Here Lies Joseph, Persecuted For Wearing A Beard
Beards come in and out of fashion. Today, you see beards all over the place. A few decades ago, if you pictured a big flowy beard, you considered that an old-timey style. That vague “old-timey” period that people imagined might have been the late 19th century (the time of presidents Hayes and Garfield) because if you go back just a little before that, beards were less popular than ever.
In 1830, there lived man in Massachusetts named Joseph Palmer, and we would not be talking about him today, except for the fact that he decided to grow a big beard. He did not grow it to look good. No one grew beards to look good around then. He grew it because he wanted to style himself after Moses and Jesus.
Most people didn’t know why Joseph had a beard. They just knew they didn’t like it. A gang of four men went up to him during his rounds delivering groceries and tried to cut his beard off with their blades. Joseph fought them off, successfully, but this wasn’t the end of his troubles; as the victor in the fight, he was judged to be the aggressor and sent to jail. There, even more people attacked him and tried to cut off his beard.
The county expected him to pay his bond and leave. He didn’t. And while in jail, he kept writing to the public about the conditions in there, including how lousy the food was. Finally, his jailors just plopped him on the sidewalk to be rid of him.
He lived another 40 years after that, long enough to see beards become wildly popular. His tombstone includes an engraving of his face, Santa-sized beard and all, and features the following inscription: Persecuted for wearing the beard.
Joseph Palmer spent those later years in his life with one other weird claim to fame, which we’ve written about before and will link you to. He joined a commune (also home to a 10-year-old Louisa May Alcott) called Fruitlands, devoted to ethical farming. Their version of ethics meant eschewing the use of fertilizer and indeed never tilling the soil at all for fear of disturbing worms, so the farming didn’t go great.
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Top image: Romana Klee