistry and surgery for several centuries.

In 1745, there was a marked decline, and toward the end of the 18th century the Barbers had completely relinquished their operations of surgery and dentistry, except in small rural towns where doctors and dentists were not obtainable.

In 1893, A. B. Moler of Chicago established the first school for barbers. This was a huge success and was followed by many branches in nearly every principal city in the United States. Barbers became professionals again.

In a year's time, young boys can spend many hours in a barbershop waiting their turn and listening to the stories of the adults. I can remember our barber having a board to place across the arms of the barber chair to put little guys at the right level for cutting. The barbers I remember in the '30s and '40s were Mr. Walker and Mr. Shepherd. And there was Walt Opfer in the '50s and late '60s, when he was forced to move to the Holiday Plaza because the four-lane highway came through. Milton Rush came later until our present barber, Ken Haverkamp, moved to the same location Jan. 15, 1975, and yes, he does have a barber pole.

The barbershops of ancient Greece and Rome were the headquarters of social, political and sporting news. That has not changed.

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