Hair Museum!

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Salt Lake City proper doesn’t have many museums but the few we do have are pretty great. There’s the fabulous Natural History Museum by Red Butte Garden at the University of Utah, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA), the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and the LDS Church History Museum (closed for updating). You may have been to most of those swell buildings and seen the collections and displays, but I’ll bet you a buck you’ve never been to the Pioneer HAIR Museum. I’m the only person that calls the Pioneer Memorial Museum at 300 N. Main Street by that name. I came up with it long ago when I lived across the street from the place and took friends and family over to visit fairly regularly. It’s free and it’s funky.

        Way back in 1901 in the capitol city a group of 46 women were invited to the house of Annie Taylor Hyde (daughter of LDS Church President John Taylor). You can imagine the gathering of ladies who probably looked much like the distaff cast of Downton Abbey, with long skirts that brushed the floor (often with trains), shirtwaists and high collars. They met and formed a new group called the Daughters of Utah Pioneers (“DUP”). All of them were descendants of Utah pioneer stock and their goal was “to perpetuate the names and achievements of the men, women and children who were the pioneers in founding this commonwealth by preserving old landmarks, marking historical places, collecting artifacts and histories, establish a library of historical matter and securing manuscripts, photographs, maps and all such data as shall aid in perfecting a record of the Utah pioneers.” They collected so much stuff they built a museum next door to the Capitol which opened in 1950.

        Back to the hair. The Museum is free and open Monday-Saturday 9 am to 5 pm and on Wednesday nights until 8 pm. When you walk into the building your nostrils will take in that musty dusty smell you probably get when you have to go to your grandmother’s house to help fetch her something out of her two year supply. For those of you who have an even better developed nose you’ll detect another layer of scent that you probably won’t identify until you’re reading one of the display cards next to a lovely dried flower arrangement under glass. Yes, those flowers are made of good ol’ pioneer hair. You see, in the old days a woman couldn’t run to Smiths and pick up a bouquet to brighten her home. There weren’t flower shops until electricity and refrigeration were more common. Women who were handy with needlework learned to weave their own hair, the hair of their husbands and kids and the hair of the departed into flowers. It was an ancient tradition to keep mementos and the hair of the dead. The designs are crazy good and intricate and smell like, well, old hair.

        Check it out next time you’re walking around the capitol lawns. They’ve got an original ZCMI chandelier, fantastic old Valentines cards and love letters, and newspapers made not from paper but from rags when the Deseret News ran out of paper and had to use old shirts, pants and dresses to print the news on until supplies arrived.