Hair, Death, and Memory: The Making of an American Relic

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This article traces the transformation of hairworks in America during the mid-nineteenth-century. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin transformed the meaning of hair and hairworks in the American cultural imaginary by endowing Little Evangeline St. Clare’s hair with sacred, moralizing power. Likewise, after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s hair achieved nationwide, relic-like significance. The Abraham Lincoln Papers contains six hair requests; these letters demonstrate that the cultural meaning of Lincoln’s hair resembles the fictional power of Eva’s hair in Stowe’s novel. Analyzing this phenomena of relic-like hair modifies our understanding of the unprecedented sentimental reaction to Lincoln’s assassination and particularly the fascination with seeing and approaching the president’s body.