First in war. First in peace. First in the hearts of his countrymen … and first in hair.
When a librarian at Union College near Albany, New York, opened an old, forgotten 1793 almanac, he found an envelope slipped in among its pages. Written on the envelope was “Washington’s hair.”
As in George Washington.
Inside was “a lock of grayish-colored hair tied together with thread,” as The New York Times described it.
“It was kind of one of those ‘OMG!’ moments,” librarian John Myers told the newspaper. “You know, this really feels like the real deal.”
You may not think that a little bit of Washington’s hair is a big deal. But this is the 21st Century. And they can do wonders these days with a few strands of hair.
“A single hair can give a lot of information,” according to WebMD, a widely viewed website. Hair absorbs chemicals from drugs, and it has sweat, a body’s natural oils and toxins, the site said.
There’s no word on whether they’re going to test the hair of the father of our country for drugs or some such.
Here in the hometown, I have a lock of my hair cut by Mom when I was a newborn. A while back I rediscovered it while cleaning out an old photo album that was falling apart. I had some spray glue on my fingers and lost about half of the hair to the glue. But I salvaged the other half for a plastic baggie that’s tucked away now, and I hope my hair will rest undisturbed for time immemorial.
They’re just getting started on the science of genetics, with which scientists can do amazing things. After all, in the “Jurassic Park” movies they took a drop of blood from an ancient mosquito preserved in amber and cloned dinosaurs.
They can’t do that in real life … yet. But scientists are debating it. You never know.
What might some scientist do a half-century from now with a few strands of my baby hair. If you start seeing these “Hometown” columns again on these pages come 2068, you’ll know what happened.
However, despite what the “Jurassic” movies and bad TV police shows would have you believe, there’s not a lot that scientists can do with hair now. The DNA that has your genetic code is by and large confined to the hair root. So a haircut by a barber or stylist likely will have no recoverable DNA.
For instance, genealogical testing companies that test swabs from cheeks do not test hair.
That’s a shame, because I hear that the father of our country left quite a bit of hair. George Washington did not wear the powdered English-style wigs that were popular among the upper crust in the 18th Century, the Times reported. Instead, Washington grew his hair long and had his real hair done every day and powdered to look the way it did, for instance, on the dollar bill.
Washington, the original hippie. How I wish that I had that little factoid to throw around when old folks in 1970 started giving me the business when I started growing my hair long.
Locks of Washington’s long hair were saved routinely and distributed among Washington’s admirers as political patronage.
“Locks of hair were like the selfies of the day,” said Myers, the New York college librarian.
So there’s one more thing now that we can learn from our foremost founding father. Post all the photos you want on the internet, but if you really want to leave something for posterity, leave a lock of hair.
In 50 years they just might build a monument in your honor as well. Harris Monument. I like the sound of it.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.