Flint Hills Stories

Shave and a Haircut

 

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Glen Loveland, who operated this barbershop in Eskridge, Kansas between 1920 and 1930, prepares to shave one of his customers. Loveland later began working for the U.S. Post Office, closing his shop, but continued to barber on Saturday nights at Bill Wakefield’s barbershop in Eskridge.

One of the most iconic small town businesses which thrived in the first half of the 20th century was the local barber shop.  Every town had one.  Some towns had two or more. It was one of those curious businesses where the competitor of a particular barber might be working at a chair in the same room, just a few feet away.

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George Woody stands next to his barber chair at his shop in Paxico, Kansas in this view, circa 1905, by Alma photographer, Gus Meier. The cabinet to the right of the mirror holds shaving mugs and brushes. A trombone hangs on the wall. Photo courtesy Kansas State Historical Society, Kansasmemory.org.

The barbershop also served as a club for local men who would gather and interact socially. In fact, it was this feature of the barbershop which sometimes gave them a reputation of being a source of rough talk and bad habits. Frequently, spittoons adorned the shops, and cigar smoke thickened the air. In some establishments, men might share a nip from a hip flask, and often barbershops had a selection of reading material that included “girlie magazines” (Not of the Women’s Day variety).

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A wooden painted barber’s pole stands in front of Bill Wakefield’s barber shop, located at 110 Main Street in Eskridge, Kansas. Wakefield’s shop was in the building at the far left in this view, Jake’s Place tavern was located in the center, and Rissler’s Dodge/Plymouth automobile dealership is visible at the far right. Photo courtesy Dean Dunn.

In a curious set of rules for one-room school teachers, one caveat prohibited male teachers from patronizing barbershops.  We wonder where those teachers were expected to get a haircut and shave.

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Maple Hill, Kansas barber Wilber “Jack” Herron sits on his barber chair as Maple Hill residents congratulate him on his 90th birthday in this view dated 1971. Herron operated a barbershop in Maple Hill for more than 60 years.

It is curious that it would seem that a number of barbers in Wabaunsee County have enjoyed exceptionally long careers cutting hair.  Jack Herron operated his barbershop on Main Street of Maple Hill, Kansas for more than 60 years, retiring at the age of 90.

Perhaps the most notable of all of the barbers who practiced their trade in Wabaunsee County was Raymond “Bat” Nelson who got his first job in a barbershop as a “water boy” at a shop in Alta Vista, Kansas in 1911.  Nelson was only 11-years old at the time. He continued to work at the shop, and in 1916 he became a barber, cutting hair for the first time at the age of 15.

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Bat Nelson stands in front of his barbershop in Alta Vista, Kansas in this view from the 1980s. Photo courtesy Michael Stubbs.

In 1926 Nelson married Helen Hesser, an elementary school teacher from Alta Vista. In 1930 the board of education fired Helen, citing a bizarre rule requiring all elementary school teachers be unmarried. Faced with the loss of her job, both Helen and Bat Nelson enrolled in a beauty and barber school located in Kansas City, Missouri, and the couple graduated in June of 1931.

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Bat Nelson, left, gives Homer Reed a haircut while Jay Rinabarger cuts Ivan Brunswick’s hair at Nelson’s shop in Alta Vista, Kansas in 1949.

After graduation, the Nelson’s returned to Alta Vista, and Helen opened a beauty shop in half of Bat’s building, while her husband resumed barbering in the other half. During the post-World War II era, the Nelson’s shop flourished. In addition to grooming needs, the Nelsons sold jewelry, men’s tailored suits, and RCA radios and televisions. Nelson even repaired televisions at his barbershop for a while, discontinuing that business when color televisions became common around 1970.

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Bat Nelson gives a customer a haircut at Nelson’s Alta Vista barbershop in this view from the 1970s.

By the time of Bat Nelson’s retirement as a barber in 1996, Nelson had the distinction of being the both the oldest licensed barber in the United States and the longest-practicing barber in America.

Nelson’s other passion besides his business was history. He was an avid collector of historic photographs. For over a year the local paper published one of “Bat Nelson’s Historic Photos” every week. Bat Nelson passed away in 2002.

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A German Prisoner of War gives another prisoner a haircut at the POW branch camp located at Lake Wabaunsee, Kansas in this view dated October 5, 1944. Photo courtesy Greg Hoots.

Click on an image below to view in a gallery format.

 

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