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Pole Position

August 26, 2011

First: forgive the long hiatus, dear readers. Paying work and parenthood frequently conspire against the seeker of the Unseen. Second: I’ve got a thing for barber poles. I actually can’t believe how many of them are still around. From good old traditional twirlers like this one, near my place in Ravenswood:

And this one in Hegewisch:

To static ones like this sad-looking specimen in Uptown:

Or this sadder one, on the Far South Side:

Apparently the red-white-and-blue striped motif dates to the Middle Ages, when barbers also practiced surgery—the red symbolizing blood, the white symbolizing bandages, and the blue symbolizing I don’t know what. Barbasol, maybe. Barber poles aren’t produced on a large scale anymore—there’s only one manufacturer of them left in the United States—a fact that leaves some barbers no choice but to resort to artist’s renderings:

I feel fortunate to live in such an enlightened age of specialization that I don’t have to see the same guy for a haircut and an apendectomy. Today, the barber has a narrower mission. The inscription on this pole in South Chicago pretty much sums it up:


10 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Lukas permalink
    August 26, 2011 10:13 am

    You probably know this already, Dave, but the vast majority of barber poles in America were/are made by the William Marvy Company, based in St. Paul:

    Each of their poles is numbered. I believe #75,000 — i.e., the 75,000th pole to roll off their assembly line — is in the Smithsonian.

    • dmcaninch permalink*
      August 26, 2011 10:40 am

      My hat’s off to you, sir. See my friend Angi’s comment.

  2. angi permalink
    August 26, 2011 10:19 am

    Check this out, my friend, right around the corner from where I work. I think they are the last manufacturer, if I have my facts right..

    • dmcaninch permalink*
      August 26, 2011 10:41 am

      Yes! How funny. See my friend Paul’s post of seconds ago.

  3. August 26, 2011 10:36 am

    You’d be surprised how many barber’s poles there are in Japan, or at least Osaka.

  4. Dom permalink
    September 1, 2011 5:27 pm

    Lovely to see your posts back again Dave. Particularly enjoyed this poley one. Liz quite rightly pointed out that here in the UK, poles have always just been red and white. Is the extra blue stripe a reflection of your national colours?

  5. Dom permalink
    September 1, 2011 5:27 pm

    Or should that be colors?

    • dmcaninch permalink*
      September 1, 2011 7:17 pm

      Dom! Liz! Great to hear from you! Feeling very poley.

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