One poem leads to another….. (hair albums)

Many of the pre-1921 poems published on the Niagara Falls Poetry Project website are found with the assistance of Charles Dow’s Anthology and Bibliography of Niagara Falls, published in 1921. Chapter 8 of this two-volume set deals with the music, poetry, and fiction published about Niagara Falls in chronological order, starting in 1604. Many entries are purely bibliographic; that is they list the author, title, and source of a poem. Others contain summaries or editorial comments by Dow about the poem, the full text of some of the shorter poems, and excerpts from some of the longer poems.  Dow does have the habit of changing words and punctuation, and sometimes skipping sections without giving indication that he is doing so, so whenever possible, I go to the original source. Dow’s work is monumental, and I am in awe of what he accomplished. If I find a pre-1921 poem that is not in Dow, I feel a sense of accomplishment, and, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, of smugness that I managed to find something that he hadn’t. 

Case in point: in the entry for 1867, Dow cites a poem by M.F. Bigney – Visit of the Sunbeams to the Falls of Niagara in Bigney’s book The Forest Pilgrims and Other Stories. I searched for the book and found a full-text copy online through the Hathi Trust. After adding this poem to the site, I then looked at the rest of his poems, and discovered one called Lines Written for a Lady’s Hair Album, at Niagarawhich I proceeded to add to the site. I admit that I had never heard of hair albums, so I conducted a search for them. My wife, Louise, had known about hair braidings that people (including her grandmother) had framed and hung to commemorate the passing of a loved one, but not albums. The search led to an interesting article Hairy Memories: Hair albums used braided hair to create memories by James Rada, Jr., and to a Brock University Archives online exhibition called Stories Told Through ScrapbookingOne of the scrapbooks in the exhibition is the Bradt Family Hair Album, with locks of hair from the Bradt family (United Empire Loyalists who settled in Niagara) from 1843 to 1976.  David Sharron, Head of Archives & Special Collections at Brock University, tells me that “We love the Bradt hair album here.  It is always a showstopper on tours.”

hair albums

Lock of Susannah (Price) Dunn’s hair
Image courtesy of Brock University Archives


On the exhibition page, a poem from page 11 of the album had been transcribed. Titled Resignation to the Approaching Period of Decline and Decay it had originally been written in 1812, just after the outbreak of the War of 1812, by James Melloy, and dedicated to “The Misses Price.” One of them, Susannah (Price) Dunn, had been born in 1808 and died in 1887.  A lock of her hair had been included in the album.

So today feels like a real win for me. I’ve managed to add three 19th century poems to the website (only one of which had been indexed by Dow), learned about a death rite that I had previously never known about, and added a new dimension to my upcoming presentation, The Niagara Way of Death, to the 2023 Popular Culture Conference in San Antonio, Texas. 





Lines Written for a Lady’s Hair Album, at Niagara by M.F. Bigney

A Page from The Album of Bradt Family Hair 
Courtesy of Brock University Archives & Special Collections


 braided locks ! which tell 
‡‡‡‡‡Of the distant, the departed, 
As the songs of ocean murmur in the shell ; 
‡‡‡‡‡And which whisper—”All is well !” 
‡‡‡‡‡When we might be lonely hearted 
And with voiceless music mystically swell.

‡‡‡‡‡Locks fair, and dark, and gray,
‡‡‡‡‡Erst to kindred ringlets mated ;
Severed from the crowns of loved ones now away. 
‡‡‡‡‡Some in spirit-gardens stray,
‡‡‡‡‡Warmed by suns all uncreated,
And some still linger with us in the clay.

‡‡‡‡‡To other times ye pass,
‡‡‡‡‡Bright aids to recollection, 
Mirroring the storied past as in a glass,
‡‡‡‡‡And shall we cry, alas !
‡‡‡‡‡In our spirit’s deep dejection, 
For those cut down and withered as the grass ?

‡‡‡‡‡No : they shall reappear
‡‡‡‡‡In a land of light unending, 
Where no eye shall e er be dimmed by a tear—
‡‡‡‡‡In that higher, purer sphere
‡‡‡‡‡Where celestial glories blending, 
Shall form a crown for those who triumph here.

Source: M.F. Bigney. The Forest Pilgrims, and Other Poems. New Orleans: James A. Gresham, 1867

Bigney was the editor of The New Orleans Daily

From the Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Louisiana, vol 2:  

“J.W. Overall and M.F. Bigney were liberal and enlightened patrons of literature in New Orleans. Both were poets, and Mr. Bigney published, in 1867, a volume called The Forest Pilgrims, and Other Poems, among which the “Wreck of the Nautilus” has often been quoted.

Read the article Hairy Memories: Hair albums used braided hair to create memories by James Rada, Jr.

See The Bradt Family Hair Album in the Brock University Archives. The Bradt family were United Empire Loyalists who settled in Niagara-on-the-Lake and the St. Catharines area. This poem by Bigney was not written in the Bradt album, although the poem Resignation to the Approaching Period of Decline and Decay by James Melloy was.