Wealth of Hair Brings Riches To 'Seven Sutherland Sisters'

 

From going barefoot, shabbily dressed and shepherding large flocks of turkeys on an obscure farm to being catapulted into wealth, fine clothes and fame almost overnight-that's the dramatic story of the seven motherless Sutherland sisters, a perfect Cinderella type with its stroke of midnight ending, but having no glass slipper follow-up.

 

Anyone today possessing a bottle of "Seven Sutherland Sisters Hair Grower" should realize he has a valuable collector's item.

The farm on which the sisters were work drudges, not kitchen slaves, was situated near Lockport, N.Y. Papa Sutherland was so busy preaching and politicking that he left most of the farm chores to his sturdy daughters.  Their names were Sarah, Victoria, Isabell, Grace, Naomi, Mary and Dora.

Since the girls came from Pioneer Yankee stock, and were well aware of it they carried their heads high when walking down the road to school or church.  Atop those young heads was something out of the ordinary.  They bore the longest, thickest masses of hair ever seen in that section of the country, possibly in the nation.

 

A few years later something akin to today's Wanda the Witch touched those amazing tresses with her magic wand to transform the seven sisters into fairy princesses, their shabby clothes into silks and velvets and to put furs on their backs and diamonds on their fingers.  She also arranged for a ride on the golden coach of riches which took them into a world of fame to became known from coast to coast and in several foreign lands as "the Seven Sutherland Sisters with the longest hair in the world."  In many households fond mamas adjured little girls to brush and take good care of their locks so that some day they "might have hair as long and thick as that of the Seven Sutherland Sisters."

The length of the combined tresses of the seven was 36 feet and 10 inches.  Victoria's seven feet was the longest.

 


All Eyes on Hair

 

Community folks, listening to the girls; excellent singing voices at church services, soon had them singing at socials and other gatherings.  But their long hair turned out to be more of attraction than their voices.  Gradually they overcame the shyness of their turkey-shepherding days.

They began making appearances in other communities.  Naomi, the fifth daughter received favorable comment in Albion and Rochester newspapers.  She was only 13 at the time and her hair hung below her waist.

As the sisters' fame spread they were booked for a concert tour.  Some learned to play musical instruments to supplement their singing.  Audiences in cities far from their (the girls') farm home gaped at the remarkable hair, apparently more interested in that than the show they were putting on.

 

Then came a turning point in what might be classed as the fantastic career of the Seven Sutherland Sisters.  They joined the Barnum & Bailey Circus.  Dressed in white and hair hanging so long it touched the platform, they captivated large crowds.

While all this was going on, Papa Sutherland was getting ideas.  Since his own ounce tick hair was thinning, he came up with a concoction, which according to his own story, not only headed off encroachine baldness, but actually grew new hair.  His reputedly made the "discovery" around 1883.  He may have been toying with the idea of promoting the sale of a hair grower by exhibiting his daughters with the trailing tresses.

The girls' dad died in 1888, but he lived long enough to see his cherished dream of great riches come true.  Two years previous the daughters had begun making and distributing their own hair grower.  At that time folks up Lockport way insisted it was only a mixture of rain water, alcohol and something to add a little coloring.  They reportedly never revealed the formula that made them rich and famous.

The seven sisters posed for hours in store windows, literally letting their hair down as they exhibited "the longest hair in the world."  In the center of placards extolling its merits was a large picture of the seven sisters showing to the best advantage their wealth of hair.

 

Whether the sisters' highly advertised hair grower was phony, it paid off in gold-to the extent of more than a million dollars in the days when the dollar had the purchasing power of a hundred cents.

 

 

Elegant Mansion Built

By 1890 the Seven Sutherland Sisters corporation had factory branches in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.  The faster the more lavish became the family's hair tonic dollars rolled in, the way of life.  Seemed they were constantly finding new ways of spending money.

 


In 1893 the sisters built an elegant mansion on the site of where they once tended turkeys and were at the time so shy that they hid in the high weeds at the approach of a stranger.  It burned to the ground in 1938 at which time only two of the sisters were living.  Seven years before the fire, Grace and Mary had been forced to leave the 122-year-old Sutherland farm because of pinched circumstances.

But the stroke of midnight arrived for the free-spending sisters around 1931.  By then only three were living.  Something had happened to dam the golden flow from the sales of hair tonic.  And the million dollars acquired therefrom had also vanished.

The gilded coach was once again only a pumpkin.  They were now old "Cinderellas" with streaks of silver in those once-famous tresses.

 

Shortly before her death in 1939, Mary kept out of sight most of the time.  The two sisters had become so impoverished that at times there was a shortage of food in the home.  They informed the neighbors they wanted no gifts of food.

In 1946, Grace, the last of the once-famous Seven Sutherland Sisters, died in Buffalo.

For all their almost incredible eccentricifies, the sisters were a likeable group, warm-hearted and open-handed.  They made a fortune and spent it grandly, as if to balance up for their under-privileged conditions of earlier life.  They held their heads right to the last.

They were colorful-their act being the only one of its kind that can be staged in the history of time.

 

The above is a condensation and re-arrangement of a story in the book, "Shadows on the Wall," authored several years ago by Arch Merrill of Rochester, N.Y.  - Friday, July 22, 1966  by Harry Ridgway Herald Feature Writer
 


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