President Lincoln and others Hair Picture

There is a very unusual art piece held in the Onondaga Historical Associate (OHA) in Syracuse, New York – one very few people know about. Its name alone is strange “The Hairy Eagle”. As was once popular in the late 1800s, it is artwork made of human hair. Not just anyone’s hair but that of President Abraham Lincoln, wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, members of Lincoln’s cabinet, wives of cabinet members as well as many US Congressmen and Senators of the 1860s – some 37 different people represented.

This artwork is afoot in diameter with the center focus of an American eagle. It began during the American Civil War – the early 1860s, the artwork to be a fundraising item for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which helped with the health of Union soldiers. It was the idea of Caroline Louisa Wright, wife of former Indiana Governor Joseph A. Wright. She designed the wreath; commissioned Brooklyn firm Spies & Champney, manufacturer of “fine gold and hair jewelry,” to create it; and presented it to the fair’s organizers to be used as a fundraiser. After its creation, it was displayed at the Metropolitan Fair in NYC in April 1864. Money was raised by visitors paying $1.00 to sign their name to a book that would go with the artwork. The goal was to raise $1,000 for the Sanitary Commission. The eagle’s head is made of Lincoln’s hair.

The Hairy Eagle was such a popular attraction at the Metropolitan Fair that Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Journal published a sketch of it, along with other “scenes from the fair” in its April 23, 1864, issue. This grand fair ran for 3 weeks during April 1864. After the Fair, the book with signatures and the ‘Hairy Eagle’ was to be presented to Abraham and Mary Lincoln.

But that did not happen, instead, Spies & Champney kept the wreath and used it for business promotion, exhibiting it in September 1865 at the American Institute’s annual fair and displaying it in their Brooklyn shop window that winter. The business’ owners even bought advertisements in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle encouraging people who missed seeing the Hairy Eagle at the fairs to visit it at their shop.

Francis T. Champney, one-half of the Spies & Champney team, appears to have kept the item as a family heirloom. When Champney died, his wife, Ida, moved upstate to Syracuse and brought the Hairy Eagle with her. Ida donated the piece—along with an accompanying keynoting the locations and provenance of all the hair in the wreath—to the Onondaga Historical Association in Syracuse, N.Y. About 1917.

It has remained safety cared for at the OHA and has only been on public display 3 times. The last public viewing was February 2019, for Lincoln’s 210th birthday.

Photo: “Hairy Eagle”

Related Blogs:

Civil War – A House Divided

Decoding Military Telegrams

Family Coincidences

< Return To Blog Hair jewelry is kind of a creepy idea nowadays. This is very pretty, though.
Sara N Martin 19/10/21

This item very unusual so sure, and rarely seen.
alice 19/10/21

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