They were Hairy, Sometimes Scary and Emerged As Legendary

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DBF

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The_Seven_Sutherland_Sisters.jpg

The Seven Sutherland Sisters & Rev. Fletcher
(Public Domain)

Meet - Sarah (1845-1919); Victoria (1849-1902); Isabella (1852-1914): Grace (1854-1946): Naomi (1858-1893);
Dora (1860-1919): Mary (1862-1939) & their father - Rev. Fletcher (1816-1888) the original “stage father”.

Between 1845-1862 seven little girls came into the lives of Rev. Fletcher and Mary Sutherland as they were living and maintaining a turkey farm in Cambria, (Niagara County) New York. Rev. Fletcher (as he was called) was a minister at the Methodist Episcopal Church in Genesee New York. Life was not easy for the family. The girls often ran around in rags without shoes and had a mother that loved to slather their long hair with an ointment she had concocted to help with hair growth. The problem with the tonic was its’ rather nasty smell, never allowing the little girls to mingle with their school mates. Consequently they mainly kept to themselves and never grew to have friends.

They were the granddaughters of Colonel Andrew Sutherland who became well known during his role in the War of 1812. It was on his farm the sisters now resided, Their grandfather was known as a smooth-talking showman and in this family, the “apples did not fall far from the tree”.

Mary Sutherland died in 1867 and with her went her “smelly hair care tonic” she used on her daughters. Rev. Fletcher was determined that he was going to make money, so he looked to his daughters and decided they would be his ticket out of poverty. Thanks to his wife and her tender care of her daughters hair with her tonic, they had grown long, luxurious hair. Their hair was not measured in inches, but in feet. The girls had already been singing in church so he devised a clever act that incorporated both music and hair. It turned out this would be his ticket to success.

Their Debut

The Seven Sutherland Sisters, along with their only brother Charles, began to learn musical instruments as they fine-tuned their act. Soon they were touring around the community in Niagara County and the reviews were complimentary. The girls had an amazing range of voices.

Naomi would impress her audiences with her bass singing voice

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https://historydaily.org/the-sutherland-sisters

while Sarah, the oldest and the sister with the “shortest hair”, wowed her audience with her high soprano​

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https://historydaily.org/the-sutherland-sisters

Isabelle (left) - some claimed she was “adopted” was the tenor and Grace (right) took alto​


youngest Mary was at her best when she was not on the stage
as she did not have the temperament to handle “show biz”
nor was she as talented​

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https://historydaily.org/the-sutherland-sisters

Then there was Dora described as a beauty with
“a turned up nose and a sentimental pout that could melt any heart.
Though her smoky moon face, deep eyes and full lips were remarkable,” {1}


The highlight of their act happened at the end when all the sisters turned their backs to the audience and dramatically pulled the pins holding their hair and 37 feet of hair cascaded onto the stage. Gasps, Ooh’s and Ah’s could be heard from those assembled as the crowd rose to a standing ovation.
What a show!!!

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All of the Seven Sutherland Sisters would pose so that it appeared as if their hair could touch the ground,
even if that required sitting or kneeling.

(Via Peachridge Glass) {1}

“The seven most pleasing wonders of the world.”
That was the phrase the great showman P.T. Barnum “barked” as in 1884 he signed the girls up for his side show attraction when they joined the “Barnum and Bailey Greatest Show on Earth” family. They somehow managed to escape the moniker of “side show freaks” as most side show attractions were and they were never considered as “circus people”. There were able to maintain their distinctive act and reputation.

Fletcher Sutherland, always a showman like his father, decided to take advantage of his daughter’s rising popularity to make some serious cash. He remembered the hair tonic that his wife would lather on his girls hair and then joined forces with Harry Bailey (related to the “Bailey” in Barnum) to reformulate the tonic so that in 1883 “the Seven Sutherland Sisters Hair Grower” was ready to market.

In March of 1884 a Cincinnati chemist analyzed the tonic** and gave it a “glowing review” and by the end of the year the tonic had made them $90,000.00 in sales.

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A rare Sutherland Hair Grower bottle
posted by Tami Barber at

Bottle Collectors on Facebook.
In 1885, Harry Bailey and Naomi Sutherland were married and in 1888 the girls lost their father. All the sisters became part-owners of their company and expanded their product line into other hair care products.

The girls were at the highest point in their career - they still were with Barnum & Bailey, they sold out concert halls, they hawked their hair care line and gave beauty advice. The company would open offices in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and ventured into Toronto and Havana Cuba. By 1890 they took in more than $3 million dollars.

But their wealth and fame also made them paranoid. Sarah, Grace, Dora and Mary never married concerned a husband would take their money and control their lives. The girls were a favorite of newspaper columns, created postcards for fans and one sister actually cut off a small piece of her hair and sold it to a jeweler for $25.00 - the jeweler displayed it with a 7-carat diamond suspended in it.

What Goes Up - Must Come Down

In 1893, the sisters returned to the town of their birth Cambria, New York where they built a opulent mansion. They all lived together and ran their business from their dream home. BUT - despite all their wealth - they were spending money almost as fast as they were making it; and things were falling apart.

The year the house was completed death broke up the group. Naomi died before turning 40 and was never to enjoy her home. She was survived by her husband and 3 children. A $30,000.00 mausoleum was planned but never built. Stories were circulating that their public “Christian” lifestyle was also part of their act to hide their true life style, including love triangles, fighting and drug use. They threw wild parties in their new home and suffered from bad financial investments. There were whispers that the sisters were involved in witch craft.

There was a love interest between 2 sisters. Dora the beautiful sister had met a French Nobleman Frederick Castlemaine, but in the end he fell in love with her older sister Isabella who was 10 years older than Castlemaine. According to one reporter, Castlemaine was addicted opium and morphine, but not to worry in 1897 while on tour with the sisters, Castlemaine committed suicide.

The sisters decided not to have embalmed right away. They put him in a glass case and sang to him on a daily basis. The smells were rather pungent that by the 10th day local health officials forced the girls to bury him. Isabelle mourned her husband but eventually found another younger man to marry - but her sister Victoria did her one better when at 50 she met 19 year old Alonzo Swain and got married.

Victoria - “The Cougar” with her 7’ of hair (she had the longest of the sisters)​

Her sisters were so outraged that they forced Victoria out of the house and never spoke to her again, which turned out to be less than 3 years as she died at 52/53 in 1902.

As sisters passed away, substitutes were auditioned to keep the group relevant, but it was never the same. The youngest Mary was mentally slipping away to the point she was kept a prisoner in her own room to keep her from harming herself or others. When oldest sister Sarah died in 1919, again they kept her body displayed in the home until forced to bury her.

What Really Ended It All?

Colleen_Moore_2.jpg

Silent Screen Actress
Colleen Moore

Photo (Public Domain)

The Roaring 20’s had arrived and actress and silent screen star Colleen Moore led the fashion trend with her “bobbed haircut”. For the 7 Sutherland Sisters this was the final death blow to their act. The future belongs to the young - and time was their worse enemy. The one feature that served them well was no longer appealing.

The sisters were dying and by the 1920’s only Grace, Dora and Mary remained. Grace lived to her 90’s and Mary was 76, Dora was 65. Their brother Charles tragically died just as their star was peaking. He was born with a lung ailment and was in Boston when he breathed his last. He was somewhere between 32-33 at his death in 1887.

The sad story has a tragic ending when on January 24th, 1938 their dream home and mansion was completely destroyed in a fire. The blaze consumed family heirlooms and other many treasures. What the Roaring 20’s did to their hair care business, the fire took care of the rest. At the end of their story there was only a pile of rubble.


* * * * * * *​


Sources
1. https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/the-seven-sutherland-sisters-and-their-37-feet-of-hair/
2. https://historydaily.org/the-sutherland-sisters
3. https://hubpages.com/education/The-Long-Hair-Success-Story-of-the-Seven-Sutherland-Sisters
4. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/29258700/fletcher-sutherland



**According to the Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, by Victoria Sherrow, page 175 - the hair tonic was made of a mixture including; borax, salt, quinine, cantharides, bay rum, glycerine, rose water, alcohol and soap. However when a chemist did an analysis of the formula in 1896 it was found to contain; 56% water of witch hazel, 44% bay rum, hydrochloric acid, and trace amounts of magnesia and other salts.
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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Nice to the story attached to all the orphaned photos on the internet. I'd heard of the sisters but not their stories, poor things. What a tragic tome! At least they had some good years although the 19 year old husband is eyebrow raising.

I remember watching my great grandmother, nearly 90 at the time ( probably 1970 or so ) put her hair up. I'd only ever seen That Bun, never saw her with her hair down before- it was monumental, nearly to her knees. Without looking, she coiled it and placed maybe 3 of the old style pins in it, and poof- done. If you think about it, it's far easier than maintaining short hair with trims and styling.
 

DBF

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I could not help but wonder how difficult it was for them to establish themselves as individuals instead of a family unit. Everything was tied to adhering to each other even the big mansion where they all lived. It's not surprising that love, marriage and children was a challenge. I agree - JPK Huson - it's a tragic tale.
 
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Cavalry Charger

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Love the headline @DBF :laugh:

All that hair is a bit scary, and I thought at first I was going to see a thread about :spider::spider::spider::spider::spider::spider::spider:

How they managed to keep it when I'm sure lice could be a problem is beyond me.

And how awful that they were never able to make friends. There is no understanding the mindset of some parents :nah disagree:
 

Steph-GB

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All that hair makes me feel over heated!! must have been so heavy and hot, plus a nightmare to keep cared for! the tangles freak me out , cant imagine trying to brush that!! I went from hair down to my waist to up to my shoulders recently and you don't realise how heavy and annoying hair can be!! I've actually come round to liking having it shorter, although have always had long hair!!

Although it is a sad story itself for the girls :frown: so isolating!
 
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DBF

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All that hair is a bit scary, and I thought at first I was going to see a thread about :spider::spider::spider::spider::spider::spider::spider:
How funny - I thought the "scary" part was the death of French Nobleman Frederick Castlemaine, and the fact they put in a glass case (without preserving the body) and kept him there until the officials told them to bury him because of the stench. That's a little bizarre. :skull:
 

Cavalry Charger

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How funny - I thought the "scary" part was the death of French Nobleman Frederick Castlemaine, and the fact they put in a glass case (without preserving the body) and kept him there until the officials told them to bury him because of the stench. That's a little bizarre. :skull:
:bounce:

Very bizarre!

Maybe the stench of the hair products caused them to be somewhat immune to that :sick:

And it was two bodies, not just one, they did this with ... obviously didn't learn their lesson the first time round :eek::eek:
 
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