Piece of Jaffrey’s bicentennial history returns home

Tom Whiting of Deering opens the time capsule coffin and pulls out a bag of razors, submitted by members of the “Brothers of the Brush” beard competition held during the Jaffrey bicentennial in 1973.

Tom Whiting of Deering opens the time capsule coffin and pulls out a bag of razors, submitted by members of the “Brothers of the Brush” beard competition held during the Jaffrey bicentennial in 1973. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Jaffrey Historical Society archive assistant Bruce Hill opens a bag of razors, each labeled with the name of a participant in a beard-growing contest held during the Jaffrey bicentennial in 1973.

Jaffrey Historical Society archive assistant Bruce Hill opens a bag of razors, each labeled with the name of a participant in a beard-growing contest held during the Jaffrey bicentennial in 1973. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Bruce Hill, Tom Whiting and Walt Hautanen were present for the return of an artifact from Jaffrey’s bicentennial celebrations to the Jaffrey Historical Society. The “Brothers of the Brush” coffin and razors had been in Whiting’s collection for at least the last 20 years.

Bruce Hill, Tom Whiting and Walt Hautanen were present for the return of an artifact from Jaffrey’s bicentennial celebrations to the Jaffrey Historical Society. The “Brothers of the Brush” coffin and razors had been in Whiting’s collection for at least the last 20 years. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Tom Whiting of Deering returns a coffin containing the razors of Jaffrey men who participated in a beard-growing contest during the Jaffrey bicentennial in 1973. It had been in his home as part of a private collection of safety razors for at least the last 20 years.

Tom Whiting of Deering returns a coffin containing the razors of Jaffrey men who participated in a beard-growing contest during the Jaffrey bicentennial in 1973. It had been in his home as part of a private collection of safety razors for at least the last 20 years. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Labeled metal and plastic safety razors, marked with the names of participants in the “Brothers of the Brush” beard-growing contest.

Labeled metal and plastic safety razors, marked with the names of participants in the “Brothers of the Brush” beard-growing contest. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Commemorative pins for the “Brothers of the Brush” beard-growing contest are part of the Jaffrey Historical Society’s archival collection.

Commemorative pins for the “Brothers of the Brush” beard-growing contest are part of the Jaffrey Historical Society’s archival collection. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-28-2024 10:01 AM

Jaffrey Historical Society archival assistant Bruce Hill cracked open a rather-ominous looking artifact on Monday – a small black coffin, marked with a plaque denoting it as belonging to “Brothers of the Brush,” along with the date marking Jaffrey’s bicentennial celebrations in 1973.

Despite its exterior, the coffin was a bit of an in-joke for men of Jaffrey in January 1973, who formed a pact to grow out their beards during the year and only shave them after the town’s anniversary celebrations in August, after the best beard was crowned, along with recognition for various categories such as longest or curliest.

“They were basically saying, ‘We’re done shaving. Shaving is dead. We’re putting it in a coffin,” Hill said.

The coffin was built for the town by Bruce Burnham of Dublin for that purpose. It contains a bag of razors, each contributed by a member of the “Brothers of the Brush,” as they were called, and marked with the name of the razor’s owner and sometimes the date.

In anticipation of the return of the coffin, Hill went hunting for information in the archives about the Brothers of the Brush, and found a photo of the Brothers of the Brush committee, with the coffin, that was included in a local paper. It showed the clean-shaven (for the moment) faces of Bob Lawn, Bob Oja, Walt Hautanen, Cliff Goulet and Jim Hunt.

Hill also found the name of the ultimate “Best Beard” winner – George Sirios.

Walt Hautanen of Jaffrey was one of the members of the Brothers of the Brush Committee back in the 1970s, and was there at the Historical Society to see the coffin and razors return to the town. He said he was a participant in the contest.

“I just had a little Abe Lincoln job,” Hautanen said, indicating the area around his jaw, imitating Lincoln’s mustache-less style.

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For the past 20 or so years, the artifact has been in a private collection belonging to Hautanen’s friend Tom Whiting of Deering. Whiting, who personally delivered the coffin back to the town, said he is a collector of safety razors.

“Surprisingly, it was awful big at the time,” Whiting said of the community of safety razor collectors. He said he enjoys the mechanical aspects of the razors and the history that comes with some of them, as some of his collection was made by companies no longer in business.

When the Brothers of the Brush consigned their razors to the coffin, it was originally intended to be buried as a kind of time capsule in front of the town office, but Hautanen said that never happened.

“Never got to it,” he admitted.

When talking to Whiting about his collection, Hautanen mentioned the razors and the coffin they were kept in, and Whiting was interested in it for his collection. Hautanen, who had been holding on to the coffin since the bicentennial, agreed to loan it to Whiting on the condition that if he ever gave up the collection or no longer wanted to display the coffin as part of it, he would return it to the Jaffrey Historical Society – which is what he did Monday.

“So, here we are,” Hill said.

According to Hill, when Whiting first contacted the Historical Society and left a message indicating he had an item from the bicentennial that would be of interest to the town, he was expecting Whiting to have one of the broadsheet-style newspapers that were printed in commemoration of the event – one of the most-commonly kept items from the celebration. When he found out it was the razors from the Brothers of the Brush beard competition, he said he was thrilled.

“This is so special,” Hill said. “It’s A., from the bicentennial, and B., it’s got all these names from the participants involved, and many of them are still in town. It’s a really nice artifact. We’ll definitely find a place for this in our archive.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.