The Saga of the 7 Sutherland Sisters

Like something out of a fairy tale (Snow White and the Seven Rapunzels), the Sutherland Sisters Seven caused jaws to drop by letting their hair down. The seven were Dora, Grace, Isabella, Mary, Naomi, Sarah and Victoria (the oldest was 18 years older than the youngest). They grew up on a hardscrabble Vermont farm with a lazy father and a musical mother who used to put a foul-smelling concoction on their hair. A musical act evolved, “the Sutherland Concert of Seven Sisters and One Brother”, which premiered at the Atlanta Exposition in 1881. The following year they were hired for the Barnum and Bailey show. The septet would sing (the brother, a fifth wheel I guess, was dropped) and for a wow finish, the girls would turn around and unfurl all 37 feet of their fabulous collective tresses (at seven feet, Victoria’s was longest).

In 1884, their father began selling the mother’s recipe as a hair tonic. The following year, Naomi married James Bailey’s nephew Henry, who began to promote the hair tonic and a full line of other “Sutherland Sisters” hair products in a big way. Within a few years, the family were all millionaires and could retire from performing, subsisting entirely on income from their product line. In 1893 they built a fabulous 14 room marble mansion in Cambria New York. From here, the story gets increasingly weird and gothic, as various interlopers married into the family and they all lived sequestered in the house. After the suicide of one of the husbands, the family built a $30,000 mausoleum, but didn’t bury the fellow for ten days, necessitating a court order to put his mouldering corpse in the ground. This happened again when one of the sisters passed. By the 1920s and the advent of bobbed hair for women, the family fortunes faded. In 1938, there were just two of them left and the mansion burned to the ground. The remaining sisters were to spend their last years in the same sort of poverty they’d known at the beginning. Grace, the last of the sisters passed in 1946.

The Seven Sutherland Sisters were inducted into Coney Island USA’s Sideshow Hall of Fame in 2013.

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