The Lost Craft of Victorian Hair Art


Hair art was often molded into the shape of a bell jar for easy display.

The Victorian era (from 1837 to 1901) was a time when people were surrounded by death. Many families were forced to confront death directly whether it was because of the lack of medical advances, the mourning of Prince Albert by Queen Victoria (the queen after which the era was name) 40 years after his death until her own, or the Civil War that was being waged in America where over 620,000 soldiers lost their lives. This period is unique since we see such a strong development of mourning culture. Many of the historical tales I’ll share on this blog took place at this time, but today I’m going to focus on Victorian hair art.

Wear mom’s hair as earrings

When most people think of hair and mementos they think of a lock of hair in a locket worn around the neck. A simple representation of keeping a piece of a loved one close after they’re gone. During the time it was even practice among the living seen as a gesture of friendship. Girls would exchange locks of hair similarly to the friendship bracelets we see today. Hair is an extremely personal thing. The power in which a color or tone of hair holds, the style in which its worn, the length, it’s health, it’s age are all incredibly representative of the wearer.


An elaborate family portrait surrounded by floral hair art.

Beyond the simple locket, women of middle class standing, would make elaborate wreaths, earrings, brooches, and even dioramas from the deceased’s hair.  A blend of the deceased and living’s hair could also be used as a sentimental representative of the closeness of the family to the deceased. Hair from the dead would be collected and saved in a “hair collector” so it’d could be used to weave into elaborate designs. Hair was collected one by one as each family member passed away. The practice was viewed as a simple part of tending to your home and was featured in publications for women at the time. You could find patterns similar to dress patterns available today.

This art had an incredible amount of symbolism built into the designs, patterns, and material as well. For the deceased, wreaths wear shaped as horseshoes with the opening at the top signifying the loved one’s ascent to heaven. In wreath’s made with multiple family member’s hair the deceased’s hair would have a more prominent placing. It can’t be understated how popular and outright trendy it was to wear this jewelry at the time.

What does assassination have to do with hair art?


Lincoln’s funeral train adorned with a portrait.

The art form slowly fell out of style towards the end of the era as embalming gained popularity. After Lincoln’s assassination his body was preserved and carted around the country by train to allow his people to mourn. This journey would require a method to preserve the body.  Any decay, odor, or shocking changes to the visage that the American public was so familiar with would need to be avoided at all costs. It was a rather macabre event. Oddly enough Lincoln’s son who has died of Typhoid at the age of 11 was also disinterred and brought on the ghoulish tour and reburied next to his father in Springfield.


Lincoln’s body toured over 400 cities on it’s journey to Springfield, Illinois.

Previous to Lincoln’s assassination, Dr. Thomas Holmes would be on the battlefield serving as a part of the civil war. Holmes would test a new procedure called “arterial embalming”. This procedure gave way to the modern day practice of draining the blood from the arteries and replacing it with preservative chemicals. When the public realized they could have their son’s corpse sent home for a proper viewing and burial, demand skyrocketed. This paved the path to the undertaker (soon to become the funeral director) gaining a position of stature and respect within local communities. Previously, the undertaker carried no weight within popular social circles and was often viewed as a grim figure.


The embalming tent at Camp Letterman after the Battle of Gettysburg depicting a mortician’s services. No different from the current day display window at a department store, the mortician’s “goods” were put on display.

Fear of the Dead

So what does Lincoln’s assassination and the rise of the funeral industry have to do with the decline of Victorian hair art? With families having their deceased embalmed by a professional, this meant the power and control over mourning was slowly being handed over to the funeral directors and embalmers. There was no certification or schooling required to become a mortician, but they soon held the same stature as a surgeon or distinguish doctor.

Families were made to believe corpses were somehow dangerous to families and could spread disease. Shocker: Dead bodies pose no risk to the living, unless their death was caused by something contagious like tuberculosis. Best to hand over these ticking time bombs to the professionals, right?

Families were slowly having to confront the reality of death less and less. This lead to the significant deterioration of mourning culture. This included the art of Victorian hair craft. The decline can also be attributed to the shifting in preferences when it came to fashion and interior design. Both were becoming more simplified, straying from the elaborate fabric patterns, layering of wallpaper, and detailed furniture pieces. Hair art simply didn’t fit in with the fashion of the time.


Hair art created by a student at the Morbid Anatomy Museum’s class on Victorian hair art.

Keepers of the craft

Present day there are some organizations which strive to keep the art alive. Most infamous is the Leila’s Hair Museum, which is run by Leila Cohoon who begin her collection in 1952. She’s been collecting every since, so you can imagine how many pieces she’s acquired over the ages. At the now defunct Morbid Anatomy Museum, there were previously classes devoted to crafting Victorian hair art. You can also find some originals at auctions, estate sales, and antique stores. With the art not completely lost, a small sect of the public strive to keep it alive.

Do you own any Victorian hair art? Would you like to? Would you make a piece from your loved one’s hair?

October Recommendations

Are you like me and getting into the spirit of Halloween an entire month early? A few months early? All year round? If you need a place to start or just need some new suggestions within the creep realm I’ll be serving up my favorite titles across mediums (movies, comics, books, podcasts, and music). Enjoy!

Harrow County


Dark Horse comics doesn’t get a lot of love from me as of late, mostly because Image is crushing it and Boom! is having a quiet renaissance of its own (but that’s a whole other conversation). But one title I cannot get enough of is Harrow County by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook. The story follows Emmy, a young woman living on a farm in the South with her father, who discovers the farm land and the old gnarled tree which looms over the property holds way more mystery and terror than the ordinary estate. This was one of the first comics in the horror genre that genuinely terrified me and frankly, delighted me. This is not your run of the mill horror genre title filled with tropes and cliches, it’s emphatically unique. Crook’s artwork is subdued when it needs to be, but he somehow knows exactly when to heat things up with fiery splashes of orange which make the page seem like it’s glowing. The title is well underway, current on it’s 27th issue giving you plenty to sink your teeth into it you decide to dip into the darkness on the farm.



If you’re a newcomer to the Giallo genre, consider Suspiria your gateway drug. Dario Argento, known for his Italian horror films during the 70s and early 80s, is probably best known for this film. Ballet. Witches. Murder. Maggots. This movie’s got it all. On top of the exciting subject matter, the film is stunning to watch. The colors are dramatic, tri-toned red, blues, and purples. The sets are dream like and look similar to something out of Alice in Wonderland with tall, dramatic doors, twisting hallways, and secret passageways. What many people don’t know is that Argento’s original script was written with a school full of 12 year old girls in mind (which was eventually changed to 20 year old women). Because of this, Argento went so far as to raise the doorknobs higher on doors to force the perspective to skew childlike and whimsical. The visuals are emphasized with the score by Goblin, which you can hear in the trailer above. You’ll catch yourself hissing, “WITCHES”, around the house after you watch this.

The word “giallo” is Italian for “yellow” The term was derived from a series of cheap paperback mystery novels, popular in post-fascist Italy, which were published with yellow covers.



Quiet. Understated. Factual let fictitious enough to have a brilliant story woven by Richard Maclean Smith, the podcast’s host. Unexplained was started back in 2016 as a bi-weekly podcast tackling the unknown occurrences across history that have somehow evaded explanation. I’m always shocked to discover how few people actually know about this podcast. I would rank it at the same level as Lore, and at some times would prefer the subject matter over the vanilla rehashed topics of other paranormal podcasts. Trust me, I really don’t need to hear more about the Danvers State Hospital or Rolling Hills. Unexplained cuts deep with some of the most obscure and compelling content I’ve heard in a long time. I’d recommend starting with Season 1 Episode 10: The Spaces that Linger to journey to Aleister Crowley’s (and later Jimmy Page’s) home, the infamous Boleskine house or start at the beginning with Season 1 Episode 1: Opening the Gate which discusses the mystery surrounding the death of occultist Netta Fornario.

Ghost Town by The Specials


Drive around with your creep friends and enjoy some grim ska.

Witches of America by Alex Mar

witches-of-america-design-rachel-willeyGuys. GUYS. I finished a book. A physical book! It’s been a while since I’ve been genuinely intrigued by a piece of non fiction. Throw witches in the title and I’m bound to have my interests piqued but for a title to hold my attention is impressive. In “Witches of America” Alex Mar spends time traversing various pagan religions from traditional Wicca to the reclusive Feri tradition and even delving into Thelemic magick. Since a young age, I discovered Wicca at age 12, I’ve been enthralled with the concept of the occult and worship of deities but have never through to really read more into the various sects and paths of practice. This book really hooked me on Thelemic magick and the Ordo Templi Orientis, which is the organization founded by famous occultist Aleister Crowley. I even went so far as to find out if there’s a temple located in Austin (Surprise, surprise they do and it’s name is incredible – The Scarlet Woman Lodge). Obviously I have a lot to learn before attending a Gnostic Mass, but the concept is rather intoxicating. Here’s one of my favorite passages from during Mar’s time at the Alombrados temple during a Gnostic Mass.

We were not made by a father figure, separate from us in his holiness; instead, we come from chaos, born out of the same fire as the universe. And from Babalon, the Great Mother, the Scarlet Woman, the bride of Chaos, the destroy of limits, the ecstasy of living! She is every woman’s sexual appetite, woman free from society’s constraints. Fearless, she arrives riding the Beast: she reins him in with one hand, and with the other she raises a cup full of love and death!

Have you read, listened to, or watched any of the titles above? How do you feel about them? Do you know anything about…witches?


Book Review: Uzumaki by Junji Ito

You might have remembered part of my comics haul a while back that I picked up the hardcover omnibus of the horror manga Uzumaki by Junji Ito. Out of all the items I picked up that day, this was one of the first that I dug into simply because I had heard about it for so long and seen some of the panels prior. My interest was already very much piqued. I finally shelled out the $32 to get the hardcover (go big or go home, right?)

I have to say, from the very first story entitled, “The Spiral Obsession”, I was hooked. The book tells the story of Kirie, a high school girl who’s town has become the center of the supernatural curse focused around spirals. This isn’t your traditional horror story filled with the expected horror tropes and usual scares. Full disclosure: There are creepy kids and the walking (or bouncing?) dead. However; one of the elements that make this manga so terrifying is it how it crosses into territory which is rarely explored. Things that make you uncomfortable. Irrational parents who lose their minds and their children’s lack of control over their parent’s own well being. Slow and uncontrollable transformations into grotesque creatures. Spiral clouds made from the cremated ashes of loved ones circling the sky seemingly calling your name. The fear of not knowing where, when, and how the spiral will appear in your life and torment you next. Nothing is expected in this book.


The tone and themes also reminded me of some other similar material I’ve been interested in as of late. Specifically, a book called Fen, which is a compilation short stories by Daisy Johnson came to mind. I wouldn’t call these horror stories, but they are set within a place bordering fantasy and reality in which characters transform into creatures, crones seduce young men, and people return from the dead to find their loved ones. The overall tone is damp, dark, and brooding. In addition to Fen, I would not be surprised if Uzumaki inspired portions of the podcast Tanis. The podcast deals with the conspiracies surrounding the myth of Tanis and the host’s journey to find out what Tanis truly is and why it seems to have a mysterious connection to his northwest home. It’s a docudrama akin to War of the Worlds. Stories surrounding Eld Fen, King Wurm, a cult called the Grackles all echo similar themes from the Uzumaki manga.

On top of the absolutely primo horror content, the artwork in this manga is absolutely stunning and disturbing. I recommend not reading it at night before bed. I’m not a huge fan of manga in general, but Uzumaki seems next level. Everything with the exception of a few intro pages in chapters is done in black and white ink. I prefer the black and white to the color excerpts. It’s incredibly effective in showing emotion, despair, and transformation within the characters faces. You can see this specifically in the chapter, “Medusa”, when Kirie’s self-proclaimed rival, Sekino, is having her energy drained by her spiral cursed hair. The shading below her eyes and cheekbones show how depraved and weak she’s become. You can see a similar treatment of Kirie’s boyfriend Suichi throughout the manga as he endures more and more stress. This manga is could easily be viewed as an art book you place on your coffee table (albeit in a weird, weird house) in comparison to being a manga that you sit down and read. It’s well worth purchasing for the artwork alone.


I will say only one story out of the 18 felt somewhat out of place and forced. “Jack-in-the-Box” stood out to me as different from the tone of the other chapters. Without giving away spoilers, it hits upon more traditional horror themes with a bit of a twist (no pun intended!) However, the panels in this chapter are some of the most grotesque and graphic panels of the entire manga. It’s interesting that this was left in considering at the end of the omnibus they made the decision to add some cut stories as a bonus. This definitely feels as though it could be one of the chapters on the same chopping block since it didn’t do much to further the plot or overall story.


Overall, I was so disappointed when I finished this. I genuinely looked forward to having a quiet moment each day where I could fuel my nail biting habit with genuinely terrifying thoughts.  I appreciated how carefully Junji Ito has paid attention to those deep dark recesses of the human consciousness that allow us to think the unthinkable. Also, I’ll never be able to eat escargot again, so thanks.