The annual Battle of Hampton Roads weekend at the Mariners’ Museum’s Monitor Center in Newport News commemorates the historic slugfest that took place between the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia.
Visitors flock to the event every year to engage in a host of activities – from interactive family programs to lectures from award-winning authors.
The Civil War Beard Competition – for the second year in a row – has been among the event’s attention getting offerings. Entrants “face off beard to beard” during the facial hair contest that celebrates the familiar styles in fashion during the Civil War era.
“A couple of us came up with the idea several years ago,” said Tina Gutshall, conservation administrator for the USS Monitor Project. “It has been a trend all over the world – actually. There are international competitions,” she said. “We thought that it would be fun to add it as a component to the Battle of Hampton Roads weekend.”
Gutshall pointed out that facial hair is another historical component that people don’t think about.
“The facial hair of the sailors – that’s something you take for granted in looking at their images,” said Gutshall. “There are people who still enjoy grooming themselves in those styles today.”
Beards and facial hair – it seems in retrospect – were as much a part of the Civil War as ironclads, artillery, and battle flags. Nearly everyone from prominent politicians to private soldiers considered sprouting facial hair to be an obligation – if not a duty.
During the war years, no beard was more widely-known – in the North or in the South – than that of President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was the first bearded President of the United States.
Lincoln’s decision to grow a beard was very likely affected by a letter he received in 1860 from an 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell. She noted that his face was so thin that it might look better with whiskers. Lincoln rejected the idea of “whiskers” initially, but the time he arrived in Washington for his inauguration he had grown a beard – just in time for the Civil War.
“Our friends here at the Monitor Center have come up with the idea that there are quite a few men around with beards and that we should celebrate that,” said George Buss who has portrayed President Lincoln at the event for the last decade. “This is actually a celebration of the facial hair. They have categories for the style of beard and for beard length,” he explained. ”Some of the fellows that just wear a mustache can participate too.”
Thomas Watts, a competitor from Yorktown, Virginia, seized honors for the category of natural full beard (12 inches or more). Watts beard measured 17 inches – measured from his lower lip to the end of his beard.
When Watts retired, He put his razor away. He doesn’t do anything to it. He just lets it grow. His wife likes it. He hasn’t used chapstick in three years. It keeps him warm in cold weather. It serves as a neck scarf when he tucks his beard in underneath is shirt.
“There’s no real reason for it. I just enjoy the beard,” he said. “There are guys who do the oils and a lot of waxing to shape them. I’ve just kept it a free type style,” Watts said. “I don’t go to all that trouble – the waxing and styling.”
Fred Rohr, a member of the Hampton Roads Beard and Stache Society from Norfolk, earned honors for his styled mustache.
“We do this for charities – and a little bit of notoriety, I guess,” said Rohr. “Mostly it’s just for charity. It’s a lot of fun.”
Charles Abadam of Norfolk scored two wins. One was for his styled partial beard entry. His partial beard was also named the best in the show.
“Best in show is the grand prize,” observed Abadam. “I did not expect to win – absolutely not.”
Civil War Beard Competition Winners by Category
Styled Mustache – Fred Rohr
Partial Beard, Styled – Charles Abadam
Partial Beard Natural – Patrick Quinn
Full Beard Natural (2 to 12”) – Dominick Detell
Full Beard Natural (12” or more) – Thomas Watts
Free Style – Rob Schieber
Kids Fake Realistic – William Bush
1st Runner Up Best in Show – Patrick Quinn
Overall Best in show Charles Abadam
=By Bob Ruegsegger
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