Tucked into a tiny strip mall in Independence Missouri you will find a most unusual place, Leila’s Hair Museum. For almost 60 years Leila Cohoon, a retired hair stylist, has been acquiring strands of hair that belonged to famous people; George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Harry S. Truman, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, to name a few. She also developed a passion for anything with hair; wreaths, jewelry and rare pieces of furniture.
As her collection grew she opened the museum, a showplace housing 600 wreaths and 2,000 pieces of jewelry all made from or decorated with human hair. Her oldest piece is a 17th century brooch with hair inside.
Over a century ago hair wreaths were made to be family keepsakes embroidered with dates of births, weddings and deaths. Women created them by weaving strands of hair around a wire making delicate shapes and embellishing them with seed pears, ribbons, strips of baby clothes and pieces of wedding dresses.
Scenes on some of the pieces of jewelry were painted with hair that was mashed into a powder then mixed with acrylic paint. One brooch, a mourning piece, depicts a man standing by his wife’s grave under a weeping willow tree woven from her hair.
Needless to say many of the pieces are astonishing and poignant. Leila likes to tell visitors that her fondest wish would be if all the people whose hair she has in her museum would return from their graves for a chat.