This wonderful image appeared on the photo blog Shorpy the other day. It depicts the clean-shaven barber Hugh L. Friddle hanging out at his establishment in downtown Harrisonburg in January 1941. (You’ll recall that the Encyclopedia Virginia team was just in Harrisonburg, and while I don’t recall seeing the name Friddle anywhere—true, I wasn’t exactly looking—they were a big deal at one time.) Anyway, one of Shorpy’s alert commenters pointed out that the above-pictured Mr. Friddle had once threatened legal action against the Harrisonburg Chamber of Commerce. The occasion was the two-hundredth anniversary of Alexander Spotswood‘s trek through the Shenandoah Valley, and in preparation for a big pageant the chamber wanted the manly men of Harrisonburg to grow beards. Spotswood, it turns out, was not exactly a bear, but the thinking was that later frontiersmen tended to forego the blade, and it was their look that would best reflect on the pageant-marchers. Or something like that.
Whatever the case, the Associated Press ran with the story, and it appeared across the country with lame headlines such as the one found in the New Orleans Times-Picayune (August 17, 1932): “Shenandoah Raising Acres of Whiskers.” “It’s going to be rough on the faces here—and tough on the barbers,” the story begins, and perhaps that is what gave Mr. Friddle the idea that his honest trade was being threatened. Of course, if he thought it was bad in 1932, he only needed to wait a few years. With the economy getting worse, who wanted to spend money on barbers? As such, some men wore what came to be known as “Depression whiskers.”
Anyway, I don’t know whatever happened with the fit Mr. Friddle’s threat, but the pageant seems to have come off just fine. According to the Washington Post (September 4, 1932), “It was a picture of wampum bells and braided dress, of red and white uniforms and flowing silk robes, of powdered wigs and coonskin caps.” The locals earnestly depicted a “racial metamorphosis,” the paper reported, beginning their production with “an Indian scene in the valley, where the Indian braves pursued their barbaric existence unawares of the coming of the white man.”
And we all know what kind of advanced civilization the white man brought. I point you, e.g., to a front-page article in the Syracuse Herald (November 28, 1932) that features our friend the Barber Friddle under the headline: “Sits on Cowcatcher to Shoot Rabbits on Rail ‘Runway.'” Here is the piece in full, datelined Harrisonburg:
Hugh Friddle, local Nimrod who tells this tale,* with several dead rabbits offered in evidence:
The latest wrinkle in hunting, says Mr. Friddle, is to use a slow freight train. You sit on the cowcatcher, with gun in hand, and shoot at rabbits which have chosen the right of way as a favorite run and are scared by approach of the locomotive. The train is stopped, of course, when game is to be retrieved.
The scene of Mr. Friddle’s activities is the Chesapeake-Western Railway, a line built across Rockingham County 40 years ago by the late W. E. D. Stokes of New York, who intended it as the nucleus of a coal carrying line across Virginia.
* “Nimrod,” the Oxford English Dictionary explains, can be 1. a tyrant; 2. a skillful hunter; or 3. an idiot. I’ll let you decide which is most appropriate here.
IMAGE: January 1941. Harrisonburg, Virginia. “Shenandoah Valley. The Valley State Employment Service is aiding in the tapping the skilled labor resources of the Valley. These signs have been widely distributed. This one is in the center of Harrisonburg.” Medium format negative by John Vachon (Shorpy)