Strange Stories of the Sutherland Sisters


Where the highway swings north of Lockport, N.Y., only charred timbers now mark the site of a strange castle of the Nineties.  The inquiring tourist hears:

"That was the home of the Seven Sutherland Sisters.  Last one, Grace, died a little while back."

Younger travelers are aware only of an agreeably alliterative name.  Oldsters may recall with a start something of the fantastic.

 

Work did not stop on the little farm in 1870 when Fletcher Sutherland (he claimed descent from the English duke) went into town to discuss politics.  A whole chorus of daughters - Sarah, Isabella, Naomi, Mary. Grace, Dora and Victoria, could dance from task to task about the Sutherland log cabin.

It was a group fitted to halt any observer.  When the sisters bushel themselves with farm chores, their amazing tresses were caught up in great braids.

 

If it was let down for washing or brushing, it literally trailed on the ground behind them in rippling, shining trains.

It was a breath-taking example of Nature's lavishness concentrated in a single family.  Naomi could wrap herself in her hair like the most discreet Godiva-it made a massive cloak

Victoria's hair, from brow to tip was a full seven feet.  In the expression of the day, all of the others were similarity blessed with crowning glories.

No log cabin be the bushel to hide such a light for long.

Vaudeville and circus magnates begged the sisters to sign contracts.  There were hurried, whispered conferences.  Then the decision-yes, they would leave their log cabin and display their lush locks to the world if they could stay together.

That was what the agents wanted, anyway.  The Seven Sutherland Sisters sallied forth.

 

Broadway gaped and so did Main street.  When these sisters, one after the other, trailed across the gas-lit stage and swung about to shake out the billowing hair, there was a concerted gasp.  To enlarge the act, they learned to play musical instruments and sing.

 

Money was already rolling in from personal appearances when a truly magnificent idea was hit upon.  Why not a hair tonic named after and recommended by the Seven Sutherland Sisters?

 

Practically every woman who had ever seen them wanted hair like that (The bob hadn't been thought of.) It did. A company was formed and the business prospered at once, netting $90,000 the first year.  So great was the demand for the "miracle tonic" that within a few years their earnings had reached the $1,000,000 mark.

Throughout the 1880s, the sisters continued to make their personal appearances, and gather a golden harvest.  Despite their stage appearances, they appeared to be quite shy, remaining aloof from other performers and sufficient unto themselves.

In 1893 they built a tremendous home near the spot where their log cabin once stood.  It was in the rococo style of the period with turrets, ornamented verandas and every florid touch money could buy.

 

Another $30,000 was spent for a vast mausoleum on the family burial plot in Glenwood cemetery.



Then suddenly the sun which had smiled so warmly upon the seven sisters began to set.

Only Naomi and Isabella had married and brought their husbands to the great house.  Naomi died in 1885, and in due time was laid to rest in the mausoleum.  Next to go was Isabella's husband, a French nobleman named Frederick Castlemaine.

Castlemaine was a famous pistol shot who reputedly sat on the Sutherland veranda one day and shot the spokes from the wheel of a farmer's buggy which had stopped on the road.

He turned the gun on himself in 1896 and died almost instantly.

Castlemaine's suicide provoked a real exhibition of eccentricity in the surviving sisters.  Isabella refused to yield the body for interment.

It stayed in the house for ten days, until authorities demanded that it removed. For years afterward, until her death in 1914, Isabella was observed making her way across the city at night to sit for hours in rendezvous with the dead.

Authorities encountered similar trouble in 1919 when Sarah died.  They were forced to insist upon interment.

 

Even the passing of dogs and other pets moved the sisters deeply.

The death of a favorite dog called for a regular funeral with a casket, flowers, and crepe on the door.  The undertaker's bill was $500.

Extravagances and charities had swallowed vast sums of hair tonic money when the glittering stream dropped to a trickle.

Victoria also died in 1914, with little left of her shares in the company. Dora was wresting a meager existence in 1919, by selling the once famous hair tonic when she died.

 

Only Mary and Grace were left in 1938 when fire swept their castle-like refuge which had decayed with the years.  Mary died the following year and Grace remained the surviving member of the septet.

Merely a flash of silver was left of the historic tresses-and none of the gold they won-when Grace died on Jan.19, 1946.  There wasn't even room for her in the crowded mausoleum.  She was buried in the family lot without a stone to mark the grave.
 

Article from The American Weekly - November 16, 1947

 


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