Wearing long hair has been over the centuries the equivalent of strength and health. Tales of people with a long head of hair have portrayed the literature since ancient times, Samson being an example of them. On the other hand, it has been mainly the modern times that have seen a consistent research against hair loss and the halt of its growth, before with potions and unguents then with surgical procedures.

At the time of Barnum&Bailey Circus, the status of healthy hair was showcased by the Sutherland Sisters, seven young American ladies from the countryside which would sing with a mellow voice as well as count a 12 meters (40 ft) of hair altogether. The performance could result in being boring in case the audience was not interested in melodic music, however the end of the show was sensational and was always gaining countless applauses. The seven sisters would wear white dresses, singing with their hair up; once the number was over, the girls would turn around and leave the seven flowing heads loose.

First they would reach the shoulders first, get to the backside, then all the way to the floor and even further down, in the pit of the orchestra

The story of Sutherland and their lucks and misfortunes was fairly fascinating, in a past epoque filled up with myths and superstitions. Sarah (1851), Victoria (1853), Isabella (1855), Grace (1859), Naomi (1861), Dora (1863) e Mary (1865) were born from the love of Fletcher Sutherland and his wife Mary. The man was a slacker and their mother a music and song lover. In 1867, Mary died and the girls remained with their father. The man didn’t have the means to provide for them, so the girls grew up in the darkest of poverty. At that time in Cambria (New York)  there was no government benefits and the girls were averted by the locals.

In 1882, 15 years after their mother’s death, their father came up with an interesting idea. He thought about pushing the way to circus, and hopefully, success. The idea resulted brilliant and the sisters got engaged by the Barnum & Bailey Circus which was the most famous one back then.  However, things were not destined to stop there: after 3 years of a relatively decent wealth, Naomi got married with Henry Bailey, nephew of the well known circus enterpreneur. That turned the sisters long dark hair into a millionair business.

From the 1885 onwards, once the performance was over, the sisters introduced a change to their shows; they would sell to the audience a supposedly miraculous lotion for hair which would strenghten, revive and make them grow back. The drug was sold for 50 cents a bottle, and it would contain parfumes, magnesium and hydrochloric acid. The Seven Sutherland Sisters’ Hair Grower was a success: in just 4 years the fortunate siblings managed to sell 2 millions and a half bottles in total. After that outcome, the production became bigger expanding into shampoos, anti-dandruff potions and hair dye.

The Sutherland sisters become richer than they had ever hoped for and later decided to come back to their hometown. There, once they used to eat soil in their father’s shack, now a massive Victorian mansion was beautifully raising. Rapidly the old locals that once were averting them were now delighted and intrigued by them. The sisters though never surrendered to the lure of those new friends, trying their best to avoid contact.


The good fortune of the Sutherland did not last long

Naomi Sutherland (1861 – 1893)

Above: on the left Naomi, wife of Bailey and mother of three. On the right Dora

The first one to die was Naomi, spouse of Bailey. At first the sisters considered the idea of erecting a mausoleum but eventually they buried her in the garden without even the headstone.

The legend wants that Naomi, as a punishment for the injustice endured, cast a curse on her own grave which destroyed the lives of the remaining sisters.

Above: on the left Isabella, believed to be adopted and on the right Grace, the last one who died

Fredrick Castlemaine

The sisters bumped into a 27 years old lover of an irresistible charm by the name of Fredrick Castlemaine. The man initially hinted his intent of marrying Dora but he ended up choosing Isabella, 13 years older than him. Fredrick was an opium and morphine addict and his hobbies entailed shooting around to frighten the neighbours whom later would get refunded abundantly. His life didn’t last long as he committed suicide in 1897, leaving all the sisters in a depressive state.

The body was placed in a glass coffin inside the music room, and they would pay homage to him with chants and poetries. After several weeks from his death, the health inspector forced the women to bury the body. They did build a mausoleum for him, costed 10,000 dollars. Isabella used to visit him every night going into trance state believing to be communicating with the deceased man.

Alonzo Swain

After 2 years from the death of her husband, Isabella fell for a second lover, Alonzo Swain. The man persuaded the woman to cut ties with her sisters, leave the house and invest in a new hair lotion that would independently sell herself. The new buisiness idea turned out to be a mistake so Swain vanished out of the blue leaving Isabella alone starving to death.

Victoria Sutherland

Above: on the left Sarah (1845-1919) the oldest one with the shortest hair. On the right Victoria

When Victoria turned 50, caught by the idea of having a man by her side, she got married to a young man who was only 19 years old. For that reason, the sisters cut her short until her death, which occurred 3 years after her wedding, in 1902. A few years later, in 1919 it was Sarah’s turn, dead at the age of 74.

Mary Sutherland

Above: on the left Mary, the youngest. On the right Fletcher Sutherland, the father of the girls

The youngest of the sisters, Mary started suffering from psychotic episodes. For this reason she was locked in her room for long periods.

Business started going down

In the 1920s, trends in terms of hairstyles changed drastically and the voluminous heads of the countrygirls from North America were not so appealing any longer. Instead of long hair going all the way to the shoulder blades, short masculine haircuts began to show up leaving the “miraculous” lotions on the shelves, sadly unsold.

Dora Sutherland (1860-1919)

In 1919 just three sisters were still alive: Mary, Dora and Grace.

To bring their economy back up, the three Sutherland went to Hollywood, where an impresario had promised them to make a film about the sisters life

In 1919 Dora died in a car accident so the film got cancelled

Mary e Grace

The last two sisters ended up in bankrupt so they came back to Cambria, sold their mansion and went back the way it all started, in the darkest misery that they had experienced once as children. Mary died in 1939 and Grace in 1946 by that time 92 years old. Lastly, their huge Victorian mansion got involved in a fire which burned down every memory of the seven Sutherland sisters.

Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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